Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
LET US GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD
I give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. Psalm 9:1
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1: 26-38
Good morning Prayer Team!
As the feast of the Nativity is nearly upon us, the next five reflections will be about the most significant people in the story. Today we will talk about the Virgin Mary. The story of our salvation, of course, begins with the Creation. God’s first gift to us was in fact, us. He created us in His image and likeness. And after we had fallen away from God, He created a plan for our redemption, salvation and restoration to the Paradise that Adam and Eve enjoyed. The first part of this plan was the Incarnation of the Son of God in the flesh, and the first step in this plan was finding someone who would bear Christ into the world, who would work in concert with God to bring this miracle about.
God chose a young woman named Mary, who history tells us was only 14 years old, and asked her to bear His Son. While the above scripture passage won’t be read in church this week during our celebration of the Nativity, the story really begins with Mary’s answer to God—“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Just imagine how different the history of humanity would have been had Mary said “no.”
It is comforting to note that Mary’s first reaction to the angel was fear, “she was greatly troubled at the saying.” The meaning here is that when God asks us to do something, it is okay to be nervous. Oftentimes, what God asks us to do is hard. Just ask Abraham (who was asked to sacrifice His son) or Moses (who had to lead recalcitrant people for forty years) or any of the disciples or the saints of the church who died in faith for Him.
How amazing it must have been to hear the words “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” This action of the Holy Spirit is not limited to the Virgin Mary. It is actually something that can happen to any of us. The Holy Spirit comes upon us when we pray, and when we worship together. The Holy Spirit is what makes ordinary things into extraordinary things. Like when He consecrates bread and wine to be the Body and Blood of Christ. Or when He blesses a man and a woman to become a family in the sacrament of marriage. Or when He lifts the burden of sin and guilt off of someone in confession, restoring them to a sense of spiritual wholeness.
Mary had a grateful heart. She answered the angel’s call with humanity’s greatest “YES!” ever. And because of her willingness to say yes, the path for all of our salvation has been opened. That is not to say that Mary had an easy life. Her parents both died when she was young. She was betrothed to Joseph, an older man, who would not live to see Jesus’s ministry. She would watch her Son die a humiliating death on the cross. Saying yes to God doesn’t necessarily put one on an easy path. However, Mary is exalted above even the angels. And we have the potential to be like her, if we too, say YES to God.
Remember that to give requires a sense of love and compassion. And love and compassion grow from gratitude and thanksgiving. A grateful heart says “I am thankful for what I have, starting with my very life, and I am eager to share what I have and who I am with others, living out God’s calling for me.” God called the Virgin Mary to a very special role. He has special roles for each of us.
Lord, as we once again prepare to celebrate Your Nativity, thank You for the gift of Your Son. Thank You for showing us through Your Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary, what it means to have a grateful heart. Help me to always see myself as Your servant, and give me the strength and the courage to say “Yes” to the things You call upon me to do in my life. Amen.
Always have an open heart to the things God calls you to!
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