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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros 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
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1: 38 (Gospel of the Feast of the Annunciation—March 25)
Good morning Prayer Team!
If you were to divide the history of the world into chapters, the first chapter would be about the Creation of the World. And in this chapter, the human race lived in complete harmony with its Creator, in an almost “god-like” state. The second chapter would be about the “Fall” of mankind, and its consequences, when mankind was banished from Paradise and suffered hardship and death. The third chapter would be about the “people of God” living in expectation of a Messiah. This third chapter would begin with the covenant with Abraham, in Genesis 15, where God established a relationship with a people, and those people established a relationship with Him. The covenant with Abraham lasted 42 generations—the names of each of these generations are given in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter One, and are read the Sunday before the Nativity each year. During these 42 generations, God’s people experienced triumph (deliverance from the hands of Pharoah in Exodus 14) and setback (the fall of Jerusalem and deportation to Babylon in 2 Kings 24). They were given inspiration through the mouths of Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that one day there would be a Deliverer.
Saint Paul writes in his Epistle to the Galatians (chapter 4) that God sent forth His Son, “when the time had fully come.” No one knew when this would occur, or how it would occur. We learned from the story of the Paralytic that people work in concert with God in order for God’s miracles to happen. The miracles require His power and our faith. The greatest miracle that ever happened was that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to save our sins. That is a miracle—because it transcends not only the laws of nature, but it transcends even the comprehension of our rational minds. Yes, miracles can also remain enshrouded in “mystery.” For instance, it is a miracle that bread and wine are consecrated as the Body and Blood of Christ at each Divine Liturgy. And yet we call this “miracle” a “mystery,” (sometimes translated as “sacrament”) because even though we believe, we cannot completely comprehend.
The miracle of the Resurrection, which is the centerpiece of our faith, was surrounded by MANY other miracles, many instances where the Lord worked in concert with us to allow extraordinary things to happen. To pave the way to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Christ worked many miracles, Messianic signs foretold in the Old Testament, that revealed Him as the promised Messiah. But before those miracles could occur, Christ had to come into the world, which was caused by another miracle, the Incarnation of God in the flesh. How Christ came into the world is understandable. He had a human birth—we can all understand that. His conception, however, was a miracle.
The Archangel Gabriel came to a village named Nazareth, and visited a young girl named Mary, who, history tells us, was probably fourteen years old at the time of the Archangel’s visit. The Archangel brought her extraordinary news: She was going to bear God’s Son. His birth would be caused by the Holy Spirit, not by the man to whom she was betrothed. The angel didn’t immediately announce to Mary that her Son would die a horrific death. What would have been apparent right away to Mary was that her reputation would be on the line—how would she explain becoming pregnant to Joseph, or to anyone else? This very young, very alone (remember Mary’s parents died when she was very young) woman was being presented with an overwhelming task.
In order for God’s miracles to take place, they have involved ordinary people demonstrating extraordinary faith. And none was more extraordinary than Mary’s “YES” to the announcement by the Archangel. Imagine if she had said “no”? Her answer changed the course of human history. This is why she is said to be “greater in honor than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim.” (Megalynarion of Orthros, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes). Her “YES” was a yes to the greatest task ever given a human being—the responsibility of bearing God’s own Son.
Was her “yes” without doubts and fears? Was her “yes” with confidence or trepidation? To completely submit to the will of the Lord has to fill one with all of these things.
The Feast of the Annunciation opened the chapter of salvation in the history of humanity. Because it sets in motion the Incarnation, the miracles, and THE Miracle, the Resurrection. All of these were made possible as a consequence of the Incarnation, which was made possible by a miracle of God, working in concert with the faith of humanity, in this case, represented by the Virgin Mary. The feast honors the Virgin Mary, for her faith, her humility, and her YES.
The feast also calls to our minds that we are to do the same—work in concert with God so that we, and others, can experience His miracles. The word “Theotokos” means “God bearer”. We use this title for the Virgin Mary, in honor of her bearing God in her womb. But this idea of carrying God within us is a call to everyone to be a “theotokos.” Christ asks us every day to carry Him in our hearts, our souls, and in our actions. What is our answer? What is your answer TODAY? “I am the handmaiden (or servant) of the Lord, let it be to me according to Your will” is the answer we should be offering every day. It is an answer that says, let me work in concert with You, so that Your glory is known through both ordinary and extraordinary things today.
The age-old mystery is revealed today, and the Son of God becomes the Son of man, so that by partaking of what is lower He may impart to me what is superior. Of old, Adam was deceived; and he did not become God, though that was his desire. But now, God becomes man, to make Adam god. Let creation sing for joy, and let nature be exultant. For the archangel is standing with awe before the Virgin and is delivering the salutation, “Rejoice,” the reverse of the pain and sorrow. O our God, who in Your tender mercy became me, glory to You! (Doxastikon from Orthros of the Annunciation, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Work in concert with God today!
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