After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, “Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.” 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 forever; 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: 24-38 (Gospel of the Feast of the Annunciation)
God has a unique call for each person who has ever lived. Some of those callings will bring fame or fortune, others will be more obscure. Some will bring great challenge. When God planned to send His Son into the world to live among us and to die for our sins, He chose a young girl named Mary, who history tells us was only 14 or 15 at the time, for this important task. Thankfully, she said “YES!”
Because she worked in concert with God, in the most special and unique way a human being ever has, bearing in her womb God’s Son, we exalt her above every person who has ever lived. Her answer to God’s call is in part responsible for our salvation. She is rightly honored.
Her fame and accolades did not come without a high cost and significant challenge. Mary was born to very elderly parents, Joachim and Anna. They had the unique role of bearing her. Their role also came with challenge, as in those days, people who couldn’t have children were thought to be forsaken by God. They stayed patient in their faith, and gave birth to the Virgin Mary in old age. They dedicated her to the temple at the age of three, where she was raised by the priests of the temple. And shortly after this, they died.
So, the Virgin Mary was an orphan. Coming out of the temple at the age of fourteen, she was betrothed to Joseph, a much older man. Shortly after that, the Archangel Gabriel announced to her that she would bear the Christ. Of course, how would she explain that to Joseph? And how would they explain that to the society of that day—a woman raised in the temple, not pregnant and unmarried? Talk about a scandal!
After giving birth to Christ, and before His adult ministry began, Joseph died, and so Mary was both orphan and widow. Christ then died on the cross, the greatest pain a mother can have, seeing her son die. Even after the glorious Resurrection, He ascended into heaven and again was not with her, at least face to face.
I mention the challenges of the Virgin Mary, along with her accolades, on purpose. As we have discussed in the past, God has given each person a path to sainthood. He has given each person a calling, which if answered, will lead to salvation. God has given each of us an ability to glorify Him while serving others. And each person’s path will have some challenges. If you doubt that, look at the saints on the walls of our churches. Look at their paths, lined with martyrdom, torture, suffering, etc. And look first at the Virgin Mary, who perhaps had the toughest path of all.
The calling God has for my life is to serve as a priest. It brings me a lot of joy. It gives me a chance to serve Him and serve others. It also comes at a high cost—I live far from family, the ministry is difficult, the workload is suffocating, the burdens of the people are heavy. The devil comes and puts doubts in my mind at times. I am not always successful. The failures sting and sometimes hurt others, even people I love dearly. But I continue, through prayer, through the prayers of others, and especially through His grace, which strengthens me when I feel at my weakest. I also have been called to be a husband and a father, two other roles which bring joys, challenges, successes and failures.
I didn’t write that last paragraph to boast in any way. Because I’m sure that the same things could be said for many people reading this message. Many of you have answered your call in a career field or in a family, which is rewarding and punishing, sometimes both on the same day. We all have doubts about all kinds of things—that is the devil coming in to distract us. We all fail at times and this is why we all need the patience and forgiveness of others. We all need prayer, and we all have access to God’s grace to get us through the tough times, to help us to continually answer His call for us.
We are all called to bear God within us, to be a “Theotokos” (which literally means “God-bearer”). We are all called (and will be called) to serve God in various ways in our lives. Will we answer like the Virgin Mary, with humility and without hesitation: “Behold I am the handmaiden (servant) of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”? Or will we answer with stipulations? Doubts? Or will we even say “no”?
O Champion General, I your City now inscribe to you Triumphant anthems as the tokens of my gratitude, Being rescued from the terrors, O Theotokos. Inasmuch as you have power unassailable, From all kinds of perils free me, so that unto you I may cry aloud: Rejoice, O unwedded Bride. (Kontakion of Great and Holy Lent, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
God has called each of us in a special and unique way to be a “Theotokos”, to glorify Him and serve others. Have you answered your call? Thankfully, she said “YES!” Will you?
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
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