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.”

Luke 1:34-38

There will hopefully be many times in our lives (maybe most times) when we will be confronted with a challenge and life experience or job training will have us know exactly what we are to do. Then there will be times in life when something will happen and we won’t know what to do. And a few times in life, we will be confronted with something that is so far out of the bounds of experience and even thought that we will struggle with what to do.

Such was the case with the Virgin Mary, one day when she was fourteen years old and was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and told that she was being called by God to do something unheard of. Not only would it be difficult to do, it would be even difficult to comprehend. The message of the angel was that this challenge would be something that no other human had ever, or would ever, be asked to do, to bear in her womb, the Son of God.

The angel brought some news of comfort to the Virgin Mary, together with this request. He said that the Holy Spirit would come down upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her. In other words, she would be strengthened by the grace of the Holy Spirit and the power of Almighty God. She wasn’t going to be expected to do something extraordinary without receiving extraordinary grace and strength.

There still had to be a response. Mary was still free to say no. God was not going to impose His will on her, any more than He imposed on Adam and Eve to steer clear of one tree. God has always given us freedom to follow Him or to not follow. And the Virgin Mary was free to make her own decision in the matter that the angel brought before her. Her answer was “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.” (Luke 1:38)

The hardest four words of prayer are these—”Thy will be done.” (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:42) These four words are uttered only two times in the Bible. In Matthew 6:10, Jesus teaches them to us as part of what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer.” In Matthew 26:42, Jesus prays these words in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He asks for the Father to take away the cup of suffering, but eventually concedes to whatever the will of the Father is for Him. The phrase “According to Your will” is also uttered two times in the New Testament. It is said in Luke 1:38 by the Virgin Mary, in response to the word of the Lord as presented by the Archangel Gabriel. It is also said Luke 2:29 by Symeon, the priest who was promised by God that he would not die until he saw the Christ. When he blessed Jesus forty days after the Nativity, Symeon uttered these words with trust in God, that God’s promise to him had been fulfilled.

Thy will be done means we cede our will and we let Him direct. When we are totally unsure of where to go or what to do, we cede our will and we let Him direct. This is actually pretty rare, in my life at least. More often, I am confronted with a situation where my will conflicts with God’s will and I know that. I know what He wants, and I know what I want, and I know that the two do not match. “Thy will be done” or “according to Thy word” in this situation means, I am stepping away from my desire to do something that goes against God’s will and I’m going to do what I know God wants, even though it goes against what I want.

God’s will comes in two forms—God has a direct will for certain situations. Sometimes this will is an opportunity that we know God is calling us to, perhaps it is the call to a certain vocation, or perhaps it is as commonplace as a call to refrain from a certain temptation. God’s will also is manifest in a permissive will, which allows something to happen, even something bad, without God’s intervention. A car accident that is not one’s fault is an example of this. Same thing with a serious illness. God doesn’t want us to get in car accidents, but permits everyone to have free will, including someone who might crash into us and injure us. God doesn’t want us to have serious illnesses either, yet they are the now-natural consequence of our fallen world. Because God won’t collectively take away the free will of the entire fallen world, He then permits things like illnesses to happen, things that are the result of a broken humanity.

In the case of the Virgin Mary, this was a direct call from God to do something extraordinary, to participate in an exceptional way in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. And thankfully she said yes. God calls all of us to participate in His Divine Economy, His plan for the salvation of the world. It may be a life call, like being a priest, or being a doctor or being a parent. It might be a short term call, like sitting with a new student at lunch. It might be something relatively simple, like giving a friend a shoulder to cry on, or might be something difficult and dangerous, like stepping in the way to prevent someone from getting hurt. God calls us in all ways, large and small, on a regular basis. Praying “Thy will be done” is perhaps the most mature thing we can pray, because it leaves us open to whatever God’s will may be for us on a given day, from something mundane, to something extraordinary (and sometimes extraordinarily difficult).

There are many times when I have cried from the depths of my soul “Is this REALLY Your will?” I’ve lamented to God, “I have done so much for You, can’t You do better for me?!” I’ve judged others by placing myself ahead of them, in saying to God “I’m a good person, better than so-and-so, so why does this (insert situation) befall me and not them?” I’ve become angry about things that I perceive to be unfair. And yet all of these speak to my own spiritual immaturity, and my own need for a deeper understanding. Where I need to go, and hopefully will go, is to a place where these four words of the Lord’s Prayer, which we utter constantly, are said with truth and conviction—Thy will be done. And then release my frustration with God and my frustration with myself and my circumstance and just let His will govern, trusting in whatever that might be on a given day in a given situation.

We honor the Virgin Mary for so many things, including her humility in ceding to the will of God in His unique and extraordinary call for her life. May we each grow in our ability to say “Thy will be done” in both the ordinary and extraordinary times. Indeed, these are the hardest four words of prayer, but also four of the most mature, powerful and faithful words we can offer.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
All my offenses, voluntary and involuntary, manifest and hidden, known and unknown, forgive, O Savior, for You are God; be merciful and save me. (Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode One, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

When you don’t know what to do, “Thy will be done” is a great place to begin!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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 multiple books, you can view here:


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