Monday, March 26, 2012

Synergy in the Mystery of the Annunciation


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Now that we have venerated the lifegiving Wood,
with gladness let us advance upon the path of the
Fast to the Passion of Christ.
(Monday of the Fifth Week, Canon, Canticle One)


Yesterday, we celebrated the brief festal interlude of the Annunciation (March 25) that always falls during the season of Great Lent. So, the liturgy cycle for the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent also included the major hymnography for the Feast. The church temporally put aside its lenten colors to be clothed with the festal blue that distinguishes the Feasts of the Theotokos. Yet, because it is Great Lent, there is no extended afterfeast, as today is designated the Leavetaking of Annunciation. You must be spiritually aware and vigilant so that the Feast does not pass by undetected! Otherwise, we deprive ourselves of this festal commemoration – and our own mindfulness – of the Incarnation of the Son of God. The troparion of the Feast makes it clear that the Annunciation reveals the eternal mystery of God:

Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal
mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel
announces the coming of Grace. Together with him let us cry to the
Theotokos: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

The Son of God became incarnate – took on flesh and the fullness of human nature - at the mysterious “moment” of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who is the Theotokos because of her unique role in this revealed eternal mystery. As the Hymn to the Theotokos – “All of Creation Rejoices in You” - expresses it: He made your body into a throne, and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens. There is – and there can only be – a great sense of wonder and awe before the great mystery of the Son of God being conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary:

Gabriel marveled at the beauty of thy virginity and the splendor of thy
purity, and he said to Thee: O Theotokos: ‘How can I praise thee as I
should? By what name shall I invoke thee? I am troubled and amazed.
Therefore, as I was commanded, I cry out to thee: Hail, full of grace!

From the Akathist Hymn
(originally meant to praise the Annunciation to the
Theotokos)


In the Orthodox understanding of divine – human relationships; and especially as this has a direct bearing on the process of salvation; there is a clear stress on the harmonious combination of divine grace/initiative and human freedom. We, as human beings, are not saved against our will and cooperation. Divine grace and human freedom are two unequal but equally essential components of our redemption. This has been stated with great clarity and insight in a patristic formulation that has become a “classical” expression of the Orthodox understanding of synergy, which is the term used to articulate the above-mentioned harmonious balance between divine grace and human freedom. The author of this passage is St. Nicholas Cabasilas, a 14th c. Byzantine theologian (and friend of St. Gregory Palamas):

The incarnation of the Word was not only the work of Father, Son and Spirit – the first consenting, the second descending, the third overshadowing – but it was also the work of the will and the faith of the Virgin. Without the three divine Persons this design could not have been set in motion; but likewise the plan could not have been carried into effect without the consent and faith of the all-pure Virgin. Only after teaching and persuading her does God make her his Mother and receive from her the flesh which she consciously wills to offer him. Just as he was conceived by his own free choice, so in the same way she became his Mother voluntarily and with her free consent.

St. Nicholas has brilliantly described, expanded upon, and drawn out the full implication of the words of the Virgin Mary as recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (LK 1:38).

Through the eyes of faith, we are thus not blinded to a further hidden mystery: "All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace, the assembly of angels and the race of men.”

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