Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Annunciation: The Feast of the Incarnation

Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

As announced, we will celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation this evening with the Vesperal Liturgy beginning at 6:00 p.m. This is meant to allow for greater parish participation and the reception of the Eucharist. In one of the most celebrated passages from the Church Fathers concerning this Feast, we hear St. Nicholas Cabasilas (14th c.) describe the mystery of the Annunication in a manner that also considers the unique role of the Theotokos:

The incarnation of the Word was not only the work of the 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.
(Homily on the Annunciation 4-5)

This is a near-perfect expression of our understanding of the proper relationship between and God humankind – a relationship based on synergy, the harmonious combination of divine grace and human freedom. This means that human persons are “co-workers” with God in the divine-human process of salvation. The role of the Virgin Mary was essential, because humanity must participate and contribute to its own salvation. The Theotokos, therefore, is the true representative of created humanity; for a human person living and acting according to the “image and likeness” in which he/she is created, will always seek to humbly serve God as the end and fulfillment of human existence. When presented with that opportunity according to the divine design – oikonomia- the Virgin Mary made precisely that perfect choice by proclaiming: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (LK. 1:38). Only then did the Word of God became incarnate in her womb by the “overshadowing” of the Holy Spirit.

When, with humility and trust in God we also stand before the Lord as His servant and seek to fulfill the divine will, can we also “incarnate” Christ by “conceiving” Him in our minds and hearts through the hearing of that very Word. This is how we recreate the “God-bearing” vocation of the Mother of God in our own lives.

The Feast of the Annunciation is actually the Feast of the Incarnation. The Feast of the Annunciation is also our “pro-life” Feast within the Church. If we proclaim the beginning of personal life at the “moment” of conception; and then seek to protect and safeguard that life regardless of the trying circumstances of life; this affirmation of life is based on the conception of the Word of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the “moment” when the Word of God becomes flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. Your presence at this Feast is your prayerful commitment to the “sanctity of life” as a divinely-willed continuum from conception to birth; and then through the length of our earthly life into that life beyond the grave that we call the Kingdom of God.

There are multiple reasons to “lay aside all earthly care” and partake of the joy of the Feast of the Annunciation, that “festal interlude” that illuminates the Lenten season from within by its joyful announcement that the virgin Mary will conceive in her womb and give birth to the Son of God.

Scriptural readings for the Liturgy of the Feast:

HEB. 2:11-18
LK. 1:24-38

Fr. Steven

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