The Annunciation I

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Meditation on the Mystery of Jesus Christ,
the Eternal Son of the Father,
Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virginal Womb
of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God
Through the First Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary:
The Annunciation

Our Father…

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
proclaims from the Eastern Church that, “The Annunciation of the Theotokos is the beginning of all feasts of the Lord. In the dismissal hymn of the feast we chant:
Today is the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery from the ages…”

Indeed, this mystery is the beginning of the life of Christ in our world.
It has a very special value for our church at this time in the history
of our country and our world.
We who proclaim the truth of the value of human life from natural beginning
to natural ending celebrate this mystery and meditate upon it with great joy.
This joy gives birth to hope that some day all men and women will respect life, all life.
Perhaps one of our petitions in this decade is that our bishops would proclaim
The Annunciation, March 25th, as a holy day of obligation, that we might
come together in the holy liturgy and ask forgiveness for the sin of abortion
and for the conversion of hearts.

The beautiful structure of Saint Luke’s annunciation of the birth of the Messiah
is at least partially written in contrast to the annunciation of the birth of the Baptist:
this is a verbal diptych.
Both stories reveal God’s grace active and marvelous in human history.
An old couple and a virgin are both unable to conceive, but both bear children
because God is able and gracious.
God acts in wondrous ways to enable the wonderful conversion of our hearts,
and that’s why we meditate on this mystery again and again!

THE VERBAL DYPTYCH

John will be great before the Lord (1:15)

Jesus will be great and a Son of the Most High (1:32)

John will prepare a people (1:17)

Jesus will rule the people (1:33)

John’s role is temporary (1:17)

Jesus’ kingdom will never end (1:33)

John is to be a prophet (1:15)

Jesus is more than another prophet he is Son of God (1:35)

John will be “filled with the Holy Spirit” as a prophet (1:15)

Jesus will be the fruit of the overshadowing of the Spirit; he is the Holy One (1:35)

John is the voice, Jesus the Word

1. The Angel Gabriel was sent from God….to a Virgin betrothed to a man, named Joseph, of the House of David. The Virgin’s name was Mary. (Lk. 1: 26,27)
Hail Mary…

Saint Luke refers to Mary as a virgin twice to help us appreciate
that what was happening to her in this mystery is a divine act, a miracle,
we call it the virgin birth.
Mary is a “virgin betrothed,” and “the virgin’s name was Mary”.
David T. Landry, from the University of Saint Thomas explains
the mystery from his research.
The verbal diptych of the conception of the Baptist and the Christ
are given by saint Luke to introduce the wonder
we behold in the virgin birth of Christ our Lord.

“Now this build-up of the superiority of Jesus would fail completely if JOHN THE BAPTIST was conceived in an extraordinary manner and Jesus in a natural manner. But it would be continued perfectly if Jesus was virginally conceived, since this would be something completely unattested in previous manifestations of God’s power.”

Indeed, something new is happening here.
Something unknown and something not repeated
throughout human history is happening in this mystery.
Christ is the only Son of the Father, God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God.
Christ is not just another manifestation of the divine; he is God,
the Word made flesh and is dwelling among us.
He is that word that existed with the Father from all eternity
now entering into human history.
This mystery of joy changes everything.
It is the beginning of all joy and the fulfillment of the promise made in genesis:
his heal will crush the head of the evil one, who desires only our fall and failure.

The reference to the House of David is a beautiful way to hint
about Saint Luke’s account of the ancestors of the Messiah.
Being descended from David, his foster father, makes a connection
to the Lord Jesus with royal lineage.
Indeed, Jesus the Lord is the true son of David, the man after God’s own heart.
He alone is the obedient and faithful son of the greatest King of Israel.
Indeed, this child soon to be conceived is the fulfillment
of so many years of promise and prophecy.

2. The angel said to Her: Rejoice O highly favoured daughter! The Lord is with You. Blessed are You among women. (Lk. 1: 28)
Hail Mary…

“A characteristic mark of the Saints, who are the real members of the Body of Christ, is that they love the Virgin Mary. It is impossible for there to be a Saint who does not love her.”

This is the continued reflection of
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
Upon the relationship of the most blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints in glory
and all the saints still on the way.
Indeed, the eastern bishop continues:

“Thus, the Virgin Mary had reached [divinization] theosis even before she received the visitation of the Archangel. Toward this goal, she used a special method of knowing God and communing with God…In this manner she reached illumination and divinization. And for this reason she was granted to become the Mother of Christ, to give her flesh to Christ. She didn’t have simply virtues, but the god-making Grace of God.”

One of the best definitions of grace I have received from seminary days is this:
“grace is divine self-donation”.
Simply put, grace is not just a matter of God giving us gifts,
which all of us need to be transformed;
indeed, we are given many gifts like, faith, hope, charity, fortitude, counsel, wisdom, knowledge, etc.
Grace is ultimately the very gift of God himself to us, his beloved.
In this mystery we are transformed.

Mary is special, profoundly unique in all human history.
Her blessedness is revealed in her willingness to bear
and to be invited to bear the Messiah.
She was called because she was blessed
and she was blessed because she was called.
We have not been called to give birth to the Messiah,
but we share her blessedness every time we accept the gift of blessedness
and give ourselves over to the Lord Jesus being born into the human family
at this time and in this place.
More about this spiritual pregnancy will come later.

3. She was deeply trouble by his words,
and wondered what his greeting meant. (Lk. 1: 29)
Hail Mary…

For many years I have pondered this mystery and
often I have wondered: why is Zechariah given a severe punishment
for his doubt and the Blessed Virgin is given no such punishment.
Perhaps because what he doubted was humanly possible,
an old woman, considered barren is about to give birth to Saint John the Baptist,
but what the virgin ponders is something quite impossible—the virgin birth—no wonder she is deeply troubled and wondered.
Who wouldn’t be?
It was a fantastic discovery to read a similar thought from
Doctor Landry, who wrote:

“In terms of the story’s logic, there must be a reason that Zechariah is punished and Mary is not. The only possible reason is that Mary is told she will conceive as a virgin. Zechariah can fairly be punished because there is precedent for his situation. This has happened before in the OT. Abraham and Sarah also have a child when they are “advanced in years,” and Zechariah should remember this.

My point here is that Mary’s response in 1:38 makes sense only if the episode concerns a virginal conception. It seems clear that when Mary speaks–“I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it happen to me according to your word”–what she is doing is consenting to her situation. However, it is impossible to consent to rape or seduction.”

Those who try to explain away the virginal conception of Christ have not heard
the good news of the wondrous intervention of
the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit into human history
by the incarnation of the Lord Jesus.
Trying to explain away this mystery is nothing less
than a denial of God’s loving action in our world.
This is the beginning of our salvation
no mere violent act of man
but a divine action which can only be understood as love,
undeserved and unmerited love.
It is God’s own love bringing light and grace into our dark and desperate world.

4. The angel said to Her: Do not fear, Mary.
You have found favour with God. (Lk. 1: 30)
Hail Mary…

“Do not fear!”
As another translation puts it Mary was “utterly confused”
or perhaps even “terrified” because she encountered Archangel Gabriel
and the immensity of his message.
Who would not be afraid?
Who would not wonder how can I fulfill the Lord’s expectations?

The Metropolitan of Nafpaktos continues to share his meditation when he writes:
“The Virgin Mary had the fullness of God’s Grace, in comparison to (other) people. Of course, Christ, as the Word of God, has the whole fullness of Graces, but the Virgin Mary received the fullness of Grace from the fullness of Graces of her Son. For this reason, in relation to Christ she is lower, since – Christ had the Grace by nature, whereas the Virgin Mary had it through participation. In relation to people, however, she is higher.”

As Saint John of the Cross, that doctor of the church, teaches us
we, too, are made like Christ, we share in the very divinity of God in Christ
and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This transformation takes place by participation in Christ’s own divinity.
Indeed we are “God-like” by his gift in Christ
whereas Christ is divine by nature we are divine by participation.

Our eastern bishop continues: “Thus, at the moment when, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the divine nature was united with human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Mary first tasted her freedom from the so-called original sin and its consequences. Furthermore, at that moment that which Adam and Eve failed to do with their free personal struggle, occurred. For this reason, the Virgin Mary at the moment of the Annunciation reached a greater state than that in which Adam and Eve were prior to the fall. She was granted to taste the end of the goal of creation…

There, Adam; here, Christ. There, Eve; here Maria. There, the snake; here, Gabriel. There, the whispering of the dragon-snake to Eve; here the greeting of the angel to Mary (Joseph Vryenios). In this manner the transgression of Adam and Eve was corrected.”

In The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson the snake-satan asks “who are you? And who is your father?” The evil one is completely clueless.
After an centuries of self-focus, he hasn’t a clue.
Mercy, love, kindness, incarnation are so far from his mind.
He is unable to imagine the mystery of the annunciation
and the virginal conception of the Eternal Word.

5. You shall conceive and bear a Son
and give Him the name of Jesus. (Lk. 1: 31)
Hail Mary…

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos writes: “Through faith the word of God is sewn in the heart of man and makes it pregnant with the fear of God. This is the fear that man not remain far from God. Through this fear the struggle for cleansing the heart and the obtaining of virtues begins, which resembles a pain, childbearing pains. In this manner the spirit of salvation is born, which is [divinization] theosis and sanctification.

Christ, who was born once in the flesh, wants to be born, always in the spirit, by those who wish, and thus He becomes a babe, forming Himself in them through the virtues.”

The Incarnate Word of God is to be called Jesus
because he will save his people from their sins.
He saves us by filling us with the word which is sewn in our hearts,
that fertile and ready soil so that we become pregnant with the fear of God.
This is the beginning and the end of wisdom.
Indeed, this is the greatest treasure of the New Israel.
We are not afraid of God yet, we live in the fear of the lord.
Indeed, we fear only that we do not fully cooperate with his grace and become the dwelling of his glory.
We fear not being transformed into the very image and likeness of God.
For this we have been made and until we are so transformed
we struggle and strive with childbearing pains.

6. Great will be His dignity and He will be called Son of the Most High.
And His reign will be without end. (Lk. 1: 34)
Hail Mary…

At another place in Saint Luke’s gospel (6:35)
the Lord Jesus calls his faithful followers, Sons of God the Most High,
because they have selfless love for each other and even for their enemies.
Our guest Metropolitan considers further: “This means that a duration of time did not intervene after the conception for the human nature to be [deified] theosis, but this happened immediately at the time of the conception.

A consequence of this event is that the Virgin Mary must be called Theotokos, since she gave birth truly to God, Whom she bore for nine months in her womb, and not a man who had the Grace of God. For this reason the Virgin Mary is called Theotokos, precisely because she conceived Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Here though it must be underlined that human nature was deified immediately with its union with the divine nature in the hypostasis of the Word, in the womb of the Theotokos. For this reason the Virgin Mary is and is called Theotokos, since she gave birth to God humanly.

The direct divinization of human nature by the divine nature of the Word does not mean that the qualities of human nature are abolished. This shows that the conception and carrying in the womb, but also the birth of Christ occurred by nature and supernaturally. Supernaturally, because it occurred creatively by the All-holy Spirit and not by seed. Naturally, because the carrying in the womb occurred in the manner in which the infant is carried in the womb.

Thus, Christ’s flesh from a viewpoint of purity was as Adam’s body was prior to the transgression, while from a viewpoint of mortality and corruption it was the body of Adam after the transgression.

Consequently Christ for nine whole months, day and night, nourished with His sanctified blood the Virgin Mary. This is a foreshadowing of the ceaseless divine Communion and of the ceaseless relationship and communion of the Saints with Christ which will occur mainly in the next life. For this reason the Virgin Mary is a foreshadowing of the future age. From this viewpoint she is Paradise.”

7. Mary said to the angel,
How can this be since I do not know man? (Lk. 1: 34)
Hail Mary…

Again David T. Landry, looks closely at this mystery through the biblical scholarship available when he writes: “[Father Raymond] Brown, for example, finds all psychological solutions unsatisfactory and argues instead that the scene is ‘not meant to explain how [Mary] gained a knowledge of the way in which her child was conceived. It is rather meant to tell the reader how the child was conceived and hence to explain his identity.’ [18] Mary as a character could only have asked this question if she already knew that a normal conception after the home-taking with Joseph as the father was excluded. [19] Nothing in the text indicates that she knows this. However, according to Brown and Fitzmyer’s logic, Luke already knows that this will not be the way that the child will be conceived. “Luke phrases Mary’s question the way he does because he has the tradition that the divine plan excluded a human begetting of the child.” [20] In other words, Luke has Mary ask the question for no discernible reason other than to give the angel the further opportunity to speak of the child’s identity. “

David T. Landry, continues to reflect: “Following Mary’s question the angel explains to her how she will become pregnant and then concludes with the phrase: “For with the words of God, nothing is impossible.” Again it seems likely that the angel would only have used this phrase if he were speaking of something that is physically impossible, that is, a virginal conception. Certainly there is nothing “impossible” about a rape or seduction, nor is there anything “impossible” about God vindicating a woman who has been raped or seduced.”

Indeed, this question of the Virgin Mary could be better translated in this manner:
“How can I become pregnant now, since I will not have relations with my husband [betherothed] for some time?” All of the O [ld]T[testament] annunciations involve conceptions that have either already taken place or take place immediately after the annunciation. There is never any mention of a delay. The length of time before Mary would be taken to Joseph’s home and would begin to have relations with him could have been as much as a year. [37] Mary clearly sees that if she was to conceive by Joseph, then the angel would have waited until after the home-taking to present her with this annunciation. [38]”

8. The angel answered Her:
The Holy Spirit will come upon You and
the power of the Most High will overshadow You. (Lk. 1: 35)
Hail Mary…

The same Holy Spirit overshadowed Israel when they were escaping slavery in Egypt;
the special friends of Jesus were overshadowed in the transfiguration;
the Lord promised that the Holy Spirit would overshadow his disciples
after his resurrection (Acts 1:8).
We too are overshadowed in monastic consecration,
why else would we prostrate on the floor?
The same Spirit overshadows the gifts of bread and wine at every Eucharist,
so that we come into communion with Christ and with the Holy Spirit at every Mass.

Again Metropolitan Hierotheos reflects:
“The conception of Christ in the womb of the Theotokos occurred with silence and secrecy and not with noise and disturbance…

Just as rain that falls on a fleece of wool does not cause noise or any corruption, the same thing occurred also during the annunciation and the conception. Christ with His conception did not cause noise or any corruption in the virginity of the Virgin Mary. For this reason the Virgin Mary was and remained a Virgin before the birth, during the birth and after the birth. These are the three stars, which the iconographer forms always on the forehead and the two shoulders of the Virgin Mary.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary is both virgin and mother.
She does not cease to be virgin because she is mother.
This mystery is treasured by theology in both the east and the west.
In this truth we catch a glimpse of the wondrous mystery of the hypostatic union,
both human and divine nature exists in the divine son of God, Jesus the Christ.
The lord Jesus is both fully human and fully divine.
Indeed our Christology is preserved and sustained by our Mariology.
We need a faithful appreciation of the mystery of Mary,
virgin, before, during and after the birth of her son,
in order to appreciate the mystery of the Lord Jesus, fully God and fully man.

9. The holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God. (Lk. 1: 35)
Hail Mary…

In the Greek audience for the Gospel of Luke there were many so called
sons of god, but the Lord Jesus is unique in his sonship.
His sonship enables us to share in the resurrection and the glory of heaven;
indeed we too sit at the right hand of the Father.

The Metropolitan Hierotheos offers us further consideration of this mystery of the annunciation as being a trinitarian mystery when he writes: “The creation of the world and the recreation of man and of the world occurred and occurs with the common energy of the Trinitarian God. Consequently, not only did the Holy Spirit create the master’s body of Christ, but also the Father Himself and the Son, that is the whole Holy Trinity did. The formulation of this truth is that the Father favored the incarnation of His Son, the Son and the Word of God Himself worked His incarnation and the Holy Spirit effected it.”

Indeed, the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is present and active
in all salvation history. It is through this wondrous mystery of the incarnation
that the mystery of God as he is, three in one,
unfolds before the eyes of faith and ignites in our hearts a love which gives life,
life eternal. We are sons and daughters of God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit
who act together in this mystery to do the Father’s will.

10. Mary said: I am the servant of the Lord.
Let it be done to Me as you say. With that the angel left Her. (Lk. 1: 38)
Hail Mary…

Just before Mary gives here fiat, let it be, she hears from the Archangel,
“Nothing is impossible with God”!
In this good news Saint Luke reminds us of another couple in the Old Testament, Abraham and Sarah who needed to hear the angel assure them in their doubt,
“nothing is impossible for God” (Gen 18:14).
Indeed, this is all The Virgin Mary needs to hear.
This mighty act of her becoming Mother and remaining Virgin
is impossible for us, but not for God.
This is not unlike the feeling we sometimes hear deep within our own hearts
as the Lord invites us to be saints.
Still we need to hear the good news of Saint Gabriel the Archangel,
“Nothing is impossible with God”!
Indeed this is all we need to hear to be able to say as our Mother said,
“let it be done to me as you say.”

Again from the east we hear the reflections of Metropolitan Hierotheos as he considers this moment of the virgin’s response to the divine initiative:
“Mary could have refused, for she was not a passive instrument, but an active participant with a free and positive part to play in God’s plan for our salvation…
Some maintain that during that moment all the righteous people of the Old Testament, but also all of humanity awaited with anxiousness to hear the Virgin Mary’s response, fearing that she might refuse and not obey God’s will. They maintain that because every time when man is in such a dilemma, precisely because he has freedom, he can say the yes or no, as furthermore occurred in the case of Adam and Eve, the same thing could occur with the Virgin Mary. However it was not possible for the Virgin Mary to refuse, not because she didn’t have freedom, but because she had real freedom.”

Saint Bernard in his reflection upon this mystery of the annunciation
speaks of the moment of hesitation in the response of the Virgin Mary.
He envisions all creation waiting for her response with great longing.
Indeed, all the longing for God throughout human history and in the faith journey
of the people of God is focused on this particular moment
in the life of the Virgin Mary.
However, this mystery of human longing is not the only mystery
revealed in the annunciation.
We also discover here the very mystery of human freedom.
To be free is not to be able to choose either good or evil.
To be free is to be caught up in the mystery of God’s own freedom.
Without sin from the moment of her conception the Virgin Mary
has always cooperated with the will of the Father.
In such free and willing cooperation she is truly free.
We look forward with great longing for our own transformation in Christ
so that we come to know true human freedom.
The freedom to cooperate with grace the freedom
to give ourselves without holding back to the gracious will of
the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit.

Everything is contained in a single word: obedience

Not that of the enslaved and heavy soul

The bovine effort, dead set, the eye swarming with flies

The yoke,

But the dazzling face-to-face

Of one and the same Yes.

Everything is contained in this woman’s look upon Him

Who knows her.

Face open to ages upon ages

Magnificat for ages upon ages

Yes to everything. The young woman

Dared to do this.

To be the mold, the crucible

In which the eternal misery of humans

In which the eternal misery that humans are

Becomes God.

P. Emmanuel, Sophia (Paris: Seuil, 1973) 186.

Glory be to the Father…

The Gospel of Luke, By Luke Timothy Johnson, A Michael Glazier Book, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minesota (1991)

Days of the LORD, The Liturgical Year Vol. 7, Solemnities and Feasts, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minesota (1994)

Interpretation: A Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Luke, By Fred B. Craddock, John Knox Press, Louisville (1990)

The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/fasts_feasts/hierotheos_vlachos_annunciation.htm

Narrative Logic in the Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), By David T. Landry, University of St. Thomas, http://personal1.stthomas.edu/dtlandry/mary.html