Sermon delivered on the Feast Day of the Annunciation, March 25, 2007.
Throughout the ecclesiastical year, four of the twelve Great Feast Days center on the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. These include her:Nativity on September 8; Dormition on August 15; Entrance into the Temple on November 21; and Annunciation on March 25.
Today on the the Annunciation of the Theotokos, we will look more closely at the liturgical texts to learn more about this most special person.
Who is Mary? What makes her so special? Her name "Maria" or "Mariam" literally means exalted one She is ever-Virgin (Luke 1:27), a title that describes not only her physical state but describes a purity and chastity that extends to her whole person (thought, word, and deed). Note the words of the Archangel Gabriel: Mary is "full of grace" and "God is with you" -- words spoken even before the Word of God was conceived within her (Luke 1:28). Elizabeth, her cousin and the wife of Zacharias and the mother of John the Baptist, called her "blessed among women" (Luke 1:42).
The hymns and readings of Vespers Service celebrated last night, tell us more about Mary. She is the "burning bush" not consumed by the fire of God's divinity (Exodus 3:1-8); "Jacob's ladder" (Genesis 28:12) that is the "bridge to heaven" (Stichera 1). She is the "gate of heaven" (Genesis 28:17) and the "divine jar of manna" (Stichera 1) and "bride unwedded" (Stichera 4).
In addition to these characteristics, let me highlight three more qualities of Mary.
First, Mary is wise. We read in scripture that when Gabriel first approached Mary that she was "troubled" by Gabriel's message and that she "considers" it (Luke 1:29). After he expands on God's message she asked a question, "How will this be?" (Luke 1:34). This demonstrates that Mary was discerning. We assume that she knew and understood everything at first but it appears that she did not. So, Mary was cautious but not overly-guarded. The Old Testament reading from Vespers implies that Mary is the personification of wisdom. It reads, "Wisdom ... has built her house" (Proverbs 9:1) for the "...fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10).
Second, Mary is faithful and obedient. After the Archangel explained how Jesus will be divinely conceived within her womb, she replied, "Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord" (Luke 1:38). Handmaiden in the original Greek is doule (slave). She placed herself completely under the direction and authority of God. Mary then said, 'Let it be unto me according to your word' (Luke 1:38). We know her "yes" implies an utterly free response to God. She was not forced, coerced or manipulated. She could have said "no".
Third, Mary is Theotokos literally "God-bearer" or "Mother of God". Because Christ is the way, the truth and the life, she becomes the Mother of Life (4th Stichera). She becomes the '"Human tabernacle ... Lord takes on her flesh making it divine ... consecrated as the Temple of God" (4th Aposticha). She is the "House of God" (Genesis 28:17).
Knowing Mary better, what can learn from her that we can apply to our own life? Compare Mary to Eve. Eve literally means "life". Eve was the "mother of all the living". But Eve was not wise. She did not discern the serpent's deceitful and false message and disobeyed the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She trusted and obeyed the devil and thereby rejected her divine calling.
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, we too must be wise. We cannot on the one hand, over-spiritualize every experience of our life as if God is sending us a message every second of the day. On the other hand, we must understand that God sends us angels and messengers, often the faithful and believing people who love and care for us, to guide and direct us in this life. Be wise and discerning.
When confronted with the call of Jesus Christ to accomplish His will in the world, we must be faithful and obedient. He will not force us. We must consent and accept God's call and divine purposes.
Like the Virgin Mary, our "yes" to God each day will be the new beginning of salvation for us and for many people around us. The Virgin Mary is not the only tabernacle or dwelling place of God. He wants to live in us too. Know the Virgin Mary. Imitate her purity and holiness. Know her Son and our God, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.