On the 7th of April those Orthodox Christians who use the Julian calendar are celebrating one of the twelve Great Feasts - the Annunciation of the Theotokos. This joyous feast day reminds us about the fact that our Savior Jesus Christ entered this world through Virgin Mary’s womb and became incarnate in order to save us.
The story of Annunciation can be found in the Gospel of St Luke. First of all St Luke tells us about the Virgin Mary and the fact that God Himself sent an angel to tell her about what was coming:
“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1:26-27)
Then we read the words the angel Gabriel said to Mary, a simple young and pious girl:
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28)
As you can imagine, Mary was taken aback by such words from God’s angel. However she kept on listening to him. He told her:
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33)
Mary had a logical question. She was a virgin so she didn’t know how that would be possible. The angel explained:
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
This is not a usual situation people like Mary find themselves in. It takes a lot of courage and faith to agree to be the Mother of God, to embark on such a hard journey. But Mary humbly agreed, even though she was probably shocked and even scared:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38)
This is how the birth of Christ was foretold by angel Gabriel.
On the feast of Annunciation of the Theotokos we celebrate and commemorate two things.
First of all, it is the divine initiative of God. He knew he was willing to take on flesh from the Virgin in order to save us all. This way God also ceased to be something strictly transcendental and out of this world - He became a part of this world, a part of His own creation.
Secondly, we commemorate Mary’s acceptance to become the Mother of incarnate God. She could have said no, but she didn’t. She was brave and yet humble enough to accept God’s will. This is such a great example to all of us - a Christian is someone who is both courageous and humble, because it is impossible to accept God’s will without those two qualities.
The feast usually falls during the season of Great Lent. Because it is such a Great and joyous feast, the fast is lessened and Orthodox Christians are allowed to eat fish. This is also the only day of Great Lent when the Divine Liturgy is served on a weekday (normally, only the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is permitted on Wednesdays and Fridays).
In our Convent on the day of Annunciation we celebrate a special festive Liturgy with Vespers and sing beautiful hymns, like this one:
“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!”
(Troparion of Annunciation)
On September 8th, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. This wonderworking icon is one of the most venerated in Russia and, according to tradition, dates from the dawn of Christianity.