The Annunciation, celebrated on March 25 is one of the most important feasts of the church. This is the moment when the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that Jesus Christ is conceived in her. For this episode, we read the account of the Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke, and hear reflections on the event by John Donne, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Pope Francis and Saint John of Kronstadt
God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate the Annunciation. The Annunciation is one of the most important feasts of the church. It is celebrated on March 25 in the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The annunciation refers to the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she would give birth to Christ. This is also the moment when Christ is conceived in Mary’s womb as a virgin birth. Note that Annunciation Day, March 25 Is exactly 9 months before Christmas.
The story is told in the beginning of St Luke’s gospel which we will read now.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’[b] 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
For our first reflection on the Annunciation, let us share a poem by John Donne. John Donne was one of the most important poets in English literature, and also a priest. He was in fact Dean of St Paul’s cathedral in London. This poem was one of a series of poems called La Corona, commemorating major events in the life of Christ.
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
A key moment in the annunciation is the Fiat – Mary’s assent for God’s plan for her – “let it be done according to your word”. In contrast to Eve who disobeys God’s instruction for her, Mary says yes to God’s plan for her life, and in so doing, undoes Eve’s error, and brings about healing from Eve’s ancestral sin.
Let us share also this reflection on the Annunciation, from a homily by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. This reflection is formatted as a plea to the Virgin Mary, to accept the word of the Angel at the Annunciation, and in so doing bring forth the salvation of the world.
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
In this homily by Pope Francis that I will share, the Pope talks about how this surrendering to God’s will is a manifestation of Mary’s humility.
08.04.13 Holy Mass, Santa Marta
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Luke 1: 26-38
Humility is the “golden rule”. “Advancing”, for Christians, means “lowering themselves”. It is precisely on the humble path, chosen by God, that love and charity proceed.
The whole history of faith, is made of humility and “speaks of humility to us all”. This likewise applies to the historical event of Jesus' Birth. It seems that God wanted every event “to be concealed, that it not be made public”, that it be, as it were, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit”. This is why, everything happens on the road of humility. God, humble, lowers himself: he comes among us and lowers himself — and he continues to humble himself even to the Cross.
“Mary”, at the Annunciation, also humbles herself: she does not properly understand, but she is free: she grasps only the essential, and says ‘yes’. She is humble: ‘May God's will be done’. She entrusts her soul to God's will”. “Joseph, her betrothed, also lowers himself and takes this great responsibility upon his shoulders”. Joseph “also says ‘yes’ to the angel when in his dream the angel tells him of this truth.
The attitude of Mary and Joseph shows that “to reach us, God’s whole love takes the path of humility. The humble God who wanted to walk with his people”. “God, humble and so good. The patient God. This is different from the attitude of idols; idols are powerful and make themselves heard: ‘it is I who command here!’”.
Our God — for he is true, he is not a false God, he is true; he is not a wooden God made by men, he is real — thus he opted for the path of humility. All this love comes from this way of humility. Being humble does not mean following the road with one’s eyes cast down: no, no! Humility is what God as well as Mary and Joseph teach us. “Humility”, is Jesus' humility which ends on the Cross, and this is the golden rule for Christians: to persevere, to advance and to humble themselves. There is no other path. Unless I humble myself, unless you humble yourself, you are not Christian.
I think we should say “lowering ourselves”. Let us look at Jesus and ask for the grace of humility. If humility is absent love has no access; let us ask for the grace of humility — from Our Lady, from St Joseph and from Jesus.
For our next reflection, we will read from a homily by the Russian Orthodox St John of Kronstadt, who speaks of Mary’s Fiat as a reflection of her great love for God, and an inspiration for us to love God the same way.
St John of Kronstadt
The mystery that transpired upon this day awes not only the human mind; it likewise astonishes all angelic, exalted minds. They, too, are amazed at how God, Who is without beginning — Who is unencompassable, unapproachable — how He could lower Himself to the status of a servant and become a man, without ceasing to be God — and without in any way diminishing His Divine glory.
How could the Virgin contain within Her most-pure womb the unbearable fire of Divinity and remain unscathed — and, throughout all ages to come, be the Mother of God-incarnate?
So great, so marvelous, fraught with such Divine Providence, is this mystery of the annunciation to the Most Holy Virgin by the Archangel [Gabriel] — and the incarnation of the Son of God from Her!
Rejoice, O ye who are earth-born; rejoice, especially, ye faithful Christian souls — but rejoice with trepidation in the face of the magnitude of this mystery, being encompassed by the filthiness of sin.
With pure hearts and lips, magnify the Mother of God, Who is magnified and exalted above all creatures, Angels and men; Who is magnified by God Himself, the Creator of all — and remember that the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, and of His becoming man, was accomplished for our salvation from sin, from the curse that was rightfully pronounced upon us by God, in the beginning, by reason of our sins, and from temporal and eternal death.
With peace and joy, receive ye the Lord, Who comes to us in order to establish upon earth, in our hearts and in ours souls, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 4, 17) — and come to hate divinely-detested sin, impurity, incontinence, pride, hardness of heart, lack of mercy, self-love, satisfaction of [the cravings of] the flesh, and all unrighteousness.
Christ descended to the earth in order to raise us up to heaven (Akathist to the Mother of God, kondak 8). Let us, therefore, being nailed down to the earth by the passions of life, incline our heads towards heaven, whither it is that the Lord Jesus Christ desires to raise us all up, and lift up the eyes of our heart.
Lift up the heart! Long enough have we crept along the ground, like worms, in our thoughts and in our hearts. It is true that we are insignificant worms, according to our sins, although our souls have been created in the image of God, which we have disfigured by our sins, and which we must invariably re-instate through sincere penitence while we yet live.
If is necessary that this image of God, like the sun, shine forth within us as it did in the beginning, when Adam and Eve alone had been created. It is for this purpose that we have been given life; it is for this reason that our life continues on, that we are joined to God’s Church and participate in her divine services, mysteries and fasts.
Behold: how the image of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God gleams! Yet, She is also human…. What exalted Her to such incomparable heights? What made Her so glorious and so great — loftier than the Cherubim and more glorious than the Seraphim?
It was the three supreme virtues: humility, purity and a fiery love for God — a love that is alien to earthly, to external, love.
She Herself confesses that the Lord has looked upon the humility of His hand-maiden (Luke 1, 48).
Do thou also, O Christian, begin to love, and implant deep within thine heart that humility which is divinely-pleasing; acquire also, though exerted labors lasting thine entire life, a purity of heart — do this by [means of] fasting, prayer, meditation upon God, tears, and especially by a frequent and worthy communion of the holy Mysteries of Christ.
Begin, also, to love God, thy Creator and thy Saviour, with all thine heart, and prefer nothing that is in the world to His holy love.
Meditate ever upon Him and upon His wondrous works; live Him and breathe Him; nourish thy soul with Him,; attire thyself in Him; purify thyself, enlighten thyself, sanctify thyself, establish thyself, adorn thyself, praise thyself, console thyself, through Him. By means of Him, vanquish the temptations and impositions of foes, visible and invisible.
Whatsoever ye do, do all with thought of Him, and for His sake. Wheresoever ye might be, be everywhere with Him, as He is always with us, being everywhere, and filling all things (Tropar’ to the Holy Spirit).
If thou comest to love the Lord in such a way, then in thee also shall the Lord be magnified — and the Lord shall magnify thee, as the holy Church says on His behalf: those who glorify Me, I shall likewise glorify (“The Epistle of Tarasios, the Patriarch of Constantinople, to Pope Adrian of Rome.” Kormchaya [kniga (The Rudder)], Part 1, Chapter 36, 1787 edition).
Learn, O Christian, to hate, to humiliate, to annihilate every sin within thyself — and the Lord of Glory shall be magnified in thee, and thou shalt be great before God and men; begin to love humility — and the Lord will exalt thee.
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We will end this episode with troparion and kontakion for the Annunciation
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: / Hail, O Full of Grace, / the Lord is with You!