Homily on the Annunciation of the Mother of God
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring
forth a son,
The Annunciation. Fresco in High Decani Monastery (Kosovo, Serbia) 14th centuryWhen Tsar Solomon received from God the light of wisdom to study the mysteries of nature, after he had looked over all that is on the earth and in the heavens—the past, present, and future—he decided finally that there is nothing new in the world under the sun: there is no new thing under the sun (Eccl. 1:10). But God has now wrought a work that is completely new, which never was in past ages, and never will be in the future. It is the work wrought in the Annunciation of Mary, full of grace, the Virgin and Mother, but Mother of God. The manifold miracle, the exceedingly great action of God's omnipotence, a most exalted mystery of our Orthodox faith. A Virgin and Mother! What more unlikely nature could be seen in creation? A Virgin—the Mother of God! What more wondrous thing could Divine grace bring to pass? One surpasses the bounds of nature, and there has been nothing else like it; another ascends to the heights of Divine grace, and nothing else can be compared to it. One is a great miracle, and this higher than a miracle; both are unfathomable, and both are fully divine. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David (Lk. 1:31–32).
It is about this new miracle, or rather, about these two miracles—one, of the Virgin and Mother, the other, of the Virgin and Mother of God—that I would like to speak to you today, my dear listeners. Here is how they occurred in the Gospel history.
When the fullness of time had come, when God the Father deigned to send His Only-Begotten Son and Word that He might be incarnate and become man, Gabriel, the champion of angels, was sent to the Galilean city of Nazareth to the Virgin Mary who was betrothed to Joseph, in order to greet Her with the words, Rejoice, thou who art full of grace (Lk. 1:28), and to tell her how God the Father has chosen Her to be the Mother of His Son and to give birth to the redeemer of the world. The Archangel brought her the announcement: Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS (Lk. 1:31). At first, the Virgin was troubled and wished to know the manner of this miraculous occurrence: and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be (Lk. 1:34). But when it was told to her that this would happen in a completely supernatural way, namely through the power of the omnipotent grace of the Holy Spirit, She bowed in her heart and accepted the command with deep humility: be it unto me according to thy word (Lk. 1:38). At that moment, the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, and divinely prepared the habitation that would contain God. The divine Word became flesh in Her pure womb, and signed Her with the power of the Most High, "strengthening Her," as St. Athanasius the Great teaches (in his homily on the Annunciation), "So that marked from that time, She could contemplate, as much as that is possible, the unseen God Whom She bore in Her womb, and nurture the Infant conceived there." This is that new miracle that was made manifest under the sun: A Virgin and Mother, but the Mother of God; this is the subject of the present feast.
All circumstances completely corresponded to this divine Annunciation: first, the bearer of it, the Archangel Gabriel, corresponded to it, inasmuch as this mystery is nothing other than the supernatural union of two natures, the Divine and the human, in one hypostasis of the Divine Word—of perfect God and perfect Man; and the name Gabriel means power of God. The place also corresponded to the event—the city of Nazareth, for the consequence of this mystery was the consecration of the human race through the participation of Divine nature, and Nazareth means consecration.
The time also corresponded—the month of March; the world was created at that time, and in this event was the creation of the world perfected. Then, the unsown soil first brought forth flower, and now the unwedded Virgin first conceived.
All the events of the present mystery are miraculous, but the most exalted of all that is miraculous is the Virgin Herself who received the good news—the Virgin and Mother; and this especially corresponds to the mystery, for such should be the Mother of such a Son. The Divine Word became what it never before was, and remained what it was, becoming a man and remaining God; and Mary became what She had not been, and remained what She was, having become a Mother and remaining a Virgin as before. The Divine Word became a Son born without a Father, and Mary became a Mother without a husband, giving birth without a man.
How different is God from man! But God, becoming a man and in taking flesh, did not abandon the nature of the Divinity. And how different a Virgin is from a Mother! But the Virgin, becoming a Mother, in maternal childbearing did not lose the glory of virginity. What a strange communion of two natures—the Godly and the human, united unmingled in one hypostasis! Divine nature assumed human traits, and God became perfect Man; the human became a participant in the Divine qualities, and the same Person became perfect God. In the same way, what extraordinary union of virginal purity and maternal childbearing, which in a strange manner were contained in one Woman! Virginity gave the Mother the purity that the Mother of God should have, Who is all-pure all-undefiled, fair as the moon, choice as the sun, as the Holy Spirit calls Her (see Songs 6:9). Childbearing gave virginity the blessing, which a Virgin should have had according to the Archangel's greeting: Blessed art thou among women (Lk. 1:28). Born there was the miraculous union—the God-Man; here a different union takes place, just as miraculous—the Virgin Mother. "Strange and marvelous, and removed in many ways from ordinary nature: one and the same Virgin and Mother, remaining in the sanctity of virginity and inheriting the blessing of childbirth," proclaims the heavenly Basil (the Great). Such a Son, I repeat, should have such a Mother; the Son Who was born a man and did not cease to be God, to the Mother Who gave birth to a Son and did not cease to be a Virgin.
This mystery could not have occurred in any other way; the very God-Man, the very Son, Who is eternally born of the everlasting Father, and is born in time from a woman. One Son, Who knows both a Father in Heaven and a Mother on earth, but in heaven, where He has His Father, there is no place for a mother; while on earth, where He has His Mother, there is no place for a father. There is no place for a mother in heaven—and the Son is born without passion; there is no place for a father on earth—and the Son is born without seed; thus, the relationship of Persons is maintained perfect. He is the Only Son, and the Only Son has One Father, one Mother, who is by nature an unwedded Virgin.
Now, O Christian, I say to you what the Lord said to King Achaz: Ask for thyself a sign of … in the depth or in the height (Is. 7:11); look down upon the earth, gaze upwards to heaven, search the present and past ages, and you will not find another sign like unto this one, which God revealed many centuries before through the lips of the prophet Isaiah: behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son (Is. 7:14), and which was fore-written in many fore-types: in the burning bush, in the sprouting rod (of Aaron), in the uncut mountain, and in the closed gates that faced the east, through which the Lord alone entered and left. How could Solomon say that there is nothing new under the sun? Here is a new wonder that was never matched. A Virgin and Mother, but the Mother of God. And there can never be anything like this new wonder.
O Mother of God! I confess a truth that I cannot comprehend, nor can I explain the heights of this dignity. I turn to the holy fathers to at least in some way understand, but I find that the holy fathers are also perplexed and pass over it in silence. The angels themselves remain speechless, even if they should have wanted to explain it to us. Even the Virgin, Whose mind was illumined for contemplation incomparably more than the minds of all the angels, the Virgin, filled with the Holy Spirit, bearing the Divine Word, explains it to us in Divine words: For he that is mighty hath done to me great things (Lk. 1:49), and says nothing more.
If She were the Mother of the Messiah (as the Hebrews believed in Him), that is, of only a man, and not God; and if She had given birth to the yearning of ages, the Son of blessing, the Redeemer of Israel, then as the mother of such a glorious king she would as a result of this honor and happiness have surpassed all the mothers of the world, and for this alone all generations should have called Her blessed. But to be the Mother of God, to give birth to Savior of the whole world, to give birth in time to the very Only-Begotten Son, Whom God the Father begot outside of time—this is an honor that makes Her godlike. At the beginning of the ages, when to the angels was revealed the great mystery of the economy of the incarnation, and Lucifer saw this honor, he was immediately stricken with envy, he thought a vain thing, departed from God, and fell like lightning from the heavens. Thus is the opinion of St. Maximos the Confessor, based upon the Apostle Paul's famous words: And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him (Heb. 1:6; question and answer 42 on the Epistle to the Hebrews).
The Mother of God! The more I think upon it, the more I am convinced that this cannot be understood, that this is a limitless splendor, which raises Her to the highest throne of the Thrice-radiant Divinity and brings Her nearer to God the Father. Rise up and behold the heights, O Christian, and contemplate on one side the eternal Father, and on the other, Mary, full of grace, and in the center, the Only-Begotten Son, the incarnate God-Man. He has two natures: the Divine and the human; the Divine is the offspring of the Father, the human is the offspring of Mary; the Son of God, as God, the Son of Mary, as the child both God and Man. But this Son has only one hypostasis, which contains two unmingled natures. The hypostasis is undivided, and therefore there are not two Sons—one, the Son of God the Father and the other, the Son of the Virgin Mary. This is one Person, in which, because it is not mingled, the particular qualities of two natures differ; nevertheless in this difference is preserved their undividedness, and in their duality—unity; there is only one Jesus Christ: God and man. The Father is the Father of Christ and the Father of God and man; Mary is the Mother of Christ and Mother of man and God. Thus, the relationship that God the Father has to the Only-Begotten Son is the same relationship that the Virgin Mary has to the same Son, and therefore She has in her birth of the God-Man Son the same glory, like unto the glory of the Father. Gabriel wants to express this in words: And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest (Lk. 1:31–32); He shall save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).
Could the mind conceive of a more exalted splendor?! Now transfer your gaze from such a height to the world below, to all other rational creatures, as far from Her as the earth is from heaven, and look at how small and insignificant is all the grace and glory of the prophets, apostles, and martyrs compared to the grace and glory of the Mother of God. What does King Solomon say? That there is nothing new under the sun? But here is a new miracle—the Virgin and Mother. This is a new miracle, the likes of which there never was. A Virgin—the Mother of God—a miracle, which is for a Virgin exceeding grace. The Mother of God—a miracle, which is for a Mother a most exalted honor.
This is a miracle of miracles, and one that no other faith can boast—only the Christian Faith, in which this mystery is the beginning and end of mysteries.
For the Bride of God and Sovereign Queen, Who received the grace to be both Virgin and Mother, and the honor to be the Mother of God, it is perfectly natural to be also the Mother of Christians. At the right hand of Divine splendor sits the Queen of heaven and earth, as the prophet saw Her: At Thy right hand stood the queen arrayed in a vesture of inwoven gold, adorned in varied colors (Ps. 44:8). She is the Mother of God, Who is Her Son according to natural birth, and She is the Mother of Christians, who are likewise Her children by adoption. She intercedes before God for Christians; She intercedes before Her Son for their own children. Thus, She prays to God with such boldness as is characteristic of a Mother in relation to Her Son, and she prays for Christians with such love as is fitting for Her own children. But the boldness and love of such a mother is boundless: Is there anything She could ever ask and not receive from such a Son? Is there anything we could ask and not receive from such a Mother? Orphans, strangers, captives, the sick, the humiliated, the sinful—do not be sad, for you have a mother, the Mother of God!
What Alexander the Great said to Antipater about his mother, Olympiada—that "One maternal tear cleanses from much slander," we can also rightly say of the grace-filled Mary, our Mother and Mother of God. Our sins are numerous before God, and God's anger with us is great; but one tear, one word, one intercession of the Mother of God cleanses our sins and averts God's wrath.
We have such faith in Thee, we have such hope in Thee, all holy Virgin. We confess Thee to be both Virgin and Mother; we preach Thee as the Mother of God, and we accept Thee as the Mother of Christians, the source and intercessor of our salvation.
O, Mother of God and Mother of Christians! Intercede with Thy Son for us, Thy children, and vouchsafe us the grace and kingdom of Thy Son. Amen.
06 / 05 / 2012
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