Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE ANNUNCIATION OF OUR MOST HOLY LADY, THE THEOTOKOS AND EVER-VIRGIN MARY
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
Today is the fountainhead of our salvation and the manifestation of the mystery which was from eternity. The Son of God becometh the Virgin's Son, and Gabriel announceth the good tidings of grace; for this cause, let us cry to the Mother of God with him: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Kontakion. Plagal of Fourth Tone
When the bodiless one learned the secret command, in haste he came and stood before Joseph's dwelling, and spake unto the Maiden who knew not wedlock: The One Who hath bowed the Heavens by His descent is held and contained unchanging wholly in thee. Seeing Him receiving the form of a servant in thy womb, I stand in awe and cry to thee: Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.
Six months after Saint John the Forerunner's conception, the Archangels Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth, a town of Galilee, unto Mary the Virgin, who had come forth from the Temple a mature maiden (see Nov. 21st). According to the tradition handed down by the Fathers, she had been betrothed to Joseph four months. On coming to Joseph's house, the Archangel declared: "Rejoice, thou Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed are thou among women." After some consideration, and turmoil of soul, and fear because of this greeting, the Virgin, when she had finally obtained full assurance concerning God's unsearchable condescension and the ineffable dispensation that was to take place through her, and believing that all things are possible to the Most High, answered in humility: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." And at this, the Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her All-Blameless womb, and the Son and Logos (Word) of God, Who existed before the ages, was conceived past speech and understanding, and became flesh in her immaculate body (St. Luke 1:26-38).
Bearing in her womb the Uncontainable One, the Blessed Virgin went with haste from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea, where Zacharias had his dwelling; for she desired to find Elizabeth her kinswoman and rejoice together with her, because, as she had learned from the Archangel, Elizabeth had conceived in her old age. Furthermore, she wished to tell her of the great things that the Mighty One had been well-pleased to bring to pass in her, and she greeted Elizabeth and drew nigh to her. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, she felt her six-month-old babe leap in her womb for joy. By leaping thus even before he had beheld the light of life, her babe, Saint John the Baptist, prophesied of the dawning of the spiritual Sun. Immediately, the aged Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and recognized her as the Mother of her Lord, and with a great voice blessed her and the Fruit that she held within herself. The Virgin also, moved by a supernatural rejoicing in the spirit, glorified her God and Savior, saying: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior," and the rest, as the divine Luke hath recorded (1:39-55).
The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God
The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God is testified by Her own words, handed down in the Gospel , where she expressed awareness of the immeasurable majesty and height of Her chosenness: "My soul doth magnify the Lord...For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed...For He that is Mighty hath done to me great things; and Holy is His Name" (St. Luke 1:46-49).
The Most Holy Virgin preserved in her memory and in her heart both the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel and the inspired words of righteous Elizabeth when she was visited by Mary: "And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to Me?" (St. Luke 1:43); both the prophecy of the righteous Symeon on meeting the Infant Jesus in the Temple, and the prophecy of the righteous Anna on the same day (St. Luke 2:25-38). In connection with the account of the shepherds of Bethlehem concerning the words of the Angels to them, and of the singing of the Angels, the Evangelist adds: "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" (St. Luke 2:19). The same Evangelist, having told of the conversation of the Divine Mother with the twelve-year-old Jesus after their visit to Jerusalem on the Feast of Pascha, ends his account with the words: "but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart" (St. Luke2:51). The Evangelists speak also of the righteous Joseph, her espoused husband, whose actions were many times guided by an Angel.
According to Saint Gregory Palamas and other Holy Fathers, the Virgin Mary had already been filled with grace, and was not just filled with grace on the day of the Annunciation. Having remained in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, she reached the Holy of Holies of the spiritual life, theosis. If the courtyard of the Temple was destined for the proselytes and the main Temple for the priests, then the Holy of Holies was destined for the high priest. There the Virgin Mary entered, a sign that she had reached theosis. It is known that in the Christian age, the Narthex (vestibule) was destined for the catechumens and the impure, the main church for the illumined, the members of the Church, and the Holy of Holies (Altar) for those who had reached theosis.
Thus, the Virgin Mary had reached 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, as Saint Gregory Palamas interprets in a wonderful and divinely inspired manner. This refers to stillness, the hesychastic way. The Ever-Virgin Mary realized that no one can reach God with reasoning, with the senses, with imagination or human glory, but rather only through the intellect. Thus she deadened all the powers of the soul that came from the senses, and through noetic prayer she activated the intellect. In this manner she reached illumination and theosis. And for this reason she was granted to become the Mother of Christ, to give her flesh to Christ, the Son of God. She didn't have simply virtues, but the god-making Grace of God.
The Virgin Mary had the fullness of God's grace, in comparison to (other) people. Of course, Christ, as the Logos (Word) of God, has the whole fullness of grace, but the Virgin Mary received the fullness of Grace from the fullness of Grace of her Divine Son. For this reason in relation to Christ she is lower, since-Christ had the grace by nature, whereas the Ever-Virgin Mary had it through participation. In relation to people, however, she is higher.
The Ever-Virgin Mary had the fullness of grace, from the fullness of grace of her Son, prior to the conception, during the conception and after the conception. Prior to the conception the fullness of grace was perfect, during the conception it was more perfect, and after the conception it was very perfect (Saint Nikodemos the Haghiorite). In this manner the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos was a virgin in body and a virgin in soul. And this physical virginity of her is higher and more perfect than the virginity of the souls of the Saints, which is achieved through the energy of the All-Holy Spirit.
No human is born delivered of the ancestral (original) sin. The Fall of Adam and of Eve and the consequences of this Fall were inherited by the whole human race. It was natural that the Theotokos would not be delivered from the ancestral sin. The word of the Holy Apostle Paul is clear: "All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). In the Apostolic passage it shows that sin is considered to be a deprivation of the glory of God, and furthermore that no one is delivered from it. Thus, the Virgin Mary was born with the ancestral (original) sin. When, though, was she delivered from it? The answer to this question must be freed from scholastic viewpoints.
To begin with we must say that the ancestral (original) sin was the deprivation of the glory of God, the estrangement from God, the loss of the communion with God. This also had physical consequences, however, because in the bodies of Adam and of Eve corruption and death entered. When in the Orthodox Tradition there is talk of inheriting the ancestral sin, this does not mean the inheriting of the guilt of the ancestral sin but mainly its consequences, which are corruption and death. Just as when the root of a plant dies, the branches and the leaves become ill, so it happened with the fall of Adam. The whole human race became ill. The corruption and death which man inherits is the favorable climate for the cultivation of passions and in this manner the intellect of man is darkened.
Precisely, for this reason the adoption by Christ through His Incarnation of this mortal and suffering body, without sin, aided in correcting the consequences of Adam's sin. (Source: Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos).
When the heretics and simple blasphemers refuse to acknowledge the Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God (as Protestantism continues to do today) on the grounds that the Evangelists mention the "brothers and sisters of Jesus," they are refuted by the following facts from the Gospel:
a) In the Gospels there are named four "brothers" (James, Joses, Simon and Jude), and there also mentioned the "sisters" of Jesus--no fewer than three, as is evident in the words: "and His sisters, are they not all with us?" (St. Matthew 13:56).
On the other hand,
b) in the account of the journey to Jerusalem of the twelve-year-old boy Jesus, where there is mention of the "kinsfolk and acquaintances" (St. Luke 2:44) in the midst of whom they were seeking Jesus, and where it is likewise mentioned that Mary and Joseph every year journeyed from faraway Galilee to Jerusalem, no reason is given to think that there were present other younger children with Mary: it was thus that the first twelve years of the Lord's earthly life proceeded.
c) When, about twenty years after the above-mentioned journey, Mary stood at the Cross of the Lord, she was alone, and she was entrusted by her Divine Son to His Disciple John; and "from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home" (St. John 19:27). Evidently, as the ancient Christians also understood it, the Evangelists speak either of "half" brothers and sisters or of cousins.
Please note: The generally accepted Orthodox tradition is that the "brothers" and "sisters" of the Lord are the children of Joseph by an earlier marriage.
The Most Holy Virgin Mary is Theotokos
With the dogma of the Son of God's becoming man is closely bound up the naming of the Most Holy Virgin Mary as Theotokos (Birth-giver of God). By this name the Church confirms its faith that God the Logos (Word) became Man truly and not merely in appearance; a faith that, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, God was joined to Man from the very instant of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and that He, being perfect Man, is also perfect God.
At the same time the name Theotokos is the highest name that exalts or glorifies the Ever-Virgin Mary.
The Feast of the Annunciation in the Greek Orthodox Church also marks a day of National celebration for the people of Hellas (Greece) and those around the world of Hellenic descent. It was on March 25th, 1821 when Greece officially declared its independence and began the revolution that would eventually give the nation its freedom after 400 years of enslaved by the Ottoman Turks. In addition to the services for the Feast festivities and parades are held and official proclamations are offered throughout the world in recognition of Greek Independence Day.
GREEK INDEPENDENCE DAY
Greek Independence Day is a National holiday celebrated in Greece on March 25th, commemorating the start of the War of Greek independence in 1821. It coincides with the Greek Orthodox Church's celebration of the Annunciation to the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
Greece had been part of the Ottoman Empire since 1453. The Greek revolt was precipitated on March 25, 1821, when Bishop Germanos of the city of Patras raised the flag of revolution over the Monastery of Agia Lavra in the Peloponnese. The cry "Freedom or death" became the motto of the revolution. The Hellenes experienced early successes on the battlefield, including the capture of Athens in June 1822. In 1864, the Ionian islands were added to Greece, in 1881 parts of Epirus and Thessaly. Crete, the islands of the Eastern Aegean and Macedonia were added in 1913 and Western Thrace in 1919. After World War II the Dodecanese islands were also returned to Greece.
Just as the revolution appeared to be on the verge of failure, Great Britain, France, and Russia intervened in the conflict. The Greek struggle had elicited strong sympathy in Europe, and many leading intellectuals had promoted the Hellenic cause, including the English poet Lord Byron. At the naval Battle of Navarino, the combined British, French, and Russian forces destroyed an Ottoman-Egyptian fleet. The revolution ended in 1829 when the Treaty of Edirne established an independent Greek state.
ABOUT THE GREEK FLAG
"Freedom or Death" (Eleftheria I Thanatos) was the motto during the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire. It is believed that the nine lines of the Greek flag reflect the number of syllables in the Greek phrase "Eleftheria I Thanatos" =Freedom or Death.
The line pattern was chosen because of their similarity with the wavy sea that surrounds the shores of Hellas. The interchange of blue and white colors makes the Hellenic Flag on a windy day to look like the Aegean Sea. It is also symbolic of the beautiful blue Greek sky and the beautiful Greek sea. The Greek Square Cross that rests on the upper left-side of the flag demonstrates the respect and the devotion that Greek people have for the Greek Orthodox Christian Church and signifies the important role of Christianity in the formation of the modern Hellenic Nation. During the dark years of the Ottoman Turkish rule, the Greek Orthodox Christian Church helped the enslaved Hellenes to retain their Christian culture, Greek language, and generally the Hellenic ethnic identity. Today, Orthodox Christianity is still the dominant faith among the Hellenes.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God