Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Feast of Annunciation

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Today we celebrate the beginning of our salvation. One day very soon the King of Glory will descend from heaven, surrounded by a great company of the heavenly hosts. All who ever lived shall be made to stand before Him while he opens the books of our souls and lays bare our lives. Every secret thing will be revealed and no one shall escape the scrutiny or final verdict of the Judge. Those who find mercy in that Great and Terrible Day will be transformed and glorified. The ancestral curse and all its suffering will finally be forgotten and a paradise of bliss shall blossom forth to eclipse every human sorrow. The Bride will at long last be joined to her Bridegroom. And He shall reign forever and ever. Amen.

These events should fill us with great joy, yet often they terrify us. Frankly, we are fearful that we shall be among those who will fail the judgment of love and will not hear those blessed words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master”.

Indeed, we may have every reason to feel apprehensive. Our Master has called us to heights of glory and bestowed upon us every gift necessary to raise us up, yet we most often choose to remain down below, mired in spiritual sloth, in degrading passions, and in willful disobedience. We are betrothed to Christ, called to be one with Him, yet insatiably we run from our marriage bed to join ourselves to every impure thought and deed, and thus repeatedly defile our union with our Beloved. The remorse that we often feel because of this faithlessness seldom leads us to a true repentance. Any tears that we may shed flow more from a wounded pride and a sense of frustration with ourselves than from any genuine sorrow that we have betrayed our Bridegroom.

Yes, we may be fearful of that Day when our sins and what they have done to us will be revealed. Yet we are not without hope. Again I say, today we celebrate the beginning of our salvation. And it all centers on a young girl of maybe thirteen years of age, who so unlike the rest of us, said yes to God and no to sin. Thank God that in a world in which every soul including yours and mine has turned aside and lost its initial grace, there was found one child, the Virgin Mary, who retained her gift of grace and grew it, not allowing the purity of her love and devotion to God to be compromised.

Perhaps we can all remember a time in our own early childhood when we too were more pure and innocent. Don’t we all wish we could turn back the clock to those days? Yet tantalizing choices were presented to us and we followed them, even at those moments feeling something change within us. Slowly we began to lose ourselves, as the sins we obeyed seemed to take control and darken us. In time, innocence and freedom were replaced by guilt and enslavement.

Looking back we can see that those bad choices have made it so much more difficult for us to follow God today. Even provided with every means of salvation in the Church, we find our way toward God painful and our love for Him hopelessly divided and inconsistent. How we wish we had kept ourselves undefiled and not lost our former spiritual grace and freedom!

Out of the entire human race, only one child kept herself pure before God. Yes, Mary was a miracle child, a gift from God to barren but exceedingly righteous parents who themselves walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. Raised in the Temple and trained from her infancy to be utterly devoted to God, she gained more grace with every passing year and did not trade this for sins. But Mary was not superhuman. In fact she was exactly and entirely human; fallen and in as much need of a Savior as the rest of us, yet undefiled by personal sins and thus still able to show forth the spiritual beauty and freedom in which she was born.

She was filled with such grace that the archangel sent to the house of Joseph to speak with her stood in awe of the radiance of God’s image within her. For the first time since the world was formed, Gabriel understood what mankind was intended to become and marveled at God’s inexpressible plan, knowing that he stood in the presence of one destined to be far greater and more heavenly than even himself. “More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim;” some people balk when they hear this description of Mary. But my brothers and sisters, this is exactly how humanity should be described when it is seen “full of grace” and clearly shining forth with the unspeakably beautiful image of God!

“Hail,” Gabriel said to her, using a greeting normally reserved for kings and queens. “Hail, thou that are highly favored, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” The archangel announced to her that she would conceive and bear a Son. From the pure and undefiled womb of the virgin would be born the One who would restore the image of God in all mankind and make possible the return of our spiritual freedom and beauty. After briefly questioning the angel to discern his meaning, Mary in turn said, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

Thank God for that. Mary’s “yes” to God was the beginning of our salvation. Out of our entire human race so bound by sins, so darkened and double-minded, she alone possessed the clarity, the spiritual freedom to make an absolutely unconditional yes to God. People today speak of “accepting Christ” as if that were such an easy thing to do. But many of us have learned the hard way that even as Christians we are much more likely to say no to Christ and refuse Him on a daily basis than accept Him, because we may not as yet possess the complete spiritual freedom to do otherwise.

Mary was spiritually free, and accepted Christ into her womb and thus into union with our very race itself. She joined us to God—and listen to this—because she was the only one who could. She was the only person sufficiently qualified by her spiritual purity to become the human mother of the Son of God.

This is why we pray “Most holy Theotokos, save us”. We Orthodox are not confused; we don’t think that Mary was crucified for our sins, or takes the place of Christ in our salvation. There is one mediator between God and man: the Man, Christ Jesus. But Mary brought Christ into the world, and in turn helps bring us foolish, wayward sheep to her divine Son in order that we might find our salvation in Him. In Orthodox icons of the Theotokos, she is nearly always depicted as presenting her Son to us and pointing us to Him, beckoning us to draw near to Him. This is an artistic representation of her ongoing ministry to the world. She works to draw us to Christ, to help us find our salvation in Him. By her powerful intercessions, she helps bring us into union with Christ that we might be saved.

Because she enjoys perfect spiritual freedom, she is also able to set free those of us who are still enslaved to our passions. Because she is ever-virgin and devoted to God, she is able to restore purity and devotion to those of us who have joined ourselves adulterously to sin. Because she loves God and always says yes to Him, she can help those of us whose love is divided and who so often say no to our Savior.

If we are truly concerned about the judgment to come and realize that we need urgent help now, it would be wise for us to make friends with the Mother of the Judge while there is still time. If we pray fervently unto her she is able, by her powerful intercessions, to help banish all darkness from our souls and make us children of the light and of the day. It breaks my heart that so many Christians today reject Mary, thinking that she is a threat to purity of faith in Christ. What better friend could we possibly have than the very Mother of Christ, our most pure and most holy Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary? Let learn to ask her intercessions, and also honor and magnify her on this day of the Feast of the Annunciation, which marks the beginning of our salvation in Christ.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

10 Comments:

At 3/26/2007 9:09 AM , Blogger E Rica said...

Great homily! I'm glad you posted this.

 
At 3/26/2007 9:57 AM , Blogger Patrick said...

Salvation is always the ending of the minds fascinated identification with the dead and unchanging image of what it was. It is the complete reversal of the
"natural" order of things a METANOIA - the Greek word for repentance, meaning precisely a turning around of the mind, so that it no longer faces into the past, the land of the shadow of death, but into the Eternal Present.
So long as the mind is captivated by memory, and really feels itself to be that past image which is "I" it can do nothing to save itself; it's sacrifices are of no avail, and it's Law gives no life.
After years of therapy, I had a metamorphosis - I asked Jesus to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. He delivered me from my inequities. Praise the Lord!!

 
At 3/26/2007 11:52 AM , Anonymous isaiah ray said...

Father Mic

 
At 3/26/2007 1:52 PM , Blogger Munkee said...

i noticed Fr. Wayne was greatly affected by your homily.

 
At 3/26/2007 4:37 PM , Anonymous Bruce said...

This was definitely in my top 10 of your homilies Father. Thanks for the posting of it.

 
At 3/26/2007 10:53 PM , Anonymous Steve said...

Thanks again Father for posting this homily. It had a profound impact on me.

 
At 3/28/2007 8:04 AM , Anonymous Kevin said...

I thought this was a wonderful and inspiring homily as well!

Perhaps you can clarify some things though.

You write initially that the Blessed Virgin is "just like us", needing salvation, etc. Then you write this:

"People
today speak of “accepting Christ” as if that were such
an easy thing to do. But many of us have learned the
hard way that even as Christians we are much more
likely to say no to Christ and refuse Him on a daily
basis than accept Him, because we may not as yet
possess the complete spiritual freedom to do
otherwise.

*Are we lacking this ability to "possess the complete freedom to do otherwise", because of our enslavement to the passions?

"Mary was spiritually free, and accepted Christ into
her womb and thus into union with our very race
itself. She joined us to God—and listen to
this—because she was the only one who could. She was
the only person sufficiently qualified by her
spiritual purity to become the human mother of the Son
of God."

*I am assuming that by her "spiritual freedom", that she is the "only person suficiently qualified..., the only one who could..." etc., you do NOT base this on any ontological difference in her (from mankind in general), but on - her purity?

Is it correct to say, at the end of the day then, what is so unique about the Blessed Virgin is her choice to exercise her choice in such a radical way? Because she chose to be entirely pure, despite her human nature which tended (like all humans) to the passions? Her "kenosis", or self-emptying?

Isn't it also necessary to concede - to acknowledge the Blessed Virgin's humanity - that someone other than she COULD have made this choice?

Does this - in your opinion - diminish her in some way, or does it make her purity even more venerable?

 
At 3/28/2007 10:44 AM , Blogger Munkee said...

Interesting questions Kevin.

Father, am I understanding it correctly in thinking that one contrast may be that Mary's nous was never soiled, and our nous must undergo renewal and cleansing.

Father, I hope you are planning a homily for Pentecost, because I am definitely interested in the way the Holy Spirit works/interacts with us for our salvation, and the difference, if any, between the way we experience and undergo the process and the way Mary participated in this process.

 
At 3/28/2007 2:03 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Kevin,

First, I think we should state that God chose Mary on the basis of her purity. It perhaps comes as a bit of a shock to our modern religious sensibilities, but purity actually is important to God. Was any other woman in history ever as pure as Mary and thus equally qualified to become God's mother? Ultimately only God Himself knows that, but if we dared to answer no to that question I don't think we'd be far off. I personally have not come across any ancient patristic writing that suggested even remotely that any woman other than Mary could have fulfilled this role. Have you?

Mary was “like us” in that she was human and born fallen as are we all. She needed humanity’s Savior as much as anyone else in order to partake in her share of all that He accomplished for our sakes in His flesh. What makes her “different” from us is that she did not commit personal actions of sin during her lifetime, nor allow the seeds of the passions to germinate and grow within her to confuse her soul or draw her away from God. As a result, both her spiritual perception and “free will” were as unpolluted as possible for one still fallen. She sought only God and no earthly thing. This put her in the position to be the only member of our poor race who could reverse the “no” of our first mother Eve and thus set humanity back on its original course. I believe it was St. Irenaeus who articulated this theology of “recapitulation” with Mary as the Second Eve whose action of obedience reversed Eve’s initial disobedience.

I think what we are ultimately saying about Mary is that she remained essentially “human” whereas the rest of us have debased ourselves and become markedly less so. In a world gone mad, she retained her sanity. In a world in which everyone delights in the pleasures of sin, she delighted in God alone. As our world continues to slide into the darkness of sin, unfortunately leading most Christians to join in the process of continually lowering the bar in regards to purity and holiness, Mary will only become an increasingly more controversial figure who will need to be reinvented so that who she was and what she accomplished becomes less “unique” and important. Some however will continue to turn to her as the one who “opened unto us the doors of salvation” and began the reversal of humanity’s downward spiral toward destruction, and who still helps us through her powerful intercessions before her Son.

 
At 4/16/2007 11:18 AM , Blogger Munkee said...

...more like the abandoned blog...Father, come back!

 

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