Bishop Alexander of the Russian Orthodox church
Translated from Russian by Anatoli Peredera
Translation of the Canon of the Feast is taken from a publication by St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, Perrysville, Ohio.
For centuries the feast of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos (Theotokos is Greek for Mother of God—transl.) has been among the favorite feasts of the Russian people. Even “birds do not make their nests on this day,”—our pious ancestors used to say. On this day the Virgin Mary heard the joyful news from a heavenly messenger that she had been chosen to become the Mother of the Savior of the World. The Angel greeted her with the words: “Rejoice, you, full of grace!” And these words were, in effect, the first good news for the mankind since man broke his relationship with God as a result of falling into sin. At that moment when the Angel appeared to the Most Pure Virgin a new, bright page was turned in the life of mankind.
This brochure will tell you about the event of the Annunciation, its significance for us, explain what is special about the divine services on this feast, and at the end will give you some prayers and the matins (morning service) canon.
Only one of the Evangelists, St. Luke, describes the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (see the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 1:26-38).
Here we are going to retell his story along with some brief explanations. In the 6th month after Elizabeth conceived St. John the Baptist, Angel Gabriel, usually called Archangel (meaning a highest ranking Angel) was sent by God to Nazareth, a little known town in Galilee, to the Virgin Mary, who was espoused to a man named Joseph. Notice that Evangelist Luke does not say, “to a virgin married to a man”, but “to a virgin espoused to a man,” because Virgin Mary was Joseph’s wife only legally, but was not really his wife. An ancient tradition explains why that happened. Even before Mary was born, her parents Joachim and Anna, then childless vowed before God that if they ever had a child, they would dedicate him/her to the service of God. When they got old, God sent them a daughter they named Mary. When she turned 3 years of age, her parents gave her to the Jerusalem temple to be raised. Having lived there for 10 years in an atmosphere of prayer and contemplating God, young Mary loved God so much, that she made a decision to dedicate herself to Him and vowed to never get married. When Mary turned 14, She could no longer stay at the temple: She had to either return to her parents’ home, or get married. Yet Her parents had died a few years earlier. The High Priest, being aware of her vow of virginity and desiring to help Her fulfill it, formally espoused Mary to an elderly relative of Hers, Joseph, known for his righteous life. At that time he was a widower and had quite a large family by his first marriage. He lived and worked as a carpenter in Nazareth, located in the southern part of Galilee (Matt. 13: 55-56). Thus good old Joseph agreed to take care of his young niece. Both of them descended from King David and were expecting the coming of the Messiah.
Now let us go back to the story in the Gospel. Having appeared to the Virgin Mary, the Angel Gabriel greeted her by saying: “Rejoice, you, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Full of grace means one that received special love and benevolence from God. The appearance of the Angel and His unusual words perplexed Mary, and She started contemplating on their meaning. Comforting Her, the Angel tells Mary that She would give birth to a great Son, Who will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord would give Him the throne of David, His Father, and He will reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and His Kingdom shall have no end.
The ancient kingdom of David was an image of the coming Kingdom of God. In the kingdom of David God Himself appointed kings, the kingdom was ruled in accordance with the laws of God, and all aspects of the citizens’ lives were filled with the idea of serving God. The main special characteristic of the kingdom of David was not in its civil organization, but in its spiritual ideal as a society striving to live in accordance with the will of God. Even after the kingdom of David ceased to exist as a result of the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar around 600 B.C., the ideal of the kingdom continued to inspire religious Jews to wait for the coming of the Messiah and the Savior. Among them were the Virgin Mary and Her parents, the elder Joseph, the righteous Zachariah and Elizabeth (parents of John the Baptist), the elder Simeon the Receiver of God, the prophetess Anna, the shepherds of Bethlehem and many other believing Jewish people. The prophets had predicted that with the coming of the Messiah the kingdom of David would be restored and transformed into a Messianic Kingdom. Believers from many nations would become a part of it, and it would stand forever (see Isaiah 42:1-12, 54:12-14, Is. 2:2-3, Dan. 2:44, Dan. 7:13, Zach 9:9-11).
Wishing to remain a Virgin, Holy Mary was not sure if She had understood the Angel, so She asked him, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The Angel comforted Her by explaining that Her vow would not be violated, for She would give birth to a Son in a supernatural way, without a man. The conception without semen would be effected by the Holy Spirit, by Whose action “the power of the Highest shall overshadow” Her, meaning that the Son of God Himself would come down into Her womb (in an allegory of a Church’s hymn, the Holy Spirit, like the mysterious cloud that overshadowed the Old Testament tabernacle, came down upon the Virgin at the moment of conception, Ex. 40:34, Num. 9:15). The Most Holy Virgin did not ask the Angel for a proof, but Angel Gabriel himself confirmed the truth of his words by pointing to Elizabeth, who had conceived Prophet John the Baptist in a very old age according to the will of God, for there is nothing impossible for God. The Virgin Mary, seeing the will of God in all this, humbly replied, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
A voluntary consent by the Virgin Mary to become the Mother of the Messiah was absolutely necessary for the incarnation of the Son of God, because God always protects the gift of free will, with which He endowed man. Moral freedom is a priceless characteristic that elevates us above inanimate nature and the animal world. Without it we would be something like a bunch of programmed robots incapable of moral self-improvement. Being morally free, we can grow spiritually, perfect ourselves, thus becoming like our Creator. (Unlike God, the devil seeks to deprive man of the divine characteristic of freedom; he tries to enslave man first morally, and then physically.) Thus, after the Virgin Mary gave her willful consent, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Her, and at that moment a great mystery took place, which is incomprehensible even to angels. The infinite, unapproachable and eternal Lord came into the Virgin’s womb and, without incinerating it with His presence, received from it the human nature consisting of body and intelligent soul. Further development of the Embryo in the Virgin’s womb continued in accordance with the ordinary laws of nature, and the Virgin was bearing the Infant until the day of His birth in Bethlehem. (According to God’s mercy, the incomprehensible Miracle of the incarnation of the Son of God is sort of repeated at every liturgy, when the Holy Spirit comes down upon the bread and wine on the altar and transforms them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus in the mystery of Eucharist the Lord Jesus Christ makes us participants of His Divine nature.)
The day Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary an ancient prediction by Isaiah was fulfilled that a Virgin would conceive in Her womb and give birth to a Son, Who would be given the name Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us” (Is. 7:14). That day God entered into the womb of the Virgin and became man, in order to set the world free from sin and the power of the devil. It is impossible to understand the miracle of conception of the eternal Infant; it is a great mystery of godliness, comprehensible only by faith (1 Tim. 3:16). In the appearance of Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary the Church sees the “Beginning of our salvation.” Annunciation is the first beam of the morning dawn after a long and tormenting night. That day our world brought its best fruit to God, the brightest, the purest fruit that it could create: the Most Pure Virgin Mary. The Lord accepted this gift of humankind and responded to it with a gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit. In this mysterious meeting of the fallen humankind with the most gracious God, which meeting took place in the pure heart of the Virgin Mary, one can hear the first unique joyful sound of that angelic song that, according to earth’s time, could be fully heard on earth only 9 months later: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, good will in men.” The Virgin Mary was carrying “Glory to God” in Her heart, and for that the Savior promised Her “peace on earth.”
In the caution shown by the Virgin Mary in response to the greeting and promise of Angel Gabriel, the Holy Fathers of the Church see a sign of great virtue known as “discernment.” They see the wise caution of the Virgin Mary as the opposite of the gullibility of Eve, who thoughtlessly heeded an advice of the devil in the form of a serpent and received grief instead of happiness.
The Angel’s appearance to the Virgin Mary is surrounded by two events: the conception of John the Baptist and the visit by the Most Holy Virgin Mary to the righteous Elisabeth. During this visit, St. John the Baptist, a not-yet-born six-month-old infant, was the first to greet the Most Holy Virgin with his movement in the womb of Elisabeth. At that moment righteous Elisabeth also received the Holy Spirit and exclaimed: “Blessed are You among women and blessed is the fruit of Your womb.” And then she added: “How come that the Mother of my Lord came to me!” (Lk. 1:43) Here righteous Elisabeth began her greeting with the same words that Archangel Gabriel finished his with. These words of greeting gave birth to that wonderful prayer we so often hear in church: “Rejoice, Virgin Mary, birth-giver of God, full of grace, the Lord is with You. Blessed are You among women, and blessed is the Fruit of Your womb. For you gave birth to the Savior of our souls.”
The state of that affection, that holy, heavenly joy in which the Virgin Mary was on the day of Annunciation, is reflected on the “Affection” Icon, where the Virgin is depicted without the Infant, Her hands placed on Her chest, a Halo around Her head with the words “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded.” St. Seraphim of Sarov spent days and nights praying before that icon, and before it he died.
The first word of Archangel Gabriel’s greeting was Rejoice. And the feast of Annunciation is, first of all, a feast of quiet heavenly joy—joy over reconciliation with God, joy over the return of grace to earth. Annunciation is also a feast of triumph of humility, purity and chastity, a feast of unshakable faith in the Omnipotence of God and in His unlimited love toward perishing man.
This feast, the “chief of our salvation,” is a spring of “living waters,” which then turn into a broad river and, finally, a boundless sea of New Testament miracles, mysteries and the Grace of the Holy Spirit given to those thirsting for righteousness by God, who gives the Spirit without a measure. Annunciation is a feast of marriage between Heaven and earth, when the Heaven comes down to earth and unites with it. Annunciation is a “blue” feast. On this day everything turns blue in the eyes of a believer, everything becomes more pure and transparent. The sky becomes even more blue and deeper. Blue becomes the air and the waters reflecting clear cloudless skies; blue turn the first flowers, and stars at night. Blue also turn human souls, becoming capable of comprehending the heavenly music of this wonderful feast.
The saying that at the feast of Annunciation even a bird would not make a nest, figuratively calls upon us on this day to lay aside everyday cares and to direct our thoughts toward the heavens, toward joyful communion with God. According to an ancient Russian custom, birds are released on this day as a sign of human soul being set free from sin.
Having released a bird, Pushkin (a Russian poet) says, “I have attained solace; why would I grumble against God, when I could give freedom to at least one creature!” Another Russian poet, Tumanski, watching a newly released bird, writes, “She disappeared in the blue shining sky, singing as if praying for me.”
Annunciation is celebrated on April 7 (March 25 according to the Church calendar). Ancient Christians used different names for the feast: “Conception of Christ,” “Good Tidings about Christ,” “The Beginning of Redemption,” “Good Tidings of the Angel to Mary.” It was only beginning in the 7th century that the feast received its current name, “Annunciation of the Most Holy Birth-giver of God.” The feast is of a very ancient origin. Back in the 4th century St. Athanasius the Great called it “the first in the line of feasts,” the beginning of humankind’s salvation. In 5-6 centuries the feast became significantly more celebrated in opposition to the Nestorian heresy that belittled the Virgin Mary. (Nestorius erroneously taught that the Most Holy Virgin gave birth to a simple man, to whom Divinity was joined only after His birth. When we call the Virgin Mary the “Birth-giver of God,” we mean that Jesus, at the moment of His conception in Her Virgin womb, was the true Son of God. That is why the Virgin was carrying in her Womb and later gave birth to God-man. Both natures, Divine and Human, were united together at the moment of conception in the person of Christ, and from that point on they do not merge in Him and do not change in their essence.)
Due to the fact that the feast sometimes falls during the Great Lent and sometimes during the Pascha, the order of divine services of the feast is somewhat complex. If the feast of Annunciation happens on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday of a week during the Great Lent, then the All-Night Vigil begins with the Great Compline. If it happens on a Sunday or Monday, then the Vigil is served as usual. I.e. it begins with Vespers (see our leaflet #38 about All-Night Vigil). When Annunciation happens on Pascha, then there is no polielei service, but the Canon of Annunciation is joined with the Paschal Canon, and the Gospel is read after the 6th song.
In the stichiras (songs of the all-night vigil) of the feast of Annunciation we are reminded of the story of Archangel Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Mother of God, and our attention is drawn to the Virgin Mary’s humility. We are told how unfathomable the Nativity of the Savior from the Virgin Mary is. The Mother of God is compared to the bush in the desert of Sinai that burned yet was not consumed (Exodus 3:2). Like that bush, the Virgin Mary remained undamaged, having received God into Herself. She is also likened unto the ladder reaching from earth to heaven, which ladder was seen by Jacob (Gen. 28:12). It is said that thanks to the Lord’s birth from the Birth-giver of God, the heaven is united with earth, Adam is renewed, Eve is set free, and we become partakers of the Divine nature and the Church, i.e. the temple of God. Both heaven and earth are invited to celebrate and rejoice, because the Son of God, Who shares the Father’s Throne, enters into the virgin womb according to His goodness and takes on a human nature. The following paremia (excerpts from the Old Testament) are read during the Vespers: Gen. 28:10-17, Ez. 43:27, 44:1-4, Prov. 9:1-11, Exodus 3:1-8, Prov. 8:22-30. On the All-Night Vigil and the Liturgy of the Annunciation the following prayer, called Troparion, is sung:
Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The Canon sung during the All-Night Vigil (Canon is a part of divine service composed after a certain pattern, see below) tells us about the Incarnate Savior coming down to humankind and points out the greatness of the most holy Virgin accepting God into Herself. It mentions prophecies and other Old Testament pointers to the incarnation of the Son of God from the Woman, it speaks of the power of the Most Holy Spirit that overshadowed the Mother of God with His descent, explains brief, but deep in meaning words of the Archangel Gabriel to the Most Holy Virgin Mary.
During the Liturgy, before reading of the Apostle, the following prokimenon is sung: Day by day sing the good tidings of our God’s salvation. In the Apostle reading (Heb. 2:11-18) the thought is expressed that the Son of God had to take on human flesh for the salvation of men. The Gospel (Luke 1:24-38) speaks of the Angel Gabriel’s appearance to the Most Holy Virgin Mary. The following prayer is sung at the end of the Canon as well as during the liturgy instead of “It is truly meet…” (It is called Zadostoinik, or Megalynarion).
O earth, proclaim the great joy! O heaven, praise the glory of God. Let not the hand of unclean dare touch You, the Living Ark of God. But let the lips of the faithful sing loudly the Angel’s greeting to the Birth-giver of God and shout joyfully, Rejoice, o full of grace, the Lord is with Thee!
During the Liturgy before Communion we sing the following
God has chosen Zion and has desired it to be His habitation.
In the established practice of the Church, when Annunciation coincides with Pascha, the light of the feast of the Good News does not fade even in the blinding sea of light of the Holy Pascha, and the music of archangelic choir is not muted by the joyful sea of sounds of the Resurrection of Christ. This is explained by the fact that the feast of Annunciation (the beginning of our salvation) and the feast of Christ’s Resurrection (the final event in salvation of the world) have the same nature!
The feast’s Canon was written in the 8th century by St. John of Damascus and Theophanus the Metropolitan of Nicea. In its liturgical practice the Orthodox Church has deemed it necessary to supplement this discourse with a special explanatory service, the Canon of Annunciation, representing an expanded version of the dialog between the Virgin and the heavenly messenger.
Heirmos: My mouth shall I open wide, and it will thus be with Spirit filled. A word shall I then pour out unto the Mother and Queen. I will joyously attend the celebration and sing to her merrily, lauding her miracles. (Ps. 44:2-10)
Lady, let David your forefather sing to you as he strikes the harp of the Spirit: “Hark, O Daughter, unto the voice that is filled with joy, of Gabriel the Angel. For joy inexpressible does he announce to you” (Ps. 44:11)
Angel: Rejoicing I speak to you. Incline your ear and give heed to me announcing the seedlessly achieved conception of God. For before the Lord have you indeed found favor, all-pure one, as no one else before you ever found. (Lk. 1:30)
Theotokos: Angel, make known to me the full significance of your words. How shall what you say occur? Tell me explicitly. How shall I conceive, who am a virgin damsel? And how shall I now become Mother of my Maker? (Lk. 1:34)
Angel: It seems you consider me possibly speaking deceitfully. And seeing your cautiousness causes me to rejoice. But be not afraid, for when God wills, O Lady, then even the wondrous things easily come to pass. (Lk. 1:29, 37)
Heirmos: Establish your servants who extol you, O Mother of God, for they have formed a spiritual choir for you, the living and abundant fount; and crowns of glory graciously in your divine glory grant to them.
Theotokos: The ruler indeed has failed from Judah. The right time has therefore now arrived when is expected to appear the hope of all the nations, Christ. But how I shall give birth to Him, being a virgin, explain to me. (Gen. 49:1; Lk. 1:34)
Angel: The manner of your unique conception, O Virgin, you seek to learn from me. But this is unexplainable. Yet when He overshadows you with His creative power shall the Holy Spirit accomplish it. (Lk. 1:35)
Theotokos: For accepting counsel from the serpent my ancestral mother from divine delight of old was ostracized. And therefore I am wary now of your strange salutation too, fearing lest I make the same mistake.
Angel: I, who stand before the Lord in heaven was sent to reveal to you His will. O pure one, why are you afraid of me who stand in fear of you? O Mistress, why do you revere me who revere you with solemn awe?
Heirmos: He who sits in holy glory on the throne of Divinity, on a swift and light cloud, Jesus, has arrived, the surpassing God, and by the might of His undefiled hand has saved those who cry aloud: Glory, O Christ, to Your power be. (Is. 19:1; Ps. 46:9)
Theotokos: I have heard Prophet Isaiah who foreseeing of old proclaimed that a sacred Virgin shall conceive and bring forth Emmanuel. But what I earnestly long to know is how shall man’s mortal nature sustain the mingling with the Divinity. (Is. 7:14)
Angel: O all-lauded Virgin Mary wholly full of the grace of God, the bush on the mountain, which was not consumed while sustaining fire, proclaimed the marvelous nature of your own mystery. For yet after birth you shall remain ever virgin pure. (Exodus 3:2)
Theotokos: Gabriel illuminated by the radiance of the All-Ruling God, O herald of the truth, most truly do tell me now. How shall I give birth in flesh unto the bodiless Word with my purity remaining wholly inviolate?
Angel: As a slave before his mistress, so with reverence I wait on you. And I am, O Maiden, yet afraid with awe now to gaze on you on whom the Word of the Father shall softly come down like rain on a fleece, as was His perfect good will to do. (Ps. 71:6)
Heirmos: Amazed was the universe by your divine magnificence. For while never consummating wedlock, you held, O Virgin, the God of all in your womb, and gave birth unto a timeless Son Who awards salvation to all who chant hymns of praise to you.
Theotokos: Unable am I to grasp the total meaning of your words. For while often miracles have happened, wrought by divine power, which were symbols and types in the Law and in the sacred Books, never has a virgin borne without agency of a male. (Heb. 10:1)
Angel: You marvel, all-blameless one. Your miracle is strange indeed. For you shall receive into your own womb the King of all, Who shall be incarnated there. And lo, do the symbols of the Law and the Prophets’ sayings and their enigmas prefigure you. (1 Tim. 3:16)
Theotokos: For Him Who is unto all unseen and uncontainable how shall it be possible to dwell in a virgin’s womb which He has created himself? And how shall it be that I conceive God the Word Who with the Father and the Spirit is beginning-less? (1 Tim. 6:16)
Angel: He who swore a promise to King David your progenitor to set upon the throne of his kingdom and house of Jacob, unto the ages, a Son the fruit of his loins, has chosen you, the only beauty thereof as His rational domicile. (Ps. 131:11, 46:5; Lk. 1:32)
Heirmos: Prefiguring in the whale the divine three-day burial, Prophet Jonah cried aloud, in affliction beseeching God: From corruption save me, O Lord Jesus the King of angelic hosts.
Theotokos: Accepting the joyful sound of your words, now, O Gabriel, I am totally fulfilled with divine joy and happiness. For joy you proclaim, and you annunciate joy that will never end. (Lk. 1:47-48)
Angel: Mother of God, unto you has been given the godly joy. Unto you cries out, rejoice, all creation, O Bride of God. For you alone, O pure one, were preordained Mother of the Son of God. (Lk. 1:28)
Theotokos: Let mother Eve’s ancient sentence through me now be nullified; and through me let what she owed unto man be returned today. Let her ancient debt be through my childbirth more than repaid in full. (Gen. 3)
Angel: God made a vow to your forefather Abraham, promising that the nations would be blessed in his descendant, O Maiden pure; and today the promise is through you now beginning to come to pass. (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16)
Heirmos: Godly-minded three did not adore created things in the Creator’s stead, but bravely trampling upon the threat of the furnace fire chanted joyfully: O supremely praised and most exalted Lord and God of the fathers, You are blessed.
Theotokos: You declare to me the bright good tidings that the Light immaterial shall for great mercy unite with physical matter. And divine announcements now you cry out to me, saying, “O blessed is the fruit of your womb, O purest Maiden” (Lk. 1:42)
Angel: Virgin Maid, rejoice. Rejoice, O Mistress wholly pure. Rejoice, container of God. Rejoice, O lamp-stand of Light, Adam’s restoration and deliverance of Eve. Holy mountain, rejoice, chamber of immortality, and resplendent holy temple. (Lk. 1:28)
Theotokos: The coming on me of the All-holy Spirit now has purified my soul; my body it sanctified and made me into a temple capacious of God, a tent adorned by God, a sanctuary animate, and of Life the purest Mother. (Lk. 1:35)
Angel: As a burning torch emitting light I see you, and a chamber built by God. And as the gold-covered ark receive now, O Bride of God, the Giver of the Law, Who was thus well pleased through you to grant deliverance to corrupted human nature. (Heb. 9:4)
Heirmos: Hearken, O Damsel, let Gabriel say. Incline your ear, O Virgin pure, and hear the counsel of the Most High, ancient and true; and make ready for your own reception of God. For through you the Uncontainable associates with mortal men. And I am therefore rejoicing and shouting: O all you, works of the Lord, praise and bless the Lord. (Is. 25:1; Baruch 3:37)
Answered the Virgin, “Every mortal mind is overwhelmed which seeks to grasp the wondrous tidings that you now announce to me. I delight in your words, yet am also perplexed, fearing lest as Eve through trickery you send me far away from God. But even so am I already shouting: O all you, works of the Lord, praise and bless the Lord” (Gen. 3:2)
Gabriel uttered responding, “Behold, the problem has been solved for you who rightly called it a thing hard to demonstrate. Persuaded, therefore, by the word of your own lips, no more doubt it as factitious, but believe it to be factual. For I myself am rejoicing and shouting: O all you works of the Lord, praise and bless the Lord.”
There is for mortals a God-given law,” replied the blameless one again, “that gamic union must precede a child’s birth. But the pleasure of a mate I know not at all. So, how do you say that I shall bear? I fear lest now you speak with deceit. But, notwithstanding, behold I am shouting: O all you works of the Lord, praise and bless the Lord” (Lk. 1:34)
Chaste one,” the Angel cried out once again, “the maxim you declare to me is the convention for childbirth of mortal men. But I announce unto you that the very God, past conception and intelligence, as He knows, shall take flesh from you. And I am therefore rejoicing and shouting: O all you, works of the Lord, praise and bless the Lord” (Lk. 1:35)
The Virgin assented, “To me you appear to be a herald of the truth. For you came as an Angel of universal joy. Since, then, by the Spirit my soul is purified, be it unto me according to your utterance, and God dwell in me. For unto Him now with you am I shouting: O all you, works of the Lord, praise and bless the Lord.”
Heirmos: Now let no uninitiated hand approach the living Ark of God to touch it. Rather let believers’ lips sing out in exultation the Angel’s salutation unceasingly to the Theotokos and cry out: Rejoice, Maiden full of grace; the Lord is with you.
You eluded, O Maid, nature’s laws, conceiving God in ways past understanding. For in giving birth you bypassed things proper to mothers, even if by nature you were fluxional. Wherefore are you worthily hearing: Rejoice, Maiden full of grace; the Lord is with you. (Ezek. 44:2)
O pure Virgin, how nurse you with milk? No mortal tongue is able to explain it. For you are displaying something alien to nature, transcending the rules of lawful conception. Wherefore are you worthily hearing: Rejoice, Maiden full of grace; the Lord is with you. (Lk. 2:7)
It is mystically spoken of you in sacred Writ, O Mother of the Most High. For of old when Jacob saw the ladder that prefigured you, he said, “This is none other than the base of God.” Wherefore are you worthily hearing: Rejoice, Maiden full of grace; the Lord is with you. (Gen. 28:13-19)
The bush and the fire revealed to hierophantic Moses a strange portent. Seeking its fulfillment in the course of time, he uttered, “I shall see it fully in a Damsel pure, to whom as Theotokos be it spoken: Rejoice, Maiden full of grace; the Lord is with you” (Exod. 3:3)
Daniel calls you Spiritual Mountain. Isaiah styles you as God’s Birth-giver. Gideon foresees you as a fleece, while David names you sanctuary. Still another calls you gate. But Gabriel addressing you cries out: “Rejoice, Maiden full of grace; the Lord is with you” (Dan. 2:35; Is. 7:14; Ps. 95:6; Ezek. 44:2; Lk. 1:30)
The Feast of Annunciation is a day of joy for an Orthodox Christian. It was especially joyous for our pious ancestors who so much loved the Virgin Mary for Her virtues, which are so dear to the Russian soul: humility, meekness and striving towards the ideal. The Russian people dedicated many temples and monasteries to the Most Holy Birth-giver of God (Theotokos) and called their homeland “The House of the Most Holy Theotokos.” To this love of Her by the Russian people the Virgin Mary responded with Her heavenly assistance and a multitude of miracle-working icons.
The feast of Annunciation reminds us of God’s great love toward people and that the Son of God became man in order to make us partakers of His Divine nature. The feast of Annunciation encourages us to imitate the Most Pure Virgin in Her purity and chastity and to strive to get to Heaven, where the angels and the saints are rejoicing in the eternal light.
On the day of Annunciation we all acquired in the person of Virgin Mary a great Advocate before the throne of God. Therefore let us be grateful to God for His mercies towards us and ask the Most Pure Virgin to help us achieve the quiet harbor of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Gen. 28:10-17 (Vision of a mysterious ladder).
And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
Ezek. 43:27, 44:1-4 (Shut gates of the temple).
And when these days are expired, it shall be, that upon the eighth day, and so forward, the priests shall make your burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord GOD. Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. It is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the LORD; he shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same. Then brought he me the way of the north gate before the house: and I looked, and, behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD: and I fell upon my face.
Prov. 9:1-11 (Wisdom built a house for itself).
Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding. He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot. Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.
Exodus. 3:1-8 (Vision of a bush that burned, but was not consumed).
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Prov. 8:22-30 (Eternal Wisdom of God: about the Son of God).
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him. Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
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