Today, we stand at the brink of Holy Week where we will watch as mankind’s road to redemption begins, when Christ is sent to His death on the Cross. After His Crucifixion, we will hear on Holy Saturday from the hymnology of the Church, how when Christ descended into Hell, we literally hear Hades groaning and crying aloud and saying:
“My dominion has been swallowed up; the Shepherd has been crucified and He has raised up Adam. I am deprived of those whom I once ruled; in my strength I devoured them, but now I have cast them forth. He who was crucified has emptied the tombs; the power of death has no more strength!”
The time for this glorious victory for mankind draws near…but today, we remember and celebrate how this road to mankind’s redemption and liberation from the devil began: With a simple affirmation to the Angel Gabriel in the city of Nazareth, from a young teenager who was called before the ages to bear within her womb, the Son and Word of God.
We cannot help but marvel at the events that are unfolding on this feast day of the Annunciation...brothers and sisters in Christ. No amount of science or logic can explain or comprehend what is happening on this day. How can an uncontainable God, the same one we heard that all of Hell feared and groaned about…come to be in the womb of a Virgin? The Theotokos asked this same thing to the Angel…”How can all of this be?” And after Gabriel assured her that with God all things are possible, she set into motion our entire history of salvation by saying those beautiful and simple words:
“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me, according to Your word.”
This is one of the many reasons why the Ancient Christian Church held the Mother of God with such high esteem. It is why we love and admire her. it is why we adorn her icons with flowers and ask for her intercessions to her Son!
There are so many Christian denominations out there, that look at our reverence of Theotokos and are dumbfounded. They ask us:
“How can you reverence Mary, one who is completely human…a created creature, who spent her entire life in the midst of the same fallen world that we are apart of…a world that is full of temptation and doubt! How can this teenager have such a prominent influence on the Church?”
Our response and defense of the Mother of God is found in the events of what the Church celebrates today…the feast of the Annunciation. When we read from scripture, we very easily see that it was not us who put Mary on a pedal stool…it was God the Father Himself. It took thousands of years for Him to find someone, who had the same obedience and faith that Mary had!
Put yourself in the shoes of the Theotokos for just a moment. You are drawing water from a well on a typical day in Nazareth, and an angel comes to you and tells you: “You will be the vessel in which God will enter into the world.”
Immediately, our minds would be littered with questions and doubt!
How do I know you are really an angel? How can the creator of all house Himself in my womb? How will I avoid ridicule and judgment from my friends and family, which will no doubt rain down upon me, who am a Virgin? How am I supposed to pay for all of this?!
This past week, I was blessed to have a conversation with several of the Orthodox College Students on the campus of Michigan State, and we talked about how some of the classes and professors have made it difficult to emulate the faith that Mary showed on this feast day. Scientists and professors are constantly in search of proof that what we believe in as Christians is real and concrete. This type of behavior isn’t new! Even the Jews who lived at the time of Christ, would constantly ask Him for miracles to prove that He was the Messiah. And when Jesus did show them signs and miracles, they STILL doubted.
We will hear a prime example of this on Saturday when we will read the account of Lazarus rising from the dead. There were Jews that were there that saw this miracle happen, and the news of the miracle spread everywhere! Yet shortly thereafter, it was those same Jews who were yelling at Pilot for Christ to be crucified!
2 weeks ago, we visited the weeping icon of the Mother of God in Taylor, Pennsylvania where we spent 4 hours in a Church and were completely dumbfounded, as we witnessed a piece of wood with an image of the Theotokos literally weeping myrrh into our hands. We saw spots on the carpet where the icon was weeping so much, it made puddles onto the floor where the icon was kept! In that Church, logic was defied…and all we could do was simple stand there and marvel…as we literally felt the presence of God in our midst.
One of the pilgrims came up to me and that Church, and with tears in their eyes, they said quite simply and without any doubt: “She is here…” We were given proof that day, that God exists, but on this day several thousand years ago…the Theotokos was given no proof. She didn’t ask for a sign from the angel to prove that this was all real. When she was told that she would be the chosen vessel to contain God, her acceptance was selfless…and her obedience was as pure as the myrrh which streams from her icon. This is why, dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, Mary is the greatest saint of the Church. She is the perfect Christian, because she lived in the same doubting world that we are apart of, and was able to counter the poking and prodding of the devil, who tempts all of us day after day, to give up our faith. But the Theotokos was able to defeat the deceiver that day. She learned to escape her head and live with God in her heart. She was able to defy logic, and live in faith.
This is the state that we as Christians will spend the rest of our lives trying to achieve. We do not look on the Theotokos as “an example” today…but THE example…of how strong and steadfast our faith needs to be. Let us go forth into these next few weeks with that same obedience and trust in God, as our Mother had, asking her for the strength and guidance to worship Her Son with complete obedience and humility!