On the 25th of March, nine months prior to the Nativity, we celebrate the Annunciation; the “announcing” of Jesus’ conception. The Greek word for this day is Evangelismos, or “the telling of the Good News”.
This adds a rich layer of spiritual and theological meaning, as we commemorate the setting-in-motion of God’s plan for our salvation. As we hear in the dismissal hymn of the Annunciation, “Today is the beginning of our salvation and the manifestation of the mystery which is from eternity”. St Athanasius calls this feast “the first in the list of feasts,” as Jesus, the Son of God, takes on human form from this very day.
And yet, there is another aspect of the feast that is just as important. When we look at the icon of the Annunciation, the central figure is Panagia, who is just about to become the mother of God. She is puzzled by the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement, but when her natural query about the virgin conception is explained, her response is both humble and majestic: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
What do these words say about her role in this announcement? Was she just a passive receiver of this news, with no choice but to obey? Indeed, no! St Nicholas Cabasilas explains that her accepting was voluntary, and this was crucial in order for God’s plan to be fulfilled:
“The Incarnation of the Word was not only the work of the Father, of his power and of his Spirit, but was also the work of the will and the faith of the Virgin; without the consent of the Immaculate one, without the contribution of her faith, this plan was as unrealisable as without the intervention of the three divine persons themselves.”
How amazing, that her consent was so crucial to God’s plan to save humankind! As another holy hierarch said, “All creation held its breath, wondering what her answer would be” to the archangel’s announcement. As Mary became the temple of God and Mother of Life, she became the instrument of the salvation of us all.
With this realisation in mind, let us cry out gratefully with the archangel, “Rejoice, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you!”