And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. (Luke 1:30-31).
Finally, the event that prophets had predicted and ancient patriarchs had anticipated came true: God visited his people. All of those who expected the coming of Messiah died with the hope that He would come eventually. The righteous men of Old Testament hoped that their children or great-grandchildren will have the chance to live in Messianic era. Finally, that time came. The Messiah was born of the Most Holy Theotokos and brought peace and grace to the world, not just for the Jews but also for Gentiles.
The Most Pure Virgin spent her entire childhood in the Temple, praying, fasting, and getting ready for the great calling that she couldn’t even dream of. At last, the Angel of God announced the Good News to the Blessed Virgin, and She became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:28).
What do we see in this passage? An incorporeal angel talks with Virgin Mary and tells her something no-one had ever heard since the Fall of our forefathers—words that startled the Pure Virgin. There had been another ethereal being who had talked with a different woman, and we feel the consequences of their conversation even now. Eve heard strange words, too: ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Our foremother fell out of unity with God and trusted the words of satan, God’s adversary, more than God’s words In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:17).
According to God’s plan, the Second Eve, the Most Holy Virgin Mary, was to correct the failure of the first Eve. She was to fulfil God’s will about her and thus restore the honor of all women. Mary’s noble action and her dialog with Archangel Gabriel is remarkably well described in worship books of the Orthodox Church.
Orthodox worship is a very profound, lively, and prayerful way of reading the Holy Scripture. This way of reading the Bible is so creative and so deeply rooted in the Word of God that the holy creators of church hymns even went so far as putting words you cannot find in the Holy Scripture into the mouths of the Theotokos and Archangel Gabriel.
Ode 3 of the Canon contains a very interesting and profound prayerful contemplation on this passage. The Most Holy Virgin replies to the Archangel, My foremother followed the serpent’s advice and lost the divine food of the Paradise, therefore I am afraid of your strange greeting, ashamed of the fall (cf. Ode 3 of Annunciation Matins Canon). If only Eve had reacted in the same manner. She had to be afraid to fall. She had to be afraid of that strange promise, ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve failed that test, and the very beginning of human history is marked with the Foremother’s fall. However, at the dawn of the New Testament era at the time when the human race was about to be restored, Mary, the chosen Mother of all Christians—the best that human race could give God—says yes to God and submits herself to his will, saying, Behold the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38).
St. Theophanes the Branded, the author of this canon, puts even more amazing words into Archangel Gabriel’s mouth, I stand in the presence of God and I was sent to announce God’s decision to you. Why are you afraid of me, O All-Immaculate, for I tremble in your presence? Why are you in awe, O Queen, when I revere you even more? (Ode 3 of the Annunciation Matins Canon). The words of the Archangel reveal an astonishing but delightful fact about the Christian faith: humans are more honorable than angels! Humans are the pinnacle of creation. We are those called to sanctify and transform the material world with our labor and prayer. It was human nature that the Word of God acquired. It was human nature that sits to the right hand of God the Father in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the honor bestowed on us humans. That mind-boggling aspect of our faith is illustrated by the iconostases of Orthodox churches where Theotokos and St. John the Baptist are always closer to Christ than Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
The Mother of God will accomplish her mission. Nine months after the Annunciation, the One who is incessantly praised by angels and archangels will be born as a human baby. The Theotokos will hold in her arms the One who cannot be contained by the entire Universe—the One at whose sight all creation trembles. She will give birth to the Son whom the Father loves; the Father’s Chosen One who is pleasing unto Him.
I have put my spirit upon him:
he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
He shall not cry, nor lift up,
nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed shall he not break,
and the smoking flax shall he not quench:
he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
He shall not fail nor be discouraged,
till he have set judgment in the earth:
and the isles shall wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:1-4)
By John Nichiporuk,
a Bachelor of Theology,
specialized in Biblical Studies.
The Catalog Of Good Deeds, 2018