This feast commemorates the most sublime moment in history, that moment in which the second divine Person assumed human nature in the womb of His Mother. The event on which the feast is based is recorded in Luke 1 : 26 – 38. There the evangelist tells us that in the sixth month after the conception of St. John the Baptist by Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin of Nazareth named Mary, a woman of the house of David and espoused to one Joseph of the same royal family. The angel came and said to her: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” Mary having heard this greeting, was troubled, not have grasped the full meaning of the angel’s words,. But the angel continued and said: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God. Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and will bring forth a son; and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” Mary, having already vowed her virginity to God, could not understand why she of all women should be chosen to be the mother of the Messias. To remove Mary’s anxiety and to assure her that her virginity would be spared, the angel added: “The Holy Spirit shall come up to you and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. And therefore the Holy One to be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” As proof of this veracity he then told of the miraculous pregnancy of her aged cousin, Elizabeth. Mary may not yet have fully understood the meaning of the heavenly message, but trusting to the omnipotence of God she replied: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Your word.”
This feast, therefore, is the anniversary of the most solemn event that time has ever seen. On this day, the divine Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14). The Eastern Church has always regarded this annunciation as a most important event in the story of our salvation. It is well known that the custom of the ancient Church was not to celebrate the feasts of martyrs and other saints during Lent; but in Constantinople an exception was made for the feast, which was celebrated with such solemnity that at the pontifical Divine Liturgy, celebrated by the patriarch, the emperor himself was present. This custom was formally approved in Cannon 52 of the Trulian synod 692 A.D. Moreover, the feast was held in such a high esteem that St. Nicephorus, bishop of Constantinople, has permitted the faithful to eat meat on this day even if it fell in Holy Week.; but the people, in accordance with the long accepted practices of Lent, did not take advantage of this dispensation. The Trullian synod also decreed that the Divine Liturgy should be celebrated on the feast of the Annunciation even if it fell on Good Friday, a practice retained to this day.
The feast was introduced in the early days of Christianity. St. Gregory the Wonderworker, who died about 273 A.D. makes mention of it; and in the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom apparently to it in his homilies. In the fifth century it was known in many communities. There is evidence that the feast as such was officially introduced before or around the Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D. St. Proclus, bishop of Constantinople (446 A.D.) states the feast of the coming of our Lord and Saviour, when “He vested Himself with the nature of man,” and was celebrated during the entire fifth century.
The original date of the feast was March 25, and was observed on this date in Rome and Constantinople. Christian tradition has come to connect several important events at least indirectly with the feast of Annunciation. It recognizes March 25 as the day of our Lord’s death, as the day of creation and the fall of Adam, as the day of Lucifer’s fall, as the day of the passing of the Jews through the Red Sea, and as the day of the sacrifice of Issac. All these associations found in ancient martryologies, especially in a pseudo-Cyprianic work, On the Computation of Easter, written around 240 A.D. The arguments usually offered are either that the coming of our Lord and His death must have coincided with creation and the fall of Adam or that, since the world was created in spring, the Saviour was also conceived and died in spring. Such fanciful calculations undoubtedly helped establish the date of the feast of the Annunciation and, consequently, of Christmas.
It is sometimes disputed whether the feast belongs primarily to the Mother of God or to our Lord who incarnation it celebrates. It both marks the beginning of our Saviour’s human life and, at the same time, is surely the greatest day in the life of Mary. In the Byzantine rite, however, the feast of the Annunciation belongs to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the liturgy centers almost exclusively on the Mother of God. (Mikita: Typicon p. 14) In words of great beauty at he prayers of the liturgy describe the role Mary played in the incarnation and, therefore, in the work of our redemption. The liturgy of the feast makes it plain that this was the day that turned Mary’s destiny toward preeminence both in suffering and in glory.
The Annunciation is the holy day with the greatest number of liturgical complications. The pre-festive and post-festive periods consist of one day each. If, however, the feast falls on the Saturday of Lazurus, it has no post-festive period. If it should fall on Palm Sunday or one of the days of Holy Week or Easter Week, it has neither a pre-festive, nor post-festive period, and its celebration is limited to one day.
For the glorification of this feast, several Fathers of the Church and a number of hymn writers composed unsurpassingly beautiful and poetic hymns to the spotless Virgin, calling her “the living tabernacle of God,” who, although of a “perishable nature,” was set apart and “conceived God in and ineffable manner.”
St. John Damascene, in one of the hymns composed for the vespers of the feast, asks heaven and earth to rejoice because the great wonder that happened today-namely, that God came down from His heavenly throne and took His abode in the womb of the virgin. “Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad; for He who is coeternal with the Father, without beginning and reigning in unity with love, goodness and mercy toward mankind, who is ever ready to humble Himself to the will and sanction of the Father, takes His abode in the womb of the Virgin sanctified by the Spirit. For God humbles Himself, becoming incarnate and is made man, the angel announcing the conception to the pure one: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you, have great mercy.”
Theopane make a beautiful comparison between the humility of Christ and the pride of Adam in the stichera of matin: “Today is disclosed the mystery before all ages and the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, that by His adoption of the lowest He may grant me the Highest. Adam of old failed to become a god as he desired; thus God became man that Adam might become a god. Therefore, let creation rejoice and let nature exchange greetings for the archangel did stand reverently before the Virgin and offered her joy instead of sorrow. Wherefore, O our God, who by Your compassion became man, glory to You.”
Next Feast Days
|February 2||Presentation of our Lord|
|March 25||Annunciation of the Mother of God|
|April 23||Feast of St. George, the Great Martyr|
|June 24||Nativity of St. John the Baptist|