by Fr. Steven Rogers
from The Word, March 1999
IN THE MIDST OF OUR Lenten journey, in this time of contrition and repentance, a proclamation of great hope and expectation is heard throughout the Church. Even as our struggles in Lent confront our sin and our powerlessness to overcome it, God sends a messenger to assure us that because of His love and mercy, salvation has been bestowed upon us if only in faith we will receive it.
And so, on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, the Church celebrates this message of salvation delivered to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel. What is this message of salvation? The angel Gabriel tells her: "And behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His Kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:31-33). Gabriel explains to Mary the amazing plan of salvation, that the child within her will be born of her and the Holy Spirit and this child Himself will be God.
In the Feast of the Annunciation, the Church celebrates the initiation of God's salvation for man, the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. But even as the Church celebrates the divine initiative of God, it also celebrates the response and acceptance of that initiative by Mary. It is clear that Mary is initially troubled and even frightened by Gabriel's message. She questions the angel's message — both her worthiness to receive it and the possibility it could be true. Gabriel calms her with two wonderful statements. As to her worthiness, Gabriel says: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:30). And concerning the possibility that the message could be true, Gabriel responds: "For with God nothing will be impossible" (verse 37). Of her own free will, without force or compulsion, Mary humbly accepts the news of salvation and, in so doing, becomes the Mother of God.
In the visitation of Gabriel to Mary and her acceptance of his message, we can see God's plan for salvation for all of us. God, in His love for us, is the initiator of our salvation. He offers us eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a free gift; we need only to accept it.
Yet, like Mary, we often question this. "How can this be so? How can God extend salvation to someone like me? Someone so sinful, so wretched . . . how could God love someone like me? I am so sinful, I shouldn't even be in church!"
Whatever your name, replace it with Mary's in the angelic proclamation, "Do not be afraid, ____________ for you have found favor with God." The message of the Annunciation is that God's love for you is unlimited and unconditional, no matter who you are or what you've done. While we are confronted by our weakness and sinfulness during Great Lent, the ultimate message behind the realization of our shortcomings is that the love of God overshadows our limitations. The only things separating us from that power and love are our unwillingness to accept it and the fear of what that acceptance might require of us.
Mary freely accepted God's love. Her response to the annunciation was, "Let it be to me according to your word." As we continue our journey to Pascha, let us celebrate the free gift of God's love — a love that tramples down sin, death and the devil. A love that conquers all. A love that makes us sons of God and heirs of His kingdom.
Let us, like Mary, humbly accept this gift of love and, in so doing, like her, allow God to dwell within us.
Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel, March 26
Supreme Leader of the heavenly Hosts, we implore thee that by thy prayers thou wilt encircle us unworthy as we are, with the protection of the wings of thine immaterial glory, and guard us who fall down before thee and fervently cry: Deliver us from dangers, for thou art the commander of the Powers above.
Kontakion of the Archangel Gabriel, Tone 2
Supreme Leader of God's armies and minister of the divine glory, prince of the Bodiless Angels and guide of men, ask what is good for us and great mercy, as Supreme Leader of the Bodiless Hosts.