by Christopher Holwey
I would like to offer a few words here concerning the difference between volunteerism and stewardship, and how it correctly pertains to our life in the Church. Over the years, I have seen many of us in the church struggle to get more and more people to participate and “volunteer” to do what needs to be done to keep our churches going.
I remember the first time I met Scott Hakim, a United States Marine who had grown up attending St. Anthony’s Orthodox Church in Bergenfeld, New Jersey. I was assigned to that parish while attending St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and he was just coming back from Iraq; I had been invited to his coming-home party at his family’s house on a Sunday afternoon. The thing I remember best is being lost – his father Jerry Hakim could tell you how many times I called, just to find the house!
Ever since then, it feels like I have been trying hard to find him in one place or another. Soon after he left New Jersey that Sunday afternoon to head back to Camp Lejeune, I received orders from the Navy Chaplain Corps, stationing me with the Marines, actually right down the street from him. Our command buildings were less than half a mile from each other, but getting together was not so easy – we stay pretty busy in the Marine Corps. Through a series of phone calls and near misses over my first six weeks at Camp Lejeune, we finally got together on the base, and my wife and I eventually got him over to our house for dinner. He also became a regular at my little Orthodox Chapel at nearby Camp Johnson.
In October of this past year I realized I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks, and called his cell phone. There was no answer. It turned out he was at a training exercise across the country. As he returned, I traveled west for training, missing him again. And then I was deployed to Afghanistan in January.
With different ‘old-calendar’ and ‘new-calendar’ dates for Nativity, an early Lent, Easter candy at the supermarket already, and a new iPhone that I can’t seem to synch with my Outlook calendar, I have to admit I have calendar vertigo. It started when I attended a festive party on December 26th and listened to a certain lawyer, a young priest and a smart seminary graduate debate the Old Julian and New Gregorian Ecclesial calendars regarding the date of the Nativity Feast. Honestly, it was confusing: Why is it that we Antiochians just celebrated Christmas on the 25th with the Western Catholic church and our American Protestant culture, but the Russian church downtown is still fasting? For the sake of unity can’t we be on one calendar? If unity is what you want, we should switch to the Old Julian Calendar because North American Orthodoxy is the minority compared to worldwide Orthodoxy. Does it really matter if one calendar is 13 days off five hundred years from now? On and on the conversation went with a spirit of love, fun and debate, but no real resolution.
Soon we talked of other things, but I left that night thinking about calendars and the rhythms they create in our lives. When one takes a moment to reflect on the rhythm of our days, weeks, months and years, one starts to realize that the calendar one lives by, or, more accurately, the many calendars one lives by, give a rhythm to your life. Calendars are intertwined with one’s personal walk with Christ and certainly are crucial to one’s own theosis. I looked around and noticed the many calendars that influence the rhythm of my own life.
I was told about a Carolina Governor who was carrying on with a woman who was not his wife, and, when it became public, justified himself on the grounds that she was his “soul mate.” The term is used constantly now and some assume, unfortunately, that we should be constantly looking for this soul mate. This is utter rubbish, of course. There’s no such thing, at least not in the sense we use the term now.
My dad taught me a great number of wise things before his untimely death, and one of them was that we don’t fall in love with “the one person” who was created for us; what usually happens is that we reach a point in life where we’re ready to have a family and the person who most closely resembles our vision of a spouse at that point is the one we focus our attention on. There is a lot of truth in that. I’ve seen it over and over as a parish priest.
At one time that wasn’t a bad thing, either. We generally kept around folks who had been raised with the same basic values and background that we had. Our families often had known each other for some time. Expectations were shared. Now, people can share only four years of college (or a night in a bar) and an overwhelming lust – what a foundation! – but they say, “I’ve met my soul mate.”
Real love, the kind that really works and is good for us, requires more than attraction and appreciation; it requires active, sacrifi cial love. Real love is not about self-actualization and self-discovery – that can be therapy, not love. Real love requires the Cross of Christ, because God is love. This is the tough stuff: we don’t want sacrifice, we want romanticism instead. A person who is set only on romantic love will never find true love. The romantic is ultimately the sad, melancholic figure at the edge of a cliff watching the crashing of the sea far below.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John
"In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37-38)
They who come to the divine preaching and give heed to the faith, must manifest the desire of thirsty men for water, and kindle in themselves a similar longing; so will they be able also very carefully to retain what is said. For as thirsty men, when they have taken a bowl, eagerly drain it and then desist, so too they who hear the divine oracles if they receive them thirsting, will never be weary until they have drunk them up. For to show that men ought ever to thirst and hunger, "Blessed," it saith, "are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matt. v. 6); and here Christ saith, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink." What He saith is of this kind, "I draw no man to Me by necessity and constraint; but if any hath great zeal, if any is inflamed with desire, him I call."
Almighty God has gifted Orthodox Christianity with monasticism. It is the “alternative lifestyle” of Orthodoxy to which some, but not all, are called. Many sources state that the monastic life is the angelic life. Going one step further, some sources even state that God has replaced the angelic ranks that fell with Satan with the men and women who have been called to the angelic (that is, monastic) life.
When we think of monasticism, several images and ideas come to mind – such as monasteries, the prayer life, and asceticism. But what about evangelism? Does the angelic life have a connection with the evangelical life that we Orthodox Christians are supposed to be living daily (especially those of us in the “front lines” – in our parishes and in the secular world)?
If we turn to the hymnography of the feastday of the Synaxis of the Angels (November 8), in particular to the stichera on “Lord, I call …” at Great Vespers, we get some surprising insights about the angelic life worthy of consideration and application in the monastic life.
The angelic life is one of worship. Stichera 6 states:
As thou hast been manifested standing all resplendent, before the triluminary Godhead, O Michael, leader of hosts, thou dost shout rejoicing with the powers on high, “Holy Father! Holy Coeternal Word! Holy, Holy Spirit! One Glory and Sovereignty, one Nature, one Godhead, and one Power.”
“What do you mean, Ian goes to church?” other parents and teachers would ask me about my son, who has autism spectrum disorder. “How can he stay still for that long?” Ian would leap out of his chair in class and sway back and forth. At home, nothing could keep his attention – not movies, TV, or even baking his favorite cookies. In his day program, he needed constant one-to-one supervision in order to do his work. So what is it about the Orthodox Church that allows Ian to follow the deacon’s frequent reminders in the Liturgy “to attend”?
First of all, there is the music. Ian taps his foot and sways to music of all kinds, but the words contained in the rhythm and repetition of chanting keep his attention and stay in his memory. This is no accident, because the Orthodox Church has relied on the senses to teach its doctrine since the very beginning. Besides hearing the Word, we can see and learn about the characters and events in the Bible that are displayed everywhere in the church. Ian enjoys looking at the murals and icons in church that, along with the burning candles, calm him and help him to focus. He also tracks the colors of the priest’s garments and the processions around the altar. Smelling incense and flowers in the church is another sensory pathway to Ian’s memory. Before praying for his family, he sniffs the roses and candles.
Why are the repetition of words, and the chants and the movements so important to someone like Ian with symptoms of autism? Ian knows that he can count on the same order of liturgy every Sunday. This consistency gives a meaningful pattern and framework to the torrent of overwhelming sensations. Unchanging is not only a historical characteristic of the liturgy, it is also an important psychological strength. In these times of overnight change, we all need a place and time to come for support and consistency.
by Rev. Fr. Theodore E. Ziton
from The Word, June 1958
For the last time Jesus blessed the group of the faithful. Then they saw Him soar above the earth, rising by His own power, From the Mount of Olives, He saw, round about, the places which He sojourned while on earth, from birth to death, which had been sanctified by his presence; the pale brown desert of Judea the River Jordan; Mount Calvary; the plains of Bethlehem.
The Apostles had forgotten everything about them. Straining their eyes, they continued to seek out a gleam of His presence. They would have followed Him anywhere He went on earth; they would have cast themselves into the depths of the sea and perished with Him in the waters, but on this aerial path they could not follow Him. Speechless and surprised with admiration, they watched the Divine Master mount higher and higher to heaven till finally He disappeared in a cloud. While they were gazing up to heaven, two men stood by them in white garments, and said to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into Heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into Heaven, shall come in the same way as you have seen Him going up to Heaven.”
Have you noticed that someone you have once done a favor for sometime in the past now, seemingly out of the middle of nowhere the person now expects a favor back in return. It is not that they are asking you, rather their tone of voice and words indicate it is not a request rather it is an expectation. Where does this demanding expectation come from?
It actually comes from the faulty mindset of the individual who originally did the favor for you. The favor doer was saying mentally in his own mind, but did not communicate to you: "Ok I will do this favor for you, now you owe me one in the future." If the favor is not returned when I want it and in the way they want I have the right to be angry and resentful.” Cognitive-Behavioral psychologists call this distorted irrational cognition: Reciprocity. (Morelli, 2007). Reciprocity is a one way, that is to say, unilateral contract that if I do something for you I can expect that you will do something for me.
On close examination, such contracts are inherently dishonest and unfair because most often the other person did not know about the contents of the contract. No matter how realistic, valid, and fair the contract may seem to the person who made it up, the other may be following a completely different mental interpretation of the favor.
TOWARD HEALING CHURCH SCHISM: OVERVIEW AND PSYCHOTHEOLOGICAL REFLECTION - WHAT CAN WE DO TO ACHIEVE UNITY BETWEEN CATHOLICS AND ORTHODOX
“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (Jn 17:11)
“When Christ asked the one who was to become the first among the apostle, then called Simon Bar-Jona, “. . . who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15). Simon answered: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16: 16-18). The Eastern Orthodox Church has always considered this “profession” of the Divinity of Jesus[i] to be the ‘rock,’ the foundation, of all who are members of His Church. It is noteworthy that Jesus did not speak of plural Churches, i.e., that He would found many Churches, but my Church, singular. He would found one Church. The Church is one.
It helps us grasp the truth about what really matters, and it’s a “transferable discipline.”
Why do we fast? According to some Protestants, we believe that we are earning God’s salvation by fasting. That is not the case, however. Fasting does not save us; the God-Man Jesus Christ saves us. But God uses means, including fasting, to do so.
We don’t fast because we despise the body. Extreme dualism, which surfaces regularly throughout history, disparages the physical and the body in an unchristian way. The Incarnation and the Resurrection, however, tell us that God does not despise the body, and neither should we. Fasting is not a punishment of the body, as though the body were the source of sin; it is what comes out of the heart that defiles a person, not his or her natural bodily needs.
Fasting is not a way of proving one’s Orthodoxy or piety, to God or to anyone else; we see this in the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, which comes five Sundays before Lent in order to prepare us for it. According to Proto-Presbyter Alexander Schmemann, “No one can acquire the spirit of repentance without rejecting the attitude of the Pharisee. Here is a man who is always pleased with himself and thinks that he complies with all the requirements of religion. Yet, he has reduced religion to purely formal rules and measures it by the amount of his financial contribution to the temple” (“The Liturgical Structure of Lent”). And, one might add, he measures it by the strictness of his fast.
Every male of you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. A child who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised … and my covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant (Genesis, 17:10-13).
When our forefather in faith Abraham was ninety-nine years of age, the eternal Son and Word of God came to him and made covenant with him. He commanded that, as the defining “sign” of that covenant, Abraham and his seed be circumcised. Throughout succeeding centuries, Israel dutifully kept this Law and even took it as a cause for boasting (Galatians 6:14).1
It was to fulfill this divine commandment that our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth according to the flesh from His pure and ever-virgin Mother Mary. This event receives but passing notice in the Gospel:
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21).
Yet, laden with great significance, Christ’s circumcision proved to be both the fulfillment of God’s commandment in the Law and a prophetic sign of future events.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John
"Many of the Samaritans of that city believed on Him for the saying of the woman which testified, He told me all that ever I did." (John 4:39)
They perceived that the woman would not from favor have admired One who had rebuked her sins, nor to gratify another have paraded her own course of life.
Let us then also imitate this woman, and in the case of our own sins not be ashamed of men, but fear, as is meet, God who now beholdeth what is done, and who hereafter punisheth those who do not now repent. At present we do the opposite of this, for we fear not Him who shall judge us, but shudder at those who do not in anything hurt us, and tremble at the shame which comes from them. Therefore in the very thing which we fear, in this do we incur punishment. For he who now regards only the reproach of men, but when God seeth is not ashamed to do anything unseemly, and who will not repent and be converted, in that day will be made an example, not only before one or two but in the sight of the whole world. For that a vast assembly is seated there to behold righteous actions as well as those which are not such, let the parable of the sheep and the goats teach thee, as also the blessed Paul when He saith "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. v. 10), and again, "Who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness." (1 Cor. iv. 5.) Hast thou done or imagined any evil thing, and dost thou hide it from man? Yet from God thou hidest it not. But for this thou careth nothing; the eyes of men, these are thy fear.
By Rev. John Finley, B.M., M.A., M.S.T.
2002 Conference on Missions and Evangelism
The Gospel in Song: Music, Missions and Evangelism
August 30-September 02, 2002
Just as an authentic icon makes visible for us, the invisible Kingdom of God, so too, authentic Church music makes audible for us the inaudible song of the angels around the throne of God.
And just as an icon of Christ or the Theotokos differs in style from nation to nation, and from one century to the next, so too, a musical setting of a hymn to Christ or to His mother differs in style from nation to nation and from one century to the next.
Because we respect the tradition of the Church, and because we know that no culture or no era stands in isolation from another in Church History, we seek to develop Church art in a living continuity with the past, realizing however, that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to which we are united, is not simply the Church of the past, but also of the present and of the future.
Our Patriarch Ignatius IV commenting in his book The Resurrection and Modern Man on the Apocalyptic verse "Behold, I make all things new" emphasizes that God comes into the world from the future. So, too, should our music, and iconography be made new from generation to generation, not in the sense of radical innovation or novelty, but new according to the renewal of the Holy Spirit in the Church. We must trust that the Holy Spirit will reveal the mind of the Church in every generation and in every nation as the faithful apply the great commission not only to the spread of the Orthodox faith in thought, word and deed, but also in Christian art.
The following article is taken from the newsletter PSALM: Pan-Orthodox Society for the Advancement of Liturgical Music, Spring 1996, written by His Grace Bishop BASIL. For more information on PSALM, please go to www.orthodoxpsalm.org .
There are few ministries of the Church that require the devotion and the dedication that church singing does. You who lead the singing as well as you who follow the leader are precious gifts to your parishes. You are as important to the parish as is the holy table itself. As there can be no liturgy without the holy table, there can be no liturgy without you. This is not to compliment you or increase your pride, but rather to put a little fear and awe in you, so you know what your responsibilities are. Church singing is not a hobby. Being a choir director is not something one does for personal fulfillment. It is first and foremost a duty, a duty of those to whom God has given musical talents. It is sinful, in my opinion, for someone not to sing who has been given the gift to sing. Sinful! You join the angels, and do that which the angels do perpetually. That’s not an interest, avocation, or a hobby; it is a duty. Angels were created to serve and to praise, and you have been given voices for that same purpose.
I love to remind our church singers of the fact that we physically jump into something that goes on perpetually. We jump in and join with the angels for a couple of hours, and then we jump back out. The liturgy does not begin with “Blessed is the Kingdom” and your “Amen,” and it doesn’t end with “Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers” and your “Amen.” Those phrases only define the time that we participate in the liturgy which goes on perpetually before the throne of God.
“The hymnologists of the Orthodox Church are Christians of virtue and great faith, having been endowed with musical talent as well as the power of religious inspiration. Their creations have enriched our worship services and have helped turn our souls towards God. Perhaps the greatest of all hymnologists is St. Romanos the Melodist. Many other hymnologists have written ecclesiastical hymns, but none of them inspired the Christians as much as St. Romanos.” This statement, issued by the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians concisely states the reverence, appreciation and feeling all Orthodox Christians have for St. Romanos.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles
And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. (Acts 6:1)
So then there was a daily ministration for the widows. And observe how he calls it a "ministration," and not directly alms: extolling by this at once the doers, and those to whom it was done. "Were neglected." This did not arise from malice, but perhaps from the carelessness of the multitude. And therefore he brought it forward openly, for this was no small evil. Observe, how even in the beginning the evils came not only from without, but also from within. For you must not look to this only, that it was set to rights, but observe that it was a great evil that it existed.
"Then the twelve," etc. (v. 2.) Do you observe how outward concerns succeed to inward? They do not act at their own discretion, but plead for themselves to the congregation. So ought it to be done now. "It is not reason," says he, "that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables." First he puts to them the unreasonableness of the thing; that it is not possible for both things to be done with the same attention: just as when they were about to ordain Matthias, they first show the necessity of the thing, that one was deficient, and there must needs be twelve. And so here they showed the necessity; and they did it not sooner, but waited till the murmuring arose; nor, on the other hand, did they suffer this to spread far. And, lo! they leave the decision to them: those who pleased all, those who of all were honestly reputed, them they present: not now twelve, but "seven, full of the Spirit and of wisdom: well reported of" for their conversation. (v. 3.)
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
Jesus is standing on the broken doors of hell. The massive portals lie crossed under his feet, a reminder of the Cross that won this triumph. He stands braced and striding, like a superhero, using his mighty outstretched arms to lift a great weight. That weight is Adam and Eve themselves, our father and mother in the fallen flesh. Jesus grasps Adam's wrist with his right hand and Eve's with his left, as he pulls them forcibly up, out of the carved marble boxes that are their graves.
Giving is only truly giving if it is done in the love of Christ. We are told to love the Lord our God with all our heart, to love our neighbor as ourself, and to love one another as Christ has loved us. Giving for any lesser reason (to control others, to get glory for yourself, to escape false guilt) is a perversion of the gospel (see Galatians 1:7). These commands can be called Christ’s law of love. (Note that neither “law,” “rule”, “standard”, nor “precept” is a “dirty word” when rightly used and understood.)
St. Basil the Great said that this life is no accident, but is a training ground so that we rational beings may learn to know God. This is relevant to our stewardship of what we have, and to our giving, especially during the period from September through December, our annual “Giving in Stewardship Emphasis Season.” How shall we apply Christ’s law of love to our giving in Christian stewardship?
Let us review what we have considered together over the years. God’s word written, Holy Scripture, and Holy Patristics, our chief Orthodox sources, address three major topics in giving: motives, methods, and results. If we internalize what our sources have to say on these themes for our lives and our parishes, we will do well!
Before you roll your eyes, be glad that we have largely reviewed motives already. God loves us. For God so loved the world – us – that He gave his only begotten Son to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). This is good news (gospel), and it is good news that motivates us to give!
By Fr. Michael Tassos
In this article, I want to examine the connection between one of the wonderful tools the Church provides us to work out our salvation—the Sacrament of Confession—and one of the most ordinary, practical dimensions of our lives—our finances.
There are many wonderful books and articles on the subject of confession. However, there are almost none that deal specifically with the connection between confession and our own personal financial sins.
by His Grace Bishop THOMAS and Sdn. Symeon Dana Kees
Throughout the history of the Orthodox Church, the Church has found a home in every culture within which it has been divinely planted. As the unchanging Apostolic Tradition becomes the Way of the people, the language and the good aspects of the culture are sanctified and absorbed into the life of the Church.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Lk 12:48).
What makes for a happy child? According to some recent behavioral research, (Holder, Coleman & Wallace, 2008)[i] it is a child who is also ‘spiritual.’ The authors define spiritual in a different way than most Orthodox Christians would comprehend. This article will attempt to outline the core of Orthodox spirituality and see if this understanding can be integrated with these researchers’ findings.
We know that the Body of Christ which is His Church is the most sublime gift given to us by God. This includes, of course, the Divinity emptying itself. The Father sending, that is to say, giving us His Only Begotten Son, to assume human flesh and, as St. Paul has told us, He, “…Christ is the head of the church, his [B]ody, and is [H]imself its Savior.” From the Anaphora prayer of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom we pray (and learn): “[Christ] gave Himself up for the life of the world, ….Take eat: this is my Body which is broken for you….Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood … which is shed for you ….Having in remembrance, therefore this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Session at the right hand, and the second and glorious Advent…”
Parents and Pastors as head of their church family
The Domestic Church
by Douglas Cramer
The Orthodox Christian Church has since the time of Christ nurtured and raised up a way of understanding the world, of understanding ourselves, and understanding our walk with God that is a unique treasure often unheard, unheralded and unshared. Our's is a living faith, a living Tradition of how to follow Christ. Let's consider an easily-overlooked passage from St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians. It is a crucial reference point in one small tradition of the Church, a tradition with large implications.
The passage, 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, reads: "I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me." The tradition reflected in this passage is one we still practice today - our tradition of calling our deacons and priests "father", and of referring to our Orthodox Christian spiritual elders through the century as "the Fathers of the Church."
Let's think about what we can learn from this tradition of calling our clergy and spiritual elders "Father". The traditional title "Father" points us towards the truth that our faith, like our God, is a living creation and not a mere collection of ancient rituals. We are part of God's living, growing family - and our spiritual elders are called to a special role in that family. And this family's greatest task is to safeguard God's Holy Tradition.
The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 4: The Lenten Journey
[The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete] can best be described as a penitential lamentation conveying to us the scope and depth of sin, shaking the soul with despair, repentance, and hope. With a unique art, St. Andrew interwove the great biblical themes-- Adam and Eve, Paradise and Fall, the Patriarchs Noah and the Flood, David, the Promised Land, and ultimately Christ and the Church-- with confession of sin and repentance. The events of sacred history are revealed as events of my life, God's acts in the past as acts aimed at me and my salvation, the tragedy of sin and betrayal as my personal tragedy. My life is shown to me as part of the great and all-embracing fight between God and the powers of darkness which rebel against Him.
The Canon begins on this deeply personal note:
Where shall I begin to weep over the cursed deeds of my life?
What foundation shall I lay, Christ, for this lamentation?
On after another, my sins are revealed in their deep connection with the continuous drama of man's relation to God; the story of man's fall is my story:
I have made mine the crime of Adam; I know myself deprived of God, of the eternal Kingdom and of bliss because of my sins....
I have lost all divine gifts:
I have defiled the vestment of my body, obscured the image and likeness of God....
I have darkened the beauty of my soul, I have torn my first vestment woven for me by the Creator and I am naked....
Where does the Gospel begin? I like to think that it begins with the Annunciation. It is the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, with His holy conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The visitation by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and his announcement that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, is the beginning of the Gospel story that concludes with the death and glorious Resurrection of Christ that we celebrate at Great and Holy Pascha. In the words of one of our hymns for Annunciation, “Today is the beginning of our salvation.”
I believe, though, that we often forget just how much reason we have to celebrate. With all the worldly blessings we in America often enjoy, it can be easy to forget how much we need salvation, how much our world needs a Savior. This was brought home to me recently by a difficult and painful story of another baby boy.