March 25, 2009
The Feast of the Annunciation and Day of Greek Independence
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am lovingly and joyfully writing to you on this solemn day, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary. This Feast is celebrated in the midst of the season of Great and Holy Lent, and, thus, it provides us the blessed possibility to enjoy the unending love of God for us as we continue along our spiritual journey to Holy Week. On this unique day, the God-sent Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced to Her future things to come, the nature of which no other human being in the history of humankind had ever heard nor will ever hear again:Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you! Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus (Luke 1: 28-31). The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Luke 1: 35)
The response of the Virgin Mary to the greeting of the Archangel was definitive: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word (Luke 1:38). With these words, the Virgin Mary accepted the immense responsibility of giving birth to the Son of God. With these words, she accepted the unique and amazing blessing of becoming the very Mother of God, the Bearer of God, as we so address Her with the most holy and reverential title Theotokos.
Her obedience to the will of God to give birth to His only-begotten Son, the Christ, and to be His Mother carry monumental significance. By Her full and unwavering acceptance of God’s will, the Theotokos reversed the terrible consequences of Eve’s tragic choice to disobey the will of God. By Her words and actions, the Virgin Mary made it possible for us to experience a full and total restoration from our tormented human condition, so that, in Christ, all human beings could live in authentic communion with God as He intended for us since the beginning of the cosmos.
Beyond Her exemplary words of obedience to the will of God, the Theotokos also demonstrated unparalleled courage when she accepted God’s most awesome charge of giving birth to His Son. For in the months and years that followed, the Virgin Mary, the Panaghia, faced unprecedented difficulties which called for uncommon bravery. It is enough for us to remember the birth of Christ in a cave in Bethlehem, the flight to Egypt to escape the dangers to the newborn Jesus’ life imposed by Herod’s wrath, and the sight of Her Son hanging upon the Cross. Hers was a level of courage that human language fails to express and which can only be attributed to the Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos, a courage most unique in its grandeur and in its authenticity as compared to the courage of all other human beings.
These characteristics of obedience to the will of God, and the courage of the Most Holy Theotokos have inspired Christians of all ages to ask for Her divine intercessions before God whenever in time of need. For us as Greek Orthodox Christians, it is precisely these attributes which serve as the basis for our associating this great Feast of our Church, the Annunciation, with the Day of Greek Independence, March 25, 1821. For on that day in history, our Hellenic forebears wanted to reestablish the God-given right of life and liberty as had been previously bequeathed to them by their fathers and mothers. With obedience to the eternal will of God, they conformed their actions to the teachings of the Orthodox Christian faith, and they demonstrated extraordinary levels of courage in their righteous struggle for enduring conditions of freedom and independence. With unceasing prayers to God, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, and with their obedience and courage, they restored a lasting independence to the nation of Greece, which had been oppressed for four centuries far too long. In memory of these fallen heroes, who gave their lives for freedom, we offer our prayers of profound gratitude especially to God on this Day of Greek Independence.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, I pray that we may remember and take to our hearts the sterling examples offered by the Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary of obedience to the Divine will and the courage to act in accordance with it. Through Her intercessions, let us beseech God to protect our Genos, that it may be preserved in conditions of freedom, independence, and the readiness to conform to the will of God in all things.
With paternal love in Christ,† DEMETRIOS
Archbishop of America