March 25, 2016
Feast of the Annunciation
Day of Greek Independence
He has chosen you to be His dwelling.
(Hymn of Vespers)
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,
On this holy and beautiful Feast of the Annunciation we celebrate the astonishing announcement by Archangel Gabriel to our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos, about the coming of the Holy One, the Son of God, who would bring salvation and an eternal kingdom of peace. In proclaiming this message of hope and grace, Gabriel states the miraculous manner by which God will enter our humanity: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you (Luke 1:35). And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus (Luke 1:31).
This amazing announcement was given to one who became the Mother of God, and on this Feast and in our divine services and prayers we honor the Theotokos and Virgin Mary for this unique and sacred role. The tremendous significance and honor of this is described in so many ways in the beautiful hymns of our Holy Orthodox Church including this hymn from today’s celebration: “Hail, you pure chariot of the divinity: God has loved you from eternity, and He has chosen you to be His dwelling.”
In becoming the dwelling of Christ by the grace of God, the Theotokos was exalted among humankind, and we honor her for finding favor with God. We also honor her and her witness for the reasons she was chosen. First, she became the dwelling of Christ because of her deep faith in God. In receiving the announcement from Gabriel, she affirmed her trust even as she wondered how this would even happen. She accepted readily the words of the angel as he affirmed, for with God nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37).
Second, she became the dwelling of Christ because of her purity of heart, mind, and body. In communion with God, the Theotokos lived in holiness and followed the path of righteousness. She was consecrated as the Temple of God because of the sacredness of her life. Her body became the dwelling of the Creator of the universe because she found favor with God (Luke1:30).
Finally, the Virgin Mary became the dwelling of Christ because of her obedience to the will of God. In response to the announcement of the angel she proclaimed, Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38). Her obedience was her choice. She believed that the will of God led to salvation. From her faith and purity of life, she could trust in God’s divine wisdom and in the revelation of His will offered by Gabriel.
From the example of the Theotokos as the dwelling of Christ, we can see the priority of His presence in our lives. Certainly, we recognize the distinction with the Incarnation of our Lord through the Virgin Mary, but we affirm the attributes that make us also the dwelling of Christ. Through faith we receive the grace of God offered through Christ. Our lives are filled with His presence. We experience this presence and know Him as we live in holiness, seeking to become pure in heart, mind, and body by the power He offers. We become the dwelling of Christ by receiving Him through the Holy Eucharist, by seeking His will through prayer, and by following the will of God throughout our lives. Because He dwells with us and within us, we become His witnesses and His voice offering the Gospel of grace and life in our world today.
On this Feast of the Annunciation, we join our worship of God and our honoring of the Theotokos and her witness with the commemoration of Greek Independence Day. On this day in 1821, inspired by her example, the power of faith, and the hope of liberty, our forbearers began a valiant struggle to end centuries of oppression and establish a free nation. They desired an environment in which faith could be express openly, proper relationships could be grounded in what is good and pure, and obedience to the will of God was encouraged. Today, we honor the memory and sacrifice of our fathers and mothers who gave their lives to establish a nation built upon a sacred and noble heritage.
As we celebrate this Feast, may you be mindful of this heritage and of those who offered everything so that we might be free. May you also be inspired by the Theotokos as the dwelling of Christ, seeking through faith, purity, and obedience to be chosen by the grace of God to be His dwelling and to be His voice.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America