The Annunciation (Luke 1, 26-33)24 March 2021
About six months had passed from the time when Mary had gone to live in Nazareth, in the home of Joseph. It appears that, during this time, the veil of the temple had become worn and needed renewing. This most sacred of objects could not be made by unclean hands. It had to come from hands that were spotless and pure.
The High Priest Zechariah ordered the spotless virgins of the house of David to be brought. He also gave a separate command: that the Virgin Mary was to be brought from Nazareth. Seven virgins were brought together. Lots were cast. And the lot fell upon Mary.
Mary was given the necessary materials: gold, asbestos, linen, silk, hyacinth, red and purple dyes [cf. 2 Chron. 3, 14] and she then returned home to Nazareth to weave the cloth for the veil.
It was 25 March. The afternoon after the Sabbath. The Virgin took a moment away from her sacred handiwork. According to the Protevangelium, she picked up an earthenware vessel with the intention of going to fetch water from the spring. As she was leaving the house, she heard a voice saying: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord be with you’ [Or ‘The Lord is with you’. There is no verb in the Greek]. It was the Archangel Gabriel.
He called her ‘full of grace’. Who? This archangel who would have ‘held his nose’ at the mere hint of an inappropriate thought. Just think what this means in terms of the degree of her sanctity.
The great Gabriel continued his praise: ‘You’re the only woman who’s been so blessed by the Lord. ‘Blessed are you among women [Or, again, ‘Blessed be you…’] (Luke 1, 26).
These were very flattering words for any woman. It should be noted that they weren’t uttered insincerely by the archangel; they came from the heart. As well as this, his face shone with joy at having encountered such a woman on earth. Mary saw this. And wasn’t flattered. Not in the least. On the contrary, she felt uneasy. ‘She was greatly troubled by his speech’ (Luke 1, 28).
She put down the pitcher and went into Joseph’s ‘tent’, that is the house. She sat down on her seat and continued weaving the material for the veil (as is depicted in the icon of the Annunciation). ‘She considered in her mind what kind of greeting this might be’ (Luke 1, 30). She thought, ‘Maybe the evil one’s set a trap for me and I’ll fall, the same way as our first mother, Eve, did’. And she was only a young girl of fifteen! This was a critical moment. The archangel tried to reassure her:
‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David’ (Luke 1, 30-32).
The Virgin asked how this was supposed to happen since she didn’t know a man, that is, she hadn’t had conjugal relations. According to Saint John Chrysostom, the archangel replied: ‘But this is precisely why this will happen, because you haven’t known a man. If you had, you wouldn’t have been able to serve this purpose. The very thing you can’t believe here is the reason why you should believe it’.
Naturally, there’s no question of the Virgin not believing. There was a reason she had her doubts, though. According to Saint Gregory Palamas, she wanted to be absolutely certain that she wasn’t being tricked.
Gabriel explained in detail how this great event was to take place:
‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (Luke 1, 33). ‘Don’t be afraid. Your virginity will be preserved. The power of God will overshadow you, the Holy Spirit will descend upon you and you’ll give birth without a man’.
Mary then realized that this was God’s will. But she also believed that, in spiritual terms, she was the poorest of women. So what the Archangel Gabriel told her was quite the opposite of her own way of thinking, of her own wishes, her own strength. Despite this, she made no objection. She subjected her own will to that of God.