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Twelve Great Feasts 2: The Annunciation

Title: The Feast of the Annunciation

Subject: The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25. The lesson studies the scripture, iconography, hymnology, traditions and more surrounding this feast.

Age: 13 + years

Liturgical Time: March 25  (This is the second class in the Twelve Great Feast series.)

Doctrinal Content: The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated nine months prior to the Nativity of Christ. Scripture verses include Luke 1:41-43 and 1:46-55.

Direct Aim: The direct aim is to become more familiar with this specific Feast of the Annunciation and to see the glory and reverence that the Church offers to Mary, so that we too may honor her.

Indirect Aim: Through the event of the Annunciation, God's plan is revealed to mankind, that God will be born into this world through Mary to save it.

Materials for the Lesson Plan:
Note taking is recommended for students.
Icon of the Feast of the Annunciation
Bible verses:

  • Luke 1:24-38
  • Luke 1:39-56
  • Genesis 28:10-17
  • Ezekiel 43:27-44:4
  • Proverbs 9:1-11
  • Hebrews 2:11-18

Lesson Plan:
Begin with a prayer and welcome the students.

Through the Feast of the Annunciation, the Church offers reverence to Mary. This is seen through the words of the Archangel Gabriel: "Rejoice, thou who art full of grace/highly favored one, the Lord is with thee." The reverence is shown also through the words of her kinswoman Elizabeth.  Read aloud Luke 1.41-43:  "And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'"

And from her own magnificat in which Mary declares (read aloud Luke 1.46-55):  "And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.  For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed.  For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exacted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.  He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.'"

We come to understand our own response to Mary as one of veneration, honor, and devotion.

The second side of this feast concerns mankind. The intention of God is revealed to us in this event, and it is that God will be born into the world through Mary in order to save it. This intent, this Annunciation of good news, does not stop with the historical and eternal event of Mary giving birth to Jesus. Rather, it is to find its place in us. Jesus is to be born in us and through us. Spiritually speaking, our bodies and our lives must come under the possession of the Savior. Thus, the intentions of God, the Annunciation of His purposes are something we seek, though each specific intent of God for us, finds its meaning in this ultimate Annunciation: God will be born.

The reality that God will be born, when God's intent is announced, is completed in the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. That is to say that upon receiving good news it is necessary that Mary share it with her kinswoman, and likewise we carry the word out to others. (See the liturgy, and the reading from the Orthros, Mary's visit to Elizabeth).

The first official mention of this feast comes in the year 656 at the Council of Toledo. The feast of the Nativity predated this feast: when the date of December 25 became more widely accepted as the date to celebrate the Nativity, the date of March 25th became an easily accepted date. In addition, Christ's conception was understood to follow that of John the Baptist. John's conception had been arbitrarily fixed in September, March is six months later. Ultimately we can not pin point the exact date of Jesus' conception. As we shall see later, there are reasons for affixing the feast of the Nativity to December 25.

Show and give an explanation of the icon of the feast, being sure to point out:

  • Gabriel's hands:  Gabriel holds in his left hand a staff, which symbolizes that he is a messenger.  As he delivers the message, Gabriel's right hand is extended toward Mary, and announces the blessing bestowed upon her by God.
  • Mary's posture expresses her ready cooperation with God’s plan of salvation; her right hand is raised in acceptance.
  • The three stars symbolize her ever-virginity, before, during, and after Christ's birth.
  • The needle and thread depict the task she was assigned of in making the veil for the Temple in Jerusalem.

Apolitikion: Today marks the crowning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery before all ages: the Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin; Gabriel proclaims grace. Therefore we cry out with him, "Rejoice, O full of grace, the Lord is with you."

The points to be made regarding the theology of this feast come from reading the hymns associated with the feast: from Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy. There are several points but all of them worthy of consideration.

We open the Feast of the Annunciation at Vespers by singing the first Vesperal Stichira, at which the first point is realized: this plan is the will of God, and as such it predates the ages. Immediately after this hymn, the connections the Church sees between Old and New, between Mary and Old Testament typology, are lifted up for us. For example, the bush that does not burn and the flame revealed the wondrous sign to Moses the expounder of the sacred, the revealer of God's law and will find its fulfillment in Mary. Moses was given the revelation of God's true law and His voice came; it is now to the people directly. Like Moses, Mary brings to us the Lawgiver Himself. We also see this in a bush not consumed, a figure of her ever-virginity.

Other Biblical connections include the Bridge which leads to heaven, the ladder beheld by Jacob, and like the Ark, she too, is a divine vessel which contains the Manna, the heavenly bread; the Rod of Aaron (priesthood); the 10 Commandments, the Law of God. This event is also seen as deliverance from the curse, and so this feast is directly connected with the fall of mankind. Through it we are lead to the restoration of Adam.

From the second Vesperal Stichira, the dialogue between the Archangel and Mary is opened up for examination. The hymn begins by examining Mary's question of the Archangel, for unlike Eve, she does not want to be deceived.

The dialogue continues with the Archangel's response in the third Vesperal Stichira: God will make things possible; He can overcome the natural order of things. We see the Archangel backed into the reality of identifying himself and who he serves. And so she responds: "Let it be to me, according to Your word." In this hymn a new point is made: the One without flesh can borrow flesh from me, and by uniting Himself with mankind, through this union, He will raise man to his former glory. In the final hymn before the entrance, the perspective of the Archangel regarding this whole revelation is pondered: how can the uncontainable God be contained within a maiden's womb?

In the Aposticha 1, we learn that Gabriel is sent in the 6th month. In the Aposticha 2, we learn that Mary conceived without changing her virginity. In the Aposticha 3, we learn that salvation is made manifest through this event, the Savior is coming into the world; God is united with man in a manner beyond our understanding. We learn the earthly becomes heavenly; and finally that the world, the entire cosmos, is delivered from the ancient curse, so even creation rejoices.

From these hymns we also learn of Glory. Through Mary accepting the will of God, Adam is renewed and Eve is set free. Further, the tabernacle of our inner being serves as the Temple of God. We are deified by mingling with Him those who receive Him. This covenant occurs between man and God by common assent, through agreement, and saves mankind. How the conception takes place is beyond explanation, yet salvation comes through Mary. Our human nature is elevated by Christ's taking it upon Himself, which is different than the notion of restoration.

In the second Kathismata, we learn that Satan's arrogance and pride are rendered empty, and even reduced to nothing, because his trickery (or shall we say victory) in the garden over Eve and the curse that followed it are broken. In the third Kathismata, we hear how the Conception is made through the Holy Spirit and the overshadowing of power from the Most High. This child will save the people from their sins, and Mary's virginity shall ever remain intact.

Referring back to Old Testament typology, we hear in the Magnificat the following: Daniel calls Mary an intelligible mountain; Isaiah calls her the birth-giver of God; Gideon, a fleece; David, a sanctuary and gateway, and Gabriel says, "Hail." Mary is a new Eve. The revelation of God can not and does not enter the world through natural and normal means, it is revelation.

In Lauds 4, we learn the co-eternal Logos of the Father is without beginning, inseparable from everything on high, comes via compassion taking pity on our fall, and takes that which is alien to Himself upon Himself to deliver us. The Final Glory is that the fall came through deception and desire to become God, and now God becomes man that man might become like God.

In the Vespers before the Feast of the Annunciation, we hear the Prophecies in the following bible verses:

  • Genesis 28:10-17; Jacob and the ladder: From earth to heaven, the angels were ascending and descending.
  • Ezekiel 43:27-44:4; The outer gate of the sanctuary is shut and it will only be opened for the Lord.
  • Proverbs 9:1-11; a passage on wisdom.

At Matins we hear the Gospel reading from Luke 1:39-49, 56, which is a passage from Mary's visit to Elizabeth. The Epistle reading during the Liturgy is Hebrews 2:11-18. "The Epistle to the Hebrews, read at the liturgy, stresses that, because of the Incarnation, ‘he that santifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren. '"
The Year of Grace of the Lord, St Vladimir's Press, 1st Printing 1980, by a monk of the Eastern Orthodox church, p. 128

The Gospel passage is Luke 1:24-38. This Gospel relates to us the Biblical event of the Annunciation. The question of Mary is viewed within the context of Mary's desire to identify the messenger.

Customs and Traditions
Customs and Traditions surrounding the Feast of the Annunciation in the Greek Orthodox Church include:

  • Artoklasia, or the blessing of the 5 loaves;
  • Liturgy and procession of the festal icon around the town;
  • Panagheeree, which is a loosening of the fast during Lent (an Orthodox BBQ);
  • Chairetismee, which are the Hails, a series of poetic lines delivered by the priest with the people before the icon of Mary.

It should be noted that the simple words of the Archangel have a profound place within the consciousness and vocabulary of the Church: "Rejoice full of grace, the Lord is with you." Even in simple terms the proper and pious greetings of Orthodox Christians has been, "Rejoice." It is a godly greeting, bringing to mind the beginning of our salvation, and this greeting also implies the presence of God.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

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