Today is a day of joy in the Orthodox Church as we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos. We recall on this day that the Archangel Gabriel came to the young maiden, Mary, telling her of God’s plan that she has been chosen to bring salvation into the world by giving birth to the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32). This is a great mystery of the Church, for it is truly incomprehensible to think of the Lord humbling himself to become man, knowing that one day His life would be sacrificed as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Mary accepts the news from Gabriel with a simple yet profound answer, when she says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
We are also called to set aside our personal desires, and follow the commandments of the Lord and search out His will for our lives, so that one day we may reap the reward of eternal salvation. It is important for us to remember the Virgin Mary’s examples of obedience and selflessness so that we may be inspired in our daily lives to serve the Lord in a more meaningful way.
The Annunciation is at the core of our faith as Orthodox Christians. In fact, it is so important to our salvation that we interrupt our Lenten disciplines with a joyful celebration that is the embodiment of the Gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have life eternal. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17) My beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, it is a certainty that without the Virgin Mary accepting God’s will, there would be no salvation.
Today, we also honor Greek Independence Day, recalling the bravery of our forefathers in their fight for independence. Nearly two centuries ago, the people of Greece responded to the Good News with their uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Those Hellenes knew first-hand the taste of oppression, and they fought valiantly for their freedom.
The themes of the Feast of the Annunciation and Greek Independence Day are intertwined, because both celebrate the restoration and renewal of the dignity for all: The Feast through the saving work of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and the commemoration of the Independence of Greece through the liberating struggle of our forebears.
This year’s celebration may be overshadowed as we grapple with the pandemic of the Coronavirus. We are still physically separated from one another and from our parishes. But we must not let these circumstances take away from our joy, and from always emanating the love of Jesus Christ in all of our actions. We must also continue to lift up in prayer all those who are ailing, those who are caring for the sick, and those whose livelihoods are suffering at this time.
And finally, my beloved faithful, let us remember the beautiful hymn Ti Ipermacho and the powerful message it carried as it called upon the Virgin Mary to deliver the Queen City of Constantinople from attack. Let us proclaim this hymn of victory with strong voices, seeking the intercessions of the Theotokos for the safe deliverance from the suffering we are experiencing in our world.
Wishing you all a blessed Feast of the Annunciation – Hronia Polla!
God Bless You!
A Prayer in Light of the Coronavirus Epidemic
By Metropolitan Joel of Edessa (a contemporary Orthodox Bishop)
Lord Jesus Christ our God, the chief Physician of our souls and bodies, Who became man for us to cure the great wound of humanity; Who did not reject the ten lepers who suffered from an incurable disease, but purified them by Thy salvific Grace; Who, being God-man, passed Thy days on this earth serving and healing all who were sick and those who are ill; Who served and restored to health the paralytics, the blind, those who had committed grave sins, the demonized, as well as those who suffered both in the flesh and in the mind, now amiably accept our supplication.
And by Thy power, expel this deadly virus that bears the shape of a crown, which has brought fear, and evendeath, to those who are sick and wrongfully suffering.
And if, on account of our many sins, Thou hast allowed for this temptation to come to pass, we beseech Thee, as being merciful, that Thou mightest lift this from us and from the entire world.
If Thou hast allowed for this to come upon us as a test of faith, put a stop to the troubles of the sick due to this epidemic.
If this has spread because of the wickedness of the adversary or the indifference of frivolous people, extinguish its power as the Almighty God.
Protect the youth, keep watch over those who have become ill, and heal the elderly who have been infected by this accursed virus. Also, purge us all from unrest of the heart; and instead of this, grant us health, comfort, and progress, through the intercessions of the Lady Theotokos and all of Thy saints. Amen.
As I further reflect on the terrible pandemic which overshadows the entire world and our own Nation, I have concluded that we must act in defense of our families and neighbors by temporarily restricting gathering together. We must also continue to be even more concerned for our neighbor, for others, and do our part to prevent the spread of the virus.
Therefore, I am terminating all gatherings at least until March 31, when we will review the status of the pandemic as determined by medical and government sources.
I hope and pray that with our efforts to restrict the spread of the virus combined with those of our friends and neighbors, we may have passed the worst of this crisis by Holy Week and Pascha and thus might be able to gather safely to celebrate the joyful mysteries of Christ's Passion and Resurrection. In the meantime, we will create a Resource page on our website to help you pray the services at home with your families.
May God protect and sustain us all.