“Today is the crown of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery which is from eternity: the Son of God becometh the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaimeth good tidings of grace.”
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this day in the history of the world, for on this day not only the world but history itself was renewed and recreated. Only twice in the history of the world did such a fateful day as this occur. Twice an angel appeared to a virgin, to a virgin who was to become the mother of the whole human race, and offered to the virgin a choice that would echo throughout all creation and all eternity. Such is the mysterious and terrible power that God has granted to us in the gift of free will. By the free choice of Eve, through the pride and disobedience of the devil, we brought hell to earth; by the free choice of Mary, through the humility and obedience of Gabriel, we might even dare to say that we have brought God Himself down to earth from heaven, and have been raised up by Him to the very throne of God and have been made partakers of the divine nature.
This awesome and terrible day, the day of the Incarnation of the Son of God, reverberates throughout all of time. This day existed long ago in Paradise, in a broken and shattered form, when mankind fell from grace. This day was promised to us by God that same day in Paradise after the fall, and was seen throughout the centuries, hidden in shadows, by the many holy prophets of Israel. The fruits of this day were brought forth on the day of the Nativity, were revealed on the day of the Theophany, and were perfected on the Great and Holy Day of Pascha. Because of this day, on the day of the Ascension human nature was raised up to heaven and seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
But more than all other days, there is one day that is united, mystically and inseparably, with this day. The Holy Orthodox Church reveals this secret to us through the hymns of the Vespers service: the special melody appointed to be sung today is the same as that appointed for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The day that is most perfectly united to this day is Great and Holy Friday.
For on this day of great joy, we must remember that it is through the Cross that joy has come to all the world. We must understand that this great act of obedience by the Mother of God, an act great enough to reverse the fall of mankind, to open heaven and to make man divine, was not in any way made by Her without the Cross being at the very heart of this act. According to the law of Moses, if a betrothed woman committed adultery, the penalty was death; for Mary to bring forth a Son not by Joseph would mean for Her, a sinless one, to accept a shameful and unjust death at the hands of an uncomprehending world. And so, by uttering those surpassingly beautiful words that recreated all of humanity: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word,” the holy Mother of God was choosing to do the only thing that can ever bring us life and salvation: she was choosing to accept the Cross.
So let us remember that at each moment of every day of our life, we too are faced with the choice of this great and fateful day. If we are not choosing the Cross, then we are imitating Eve rather than Mary, we are hearkening to the devil rather than to Gabriel, and we are choosing hell rather than heaven. Our entire life on earth is a preparation for the day of our death, a time to strengthen ourselves, through the choices we make each day, for the day on which we will have to make our final and irrevocable choice.
But let us remember too that Eve’s choice led just as surely to Golgotha as did the choice of Mary. The entire human race stands at the foot of the Cross. We are given an awesome and terrible freedom, but that freedom is ultimately to choose whether to shout “crucify Him, crucify Him,” or whether we will say “be it unto me according to thy word.”
+Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Saviour, save us!
On this Sunday we celebrate the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, or, as they are also called, the “physicians without silver.” They are those saints who, out of pure love of God and neighbor, healed the sick and mended the souls of others while asking nothing in return. It was a pure self-sacrifice born out of love. Today we remember the great saints Cyrus and John, Tryphon, Artemius, and the others, as well as Cosmas and Damian, who lived and were martyred in Roman times. And of course, we also remember and honor our great patron, the martyr and healer Panteleimon.