Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Annunciation to St. Mary

Sermon / Homily on Luke 1:26-38

Devotional Thoughts for Annunciation to St. Mary

by Rev. Fr. K. K. John, Philadelphia

Sunday of Annunciation to St. Mary, Mother of God: Luke 1:26-38

I wrote in the past a few long articles extolling the virtues of Morth Mariam Yolthath Aloho and in particular about Annunciation. Therefore, this time I would dwell on two different perspectives of the same subject, St. Mary’s divine call out of the blue and her acceptance.

I: If one asks me whether the Call, that is, Angel’s announcement or Mary’s response to the call, willing acceptance to fulfill the hardest task a human being could ever imagine, weighs more importance, I would say, Mary’s response was more significant than the announcement. She had full freedom to refuse but chose to obey. By doing so Mary blotted out the curse Eve brought upon humanity due to disobedience. God never imposes or thrusts upon anything on anyone against the free will God himself gave to humanity. Mary by age and life experience was a very fragile girl. Her simplicity, modesty and innocence unraveled in the gospel account sufficiently adduce that she never before thought such a call. Many scholars speculate that Jews were altogether in expectation of Messiah; since Rome’s political and social oppression was very hard on them. Romanization was essentially a fillip to immoral lifestyle. Sexual immorality was at its best; people married and divorced multiple times, and lived together even without marriage. Sanctity of marriage, fidelity and family was at low ebb, cruel entertainments such as drunkenness, incest, abomination, amphitheaters and gladiators became a routine status symbol. Needless to say, social disorder was almost akin to present time. Jews felt the time was ripe (fullness of time) for a deliverer. As men intensified their prayer for an immediate deliverer women especially in high circles yearned for Messiah to be born in their womb. None of these impacted Mary’s sober demeanor.

She became the highest model of obedience, humility and honesty by positively responding to the call. There is none before or after her who found full favor with God and at the same time dealt with divine call with equanimity. Her attitude was noble and response was relying on God’s boundless mercy. By doing so she bore Christ, the Redeemer and became the first Christian. Her uniqueness to discern the divine call was the realization of her purpose of life. God’s purpose of humanity is that he/she must live in fellowship with God. Human beings cannot have a better goal than that. God has a purpose about each individual; sometimes He wills us to undertake heavy tasks. One who is unwilling to understand the call becomes a failure in life. Without unceasing quest, submitting before God, one cannot understand the life-purpose. Life is futile without discernment of purpose in life and positive response to it.

In a sense the bible is the story of people whom God called and faithfully responded to God’s call. None of the calls were identical or easy to fulfill. God called Noah to preach about impending judgment if they did not repent, when there was no trace of a calamity, build an ark and collect all living species into it before the great deluge. God called Abraham and told him to get out his land and kindred to an unknown land. Then God required Abraham to sacrifice his only son of Promise, Isaac. Probably no one else encountered such a harsh test, but Abraham responded faithfully and he was blessed. God called Moses when he was tending sheep to deliver Israelites from the Egyptian bondage. God called and anointed David as the king of Israel when he was only a shepherd boy. Jeremiah was called as a prophet when he was in his mother’s womb and appointed for the purpose at the age of 13. Amos was gathering sycamore fruits when God called. Jonah stands alone who refused to obey God’s call, who knows the mind of God; Jonah could not escape from God. God caused him convert the whole nation of Nineveh with one message! Contrariwise, biggest contagion of the present time is that eloquent people with dubious egoist twist claim, “Holy Spirit advised me,” “I saw a vision,” “Angel spoke to me,” etc, to attract crowd and break away from the Holy Church; Seventh Day Adventists, Church of Latter Day Saints, Jehovah Witness, and recent Inter-denominations, Pentecostals, Heavenly feast, etc belong to this cult. If their claim is true, why they disobey the Holy Orthodox Church and teach contra-doctrines? Instead, let them take the example of St Francis Assisi, Father Damien and Mother Theresa. The lesson is, (1) call comes at unexpected time, (2) call takes up heavy tasks, (3) go with, not against the Church, (4) all who positively responded had satisfying life; they are heroes and model of faith for us to emulate.

Each of us has a unique call, that is, to know the purpose of life. Tragically indeed, very few only are conscious of their calling. St Paul reminds that every believer has a calling to live worthy of the call. “Walk worthy of the calling,” Eph 4:1. ‘Worthy of the calling’ bestows on the ‘called’ certain standards, virtues and responsibilities to practice. The virtues to uphold are (1) lowliness and gentleness or humility, (2) longsuffering or Patience, (3) bearing with one another in love or forgiveness, (4) endeavoring to keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace. This ‘one calling’ leads to unity of seven Christian characteristics; (1) one body, (2) one Spirit, (3) one hope, (4) one Lord, (5) one faith, (6) one baptism, and (7) one God and father to all. Thus it is imperative that one who is called must work hard even at the cost of life, to keep the bond of peace, harmony and unity in the Church. God’s call may sometimes seem foolishness according to world wisdom, 1Co 1:26-29. St Peter reminds that Christians are called out of darkness into His marvelous light to proclaim the praises of God, 1Pe 2:9. Let us think how far we identify our calling or purpose of life, do we positively respond and live in obedience to the Word of God or are we rendering pain to our Lord! The public behavior of so-called Christian leaders and their militant followers, hunger strike, prayer-strike, and such other gimmicks for throne, primacy, cement and mortar buildings, the Church is reduced to a laughing stock among gentiles; they are insults to the Christian calling. They are insulting God who called them. “The name of God is blasphemed among gentiles because of you,” Rom 2:24. Bearing a Christian name and failing to unite with the Spirit, is a contradiction.

II: Unlike other Gospel authors, Luke begins with full account of the birth of Savior, Jesus. Luke 1:26 says, “Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth”. Gospel does not specify where exactly Mary met the Angel. Syrian Orthodox fathers taught us that Mary was intensely praying or meditating when the Angel appeared to her. “Kad koimo Mariam Bazlootho vmethkhasfo kdom Aloho,” Sleebo Morning Prayer (our Sleebo Sunday Prayers are the same “Wednesday’s Prayer” in Syriac tradition.) We have two version of the original Syriac (1) "Jaagarane Mariam ninnumkond-udayonodu prardhikumpol,” translated by Very Rev Kurian Corepiscopa, (2) "Prardhippan Deivathin mumpil Mariam ninneedunneram,” translated by late lamented CP Chandysir. The first version is closer to the Syriac rendering, in the sense that Mary was intensely praying or meditating when the angel visited. Indeed, we do believe that is true reflection of the annunciation scene. If that be true, Mary would have been alone in a room, not in an open place engaging in menial job as some would say.

To my utter dismay, there is another tradition that says, Mary met the angel while she was drawing water from a public well, yet others say, Mary was fetching water from the well when the angel visited, in which case Mary met the angel in a plain field. They base their argument on “Protevangelium of James.” It says, among other things, Mary was one of the seven virgins of the line of David weaving curtains for Jerusalem Temple. She was working from her home in Nazareth. “She took the jar and went out to fetch water. Then a voice spoke to her: ‘Greetings, you who have received grace. The Lord is with you, you blessed among women.’ She looked right and left to see where the voice came from and began to tremble. Then she went back into the house, put the jar aside, sat down, took the purple and began to spin. Then an angel stepped before her...” Thus goes annunciation account of Protevangelium.

There is a well in Nazareth downtown known as “Mary’s well” close to St. Gabriel Church. It is said that it was built on the ruins of old public well which was very deep and that Mary used to draw water from it. Now floor surface is cemented and face of the well is kept closed, tidy, decorated with an old “M” shaped steel arch crossbeam and a hanging pulley. Next to that there is an enclave with water taps replicating a fountain. Tourists piously step down and wet themselves, give offerings mistaking the fountain is from the ancient well. It may or may not be the actual spot of old well but the well is filled and dry. The fountain is artificially made in 1969 and originates from the nearby Church. I visited the spot in September, 2010 and took a few photos of the spot. Tourist guides give credit to the said pseudo-tradition. This tradition supports Islam which teaches, Jesus was born by physical contacting of the angel to deny the Virgin birth of Jesus without the human or angelic involvement. Both claims are fictitious lies; Protevangelium of James is of later origin and the authorship of James is doubted. It is not a canonical book. Jewish custom did not permit Mary to go alone to draw water from a public well. I appended this so that readers may know how Arabs and Jews heresy teach about Mary and Jesus in the Holy Lands.

The holy Church confers utmost significance by observing the annunciation twice in a year because the time of annunciation is the exact moment God the timeless one entered into and limited Himself to time and space and that is the exact moment of initiating the process of Redemption. Thus Annunciation is the starting point of transforming human beings into divine.

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries, Bible Analyses on Annunciation to St. Mary

Malankara World Special on St. Mary

Malankara World Special on Shunoyo of St. Mary

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