Today is the Feast Day of the Annunciation  -  the announcement made by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would have a child.

The Gospel Reading is Luke 1:25-38.

"And having come, the angel said to her, 'Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women.'

Mary was blessed.  She was highly favored, Full of Grace!

She is, in fact, the most blessed woman who has ever lived because of her absolute and complete  willingness to receive God's grace .  As spoken by her son, the Theotokos, Mary, was blessed to "hear the word of God and keep it" (see Luke 11:28).  She was the first to say yes to Jesus!  Her response was of highest obedience to God.  She sets an example for us all.

Where the first woman, Eve, was disobedient to God, Mary is obedient.

This is an obedience to God we can all learn from.  And teach to others.  Especially our children.

Will I teach my 6 year old about Mary's virginity?  No, not this year.  Will we have lots of lessons to  teach him about all the details of Mary's life and about the Betrothal between her and Joseph and teach him how Jesus was her only son and that Joseph's other children came from a previous marriage?  All of this in due time, but for a 6 year old?  My focus is on the most important aspect.  Mary said Yes!  She said Yes to God and that is what we all must do.  She is the greatest woman who ever lived because she accepted God's will with willingness.

Accepting God's will with willingness.

Isn't accepting God's will  what we all struggle with?

Isn't obedience what we all struggle with?

Isn't obedience what our children struggle with?

This feast day is a wonderful opportunity to teach our children the wonderful ways of obedience-  how obedience to God can change the world.

For more about why I think Mary is the Greatest Woman Who Ever lived, see my post from November, 2013.

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Today I write of Mary, the greatest woman who ever lived.  She is known to the Orthodox as the Theotokos.  I hope, even if you are not Orthodox, you will read this to find out why we Orthodox Christians highly honor this blessed lady.

A vast majority of Protestants are under the impression Orthodox Christians worship Mary (Theotokos).  This is simply not true.  She is honored greatly.  She is not worshipped.  Worship is for God. And while I know I am one person that cannot sway the mind of someone who has committed to this thought the majority of their lives', I hope that I can at least put a thought into their mind...that perhaps this idea is inaccurate and perhaps he or she could do a little further research before deciding to stick to this conclusion.  And maybe, just maybe, he or she will have a little better understanding of why we do honor Mary and why he or she  should as well.

Theotokos is a Greek term meaning 'birthgiver of God'.  This is the Virgin Mary.  This is the woman who was the first to accept Christ into her life. This is the woman who played an immense role in man's redemtion by her consent to bear Christ. This is the woman that leads us to Christ.  This is the woman the bible has shown us that we should honor. This is she who contained Christ, God who is uncontainable, within her womb.

The bible tells us that Mary was a virgin when the angel Gabriel appeared to her.   The prophet, Isaiah, predicted this conception.  It is written, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

We honor Mary because she is the mother of Jesus Chrsit.  Mary was not just any random young girl.  Mary had found favor with God.  "Do not be afraid, Mary," said Gabriel, " for you have found favor with God"( Luke 1:30). Mary was chosen by God for an honor that will always be hers alone. And Mary accepted the task given to her.  Mary had free will.  Mary could have run and hid from the angel.  Mary could have protested.  But Mary was willing.  She answered the angel, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).   In this action, Mary was the first to accept Christ into her life.

In accepting Christ into her life, accepting her role of the incarnation, Mary played an immense part of man's redemtion:

"Christ saves men, who have fallen through their own fault into the power of the devil, by breaking that power. He became Man for this purpose; He lived and died and rose again that He might break the chains by which men were bound. It is not His death alone, but the entire Incarnation, of which His death was a necessary part, that freed men from their captivity to Satan."           ~ Fr. John Romanides

The Holy Bible shows us that it is, indeed, fitting to honor Mary and that she is the mother of our Lord.  The angel Gabriel honored Mary,"Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you, Blessed are you among women"Luke 1:28).  Gabriel told Mary that God had found favor with her (Luke 1:30). Mary herself, in offering one of the most magnificent prayer of praise to God, "My sould 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 generation shall call me blessed." Her favor was further established upon meeting with her cousin, Elizabeth, when the woman, upon seeing her, exclaimed,                " 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 shuld come to me?" (Luke 1:42-43)

The icons of Mary you will find in Orthodox Christian churches and homes never depict an image of Mary alone.  All icons of Mary are with her son, Jesus Christ.  Mary is honored because of her son and the icons reflect that. The icons of Mary display the mother leading us closer to Him. She led us to him in her acceptance of her part in the incarnation and she lead people to follow him in her life (John 2:5) and she continues to lead us to Him in our life by her example.  She is often seen pointing in his direction or gazing adoringly into his eyes while holding the child out to us to behold with our own.

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Mary held our Lord and Savior in her womb for 9 months.  God, who is uncontainable, was contained within her.  For this and all of the above reasons given and so much more, Mary was the greatest woman who ever lived.  Mary was his mother, giving birth to our Lord.  He honored her and so should we.

Sources Used and Further Sources That May Interst You:

Books:

Other:

"He who is devout to the Mother of God will certainly never be lost."   ~St. Ignatius of Anticoh

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I was going to write about the Theotokos (Mary) today as I always find myself pondering over her... her role in Christianity...her role as Christ's mother.  But I think I am getting ahead of myself as I haven't really written much about the church itself just yet. (And perhaps I would be remiss if I didn't add a small segment about Halloween... a 'festival', not a holiday as a holy day it is not...  so I will mention it briefly at the end)

The Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  No, we are NOT the Roman Catholic Church.  The word 'catholic' means universal.  Therefor, we are the universal church started by Christ and the apostles.  This started in approximately 33 AD.

The "church" was not founded by man as some would have you believe.  The Church is God-given.  "I hope to come to you soon," writes St. Paul, "but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth."  1 Timothy 3:14-15.  The whole universe is God's Church. The Orthodox Church is, indeed, the first Christian Church.  It is founded by our Lord Jesus Christ just as it is described in the New Testament.  The history of the Orthodox Church can literally be traced back all the way to Christ and the 12 apostles. For the first thousand years, there was only this ONE church until the Great Schism in 1054.  (Perhaps I'll write more on that another day.)

The Orthodox Church is not merely a building.  God doesn't need the building we call a church.  We, the people, do.  We need places to go that are very specifically made to be dedicated to God.  This is where we gather together  with the one sole purpose of worshiping God and dedicating our time to seek His will.   Is that the only place we can worship and seek His will?  No, of course not.  But that is the central place we can always count on that is full of others who also seek to Worship and to be in God's presence. This is where He speaks to us through Scripture readings and offers Himself to us through Holy Communion.  Entering this 'building', one cannot help but know you are in His presence as your senses are filled not of earthly things you leave outdoors but of the Heavenly realm.

The church is also not merely a building because it is not just the physical structure that is the church. The people are the Church.  The clergy and the laity together build this part of the non-physical structure of the church. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light".  1 Peter .  Therefore, the Church is not to be identified with a mere building but with the people, God's people, in whom He dwells.

There are over 225 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.  I bet you had no idea.  This is because, despite its size, the Orthodox Church seems to be America's best-kept secret!   This is a shame.  The Orthodox Church has deep roots and is steeped in a rich biblical tradition that many thirst for.   The Orthodox Church maintains its original New Testament tradition.  There is a joke about how many Orthodox does it take to change a lightbulb... the answer is none because Orthodoxy doesn't change.  It's true.  While the Catholic and Protestant churches have changed many many things over the years, Orthodoxy does not change.

Well, I think that may be enough for one day.  But some may be wondering what it is we, Orthodox, believe in.  So I will leave you with this.  It is the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,  And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages.  Light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father by whom all things were made for us men and for our salvation, came down from Heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.  And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and suffered and was buried and the third day he rose again according to the scriptures.  And ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end.  And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father who with the Father and the son together is worshipped and glorified who spoke by the prophets. I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.  I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

 

And in regards to Halloween.....

The Orthodox Church does not support the celebration of Halloween.  There are some Orthodox Christians that do allow their children to participate in festivities, seeing it as a harmless activity, as surely they are not worshipping any form in such harmless activities.  I, myself, up until recently, still had a few of those 'harmless' decorations that were 'cute'.  I actually just put them away earlier this week and do not plan on resurfacing them other than for perhaps a garage sale.  We have decided to continue handing out treats at the door, at least for the time being, to be neighborly... as we rarely see our neighbors (we live in the country).  Though this activity may change at some point.  I put these decorations away after reading several articles written by priests/bishops of the Holy Orthodox Church.  I will share the links to the articles as I don't feel confident enough to relay their message quite as eloquently and am only adding this on at the last moment this morning.  So if you care to know the whys behind the nonsupport of these so-called 'harmless' activities, you can read here:

Bishop Kyrill of Seattle  On Halloween  October 2012

The Greek Orthodox Church on Halloween

Halloween  OrthodoxWiki

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