Sunday, March 25, 2007

25th Of March: Holy and Glorious Day

Today is one of the most solemn days in the calendar of Greek Orthodox Christians and indeed of the Universe. I picked up a pamphlet at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in New York City last night when I attended vespers , officiated by Archibishop Dimitirios, the pamphlet is transcribed below, and simply has the title on the cover , ANNUNCIATION:


March 25

Of all the solemn days in Orthodoxy, the day of March 25 is one not only of religious significance but of political significance as well, allowing the Greek Orthodox to commemorate God's message
to Mary and the independence of Greece on the same day. The expression , "For God and Country," has real meaning for the Orthodox Greek on the 25th day of March, a day on which he can celebrate two events without diminishing either one for the obvious reason that devotion and patriotism have the same emotional root--love. If Christianity could be compressed into a single word, that word be love. The same holds true for patriotism.

The story on the ground of which the feast of the Annunciation has been instituted is found in the Gospel according to St. Luke, chap. 1:26-38. According to this famous narrative, six months after St. John the Baptist was conceived, the Archangel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary and announced to her that she was going to conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to Jesus Christ. Another source which greatly influenced the iconographer and hymnology of the feast of the Annunciation is the apocryphal Gospel of James, VI.

Uppermost in the true Greek's mind on March25, however, is Mary, chosen from all the women in the world to be the Mother of Jesus Christ. When the angel Gabriel brought the momentous message from God this day, the gentle Mary must have felt a solemn pride, but at the same time a disquieting apprehension at the prospect of this awesome responsibility, assured by the Archangel, Mary's answer was simple" "Let it be according to the will of God," and the rest is glorious history.

When the feast of the Annunciation began to be established is not clear. St. Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, built in Nazareth a Basilica which included a traditional small house of Mary in which she was visited by the angel. Yet, we have no evidence of the feast until the 7th century. In an Easter Chronicle (624) the feast of the Annunciation is mentioned as being celebrated on March 25. Obviously, the feast must have been celebrated for a long time before that because, although we have no evidence, it could not have been instituted from one year to another. When finally the feast of the Nativity was detached from the feast of the Epiphany on January 6 and was moved to the 25th of December, the feast of the Annunciation was fixed, as expected, to be celebrated on March 25th, nine months before the Nativity.

But March the 25th always falls within the Great Lent before Easter during which, by ancient practice, no feast was allowed to be celebrated, the Great Lent considered to be a period of preparation and mourning for the coming Passion of Christ.

The world of Mary of two thousand years ago is envisioned as one in which life was simple and free of the complexities that plague the modern world, but in the age of self-sufficiency there were problems which would be insurmountable today. The mother of that day was all things to her family, and it can safely be said that when the archangel Gabriel departed, the prospective Mother of God must have for several moments felt terribly alone. Everyone knows about the nativity and the mission of Jesus Christ, but the details of the days, months, and years in between are known to Mary and to God.

For the Greek Orthodox Church and her people, March the 25th also marks an anniversary of great importance, the commemorating of the liberation of the Greek nation from a four hundred-year Turkish slavery. Bishop Germanos raised the flag of liberation in the Peloponnese on the day of the Annunciation--the one day above all that marks the beginning of man's salvation--thus connecting it with the beginning of a hard and long struggle for national independence, for the Orthodox Church both the day of Annunciation and the day of their national liberation happen to fall on a time of natural regeneration. Hence, the joy associated with both feasts bears deep and personal relevance for the Greek Orthodox, marking as it does in the regions of the Eastern Church the beginning of a new seasonal year. Characteristic of the joyful importance of the Annunciation is the fact that even by the most sever Monastic Directories people are allowed to take fish on that day, contrary to the strict rule that meat and fish are disallowed during Great Lent.

If there is a majic number it is 25--the day of Annunciation and of Greek Independence in March of every year until the end of time.


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