Sunday, April 7 (OS March 25), 2019: 4th Sunday of Lent; Sunday of St John of the Ladder of Divine Ascent; the Feast of the Holy Annunciation of the Theotokos; Martyr Victoria
Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The hymnography for the Feast of the Annunciation includes a conversation between the Mother of God and the Archangel Gabriel.
In response to Gabriel’s announcement that she is to give birth to the Son of God, the Virgin Mary asks the angel as to how this is even possible: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Though she doesn’t understand how God’s will for her is to be accomplished, in humility she accepts the divine will calling herself “the handmaiden of the Lord.”
The humility of her response, however, is not passive. Nor does it reflect a simplification of the complexity of God’s will for her life. Though she responds in a common-sense manner to the angel’s message—“How can this be, since I do not know a man?—the hymnography makes it clear that she is not naïve.
Immediately after raising the biological question, the hymnography tells us Mary turns to philosophy: “How shall I become the Mother of my Maker?’” How, in other words, will the creature conceive and contain in her womb the Creator?
Mary’s questions however are not merely speculative. She is motivated by a concern for the whole human family. She is aware that the last time an angel appeared to a virgin–the Serpent to Eve in the Garden–things ended badly for us.
As we reflect on the Virgin’s hesitancy we come to see that it reflects not a lack of faith on her part. Rather, she is moved by an abundance of charity. No matter how great the honor offered her, she doesn’t want to act impulsively; the reward is great but is great as well.
We can apply to Mary the Solomon’s description of the wise man:
The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps. A wise man fears and departs from evil, but a fool rages and is self-confident (Proverbs 14:15-16, NKJV).
Mary is no fool! She is wise and carefully thinks through the implications of her actions.
She reflects on the Angel’s greeting not only in light of Scripture but also science and philosophy. The Handmaiden of the Lord is obedient and charitable but also respectful of reason and what reason knows.
So what does all this mean for us?
In the Mother of God we see the harmony–the synergy–of faith and reason, of charity and prudence.
Faith without reason is mere fantasy even as reason without faith is idle speculation.
Likewise, charity needs prudence since without the ability to give practical expression to our concern for others we are left with mere sentimentality. As for prudence, without love it is cowardice.
When I violate the partnership between faith and reason or charity and prudence and I set the stage for violence. Violence not only in society but in the Church, the family and in our personal lives.
Sentimentality gives rise to violence because it demands recognition. For the one gripped by the passion of sentimentality, it isn’t enough that he feels happy or sad; others must join him in his feelings. And, if they don’t or won’t, they must be made to comply.
All this is so because once we break the inherent connection between faith and reason, between charity and prudence, we set ourselves adrift. We strip ourselves of everything except our current emotion or most recent thought or most pressing desire. We become slaves to our own thoughts, feelings, and desires.
In other words, faith without reason, charity without prudence, is precisely that from which God comes to save us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! We see in the Mother of God an icon of the faithful, loving and rational disciple of Christ. In her faith and reason, charity and prudence are not only in harmony with each other but also at the service of the Gospel.
She is as well the icon of the Christian professional, the Christian scholar, the Christian scientist.
We see in her what it means to give ourselves wholly to Christ not only for our own sake but for the salvation of the world. And so we see in her both our vocation as disciples and apostles of Christ but also as citizens of a Republic.
May God through the prayers of the Holy Theotokos grant us a life faithful reason, rational faith, charitable prudence and prudent charity.