Tag Archives: Annunciation

Faith & Reason, Charity & Prudence

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
Madison, WI

Epistle: Hebrews 2:11-18/6:1-20
Gospel: Luke 1:24-34/Mark 9:17-31

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.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Let Us Meet Jesus in Silence

March 25, 2016: The Annunciation of the Most-Holy Theotokos

Epistle: Hebrews 2:11-18
Gospel: Luke 1:24-38

We call Christ our Lord, God, and Savior and are right to do so because He is. And because of Who is, we come before Him in “fear and trembling.”

But just as rightly, we must come to Jesus not simply as God but as our brother. As we hear in the epistle, “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin.” Immediately after this we hear something extraordinary. The Second Person of the most Holy Trinity, He Who is God from all eternity “is not ashamed” to call us His brothers. This being so, how can we be hesitant to call Him our Brother? Because it is as our brother that Jesus proclaims the Father: “I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.”

Jesus Christ, standing in our midst not simply as God but as our brother announces the Father’s great mercy for us.

We shouldn’t think that His humanity is merely instrumental, only a means to an end. What do we read in Hebrews? “Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” It is precisely by becoming human, by taking on our humanity and becoming our brother that Jesus is able to pour out God’s mercy on us and to lift from us the burden of sin.

We must balance Jesus ‘s transcendence with His imminence. Yes, as God  Jesus is greater than anything I can imagine Him to be; but as my creator and my brother He is closer to me than I am to myself as St Augustine says (Confessions, III, 6, 11). The irony, or maybe better, the paradox of the Christian faith is this: We only truly know God’s transcendence in and through the incarnation of the Son. It is in becoming like us in all things but sin (see Hebrews 4:15), that Jesus is able to communicate to us the supra-essential glory of God.

Turning to the Gospel and today’s feast, the Archangel Gabriel‘s announces to the Virgin Mary the great mystery of our faith. While our first parents were promised a redeemer (see Genesis 3:15),  the fulfillment of the promise is far beyond what they could have imagined. God becomes as we are, to paraphrase St Irenaeus, so that we could become as He is. Today is announced not simply the coming of the Redeemer, but God’s invitation to us to share in the life of the Holy Trinity. Today by God’s grace and the Virgin’s consent, we have become “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4, NKJV) because He has taken on ours.

Let me offer at this point a caution.

As magnificent as is the Gospel, we can’t allow its beauty to blind us to the intimacy  we have with Jesus. Yes, we must worship Christ as “King and Lord” as we hear in the baptismal service. But to do know Him in this way, we must first know Him as our brother, as the Man Who all those yers ago walked among us and with us.

Too easily I can find myself swept away by the depth and breadth of Holy Tradition. The Church’s theology is rich and profound; the Liturgy of the Church is of unparalleled beauty, can soften even the hardest heart as it transport us from earth to heaven.

Still, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Jesus is not only our Lord but also our brother. And of the two of these, it is the latter —if I may dare to say such a thing—that matters most.

To know Jesus in His divinity as well as His humanity, to know Him as Lord and brother, we must imitate the obedience of the Theotokos. “As the human race was subject to death through the act of a virgin, so it was saved by a virgin.” Through Mary’s obedience “the wisdom of the serpent” is “conquered by the simplicity of the dove, and the chains were broken by which we were in bondage to death” (St Irenaeus,Against Heresies 5:20, in ACCS, NT vol III: Luke, pp. 19-20).

How do we practice such obedience?

Again, we must look to the Mother of God who “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NKJV). We must, in other words, learn to keep silence. St John Climacus says that “silence is the mother of prayer” and that “The friend of silence draws near to God and, by secretly conversing with Him, is enlightened by God” (The Ladder of Divine Ascent 11, trans. L.Moore, p.92).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate today the Feast of the Annunciation, let us commit ourselves “from this moment on” to set aside time to sit silently with our brother Jesus! And let us, through silence, come to know and love Him Who knows and loves us!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory