Sermon on the Annunciation

by St. Gregory the Wonderworker

(an excerpt)

Our father among the saints, Gregory the Wonderworker, also known as Gregory Thaumaturgus or Gregory of Neocaesarea,  was a Christian bishop of the 3rd century. The Theotokos and Apostle John appeared to St. Gregory in a dream, and taught him about the Holy Trinity.  He was a zealous evangelist. When Gregory began his episcopacy with only seventeen Christians, but at his death there remained only seventeen pagans in all of Caesarea

When the fulness of the times came for His glorious appearing, He sent beforehand the archangel Gabriel to bear the glad tidings to the Virgin Mary. And he came down from the ineffable powers above to the holy Virgin, and addressed her first of all with the salutation,

“Hail, thou that art highly favoured.”

And when this word,

“Hail, thou that art highly favoured,”

reached her, in the very moment of her hearing it, the Holy Spirit entered into the undefiled temple of the Virgin, and her mind and her members were sanctified together. And nature stood opposite, and natural intercourse at a distance, beholding with amazement the Lord of nature, in a manner contrary to nature, or rather above nature, doing a miraculous work in the body; and by the very weapons by which the devil strove against us, Christ also saved us, taking to Himself our passible body in order that He might impart the greater grace to the being who was deficient in it. And

“where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

And appropriately was grace sent to the holy Virgin.

For this word also is contained in the oracle of the evangelic history:

“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house and lineage of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary; “

and so forth. And this was the first month to the holy Virgin. Even as Scripture says in the book of the law:

“This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month among the months of the year to you.”

“Keep ye the feast of the holy passover to the Lord in all your generations.”

it was also the sixth month to Zacharias. And rightly, then, did the holy Virgin prove to be of the family of David, and she had her home in Bethlehem, and was betrothed rightfully to Joseph, in accordance with the laws of relationship. And her espoused husband was her guardian, and possessor also of the untarnished incorruption which was hers. And the name given to the holy Virgin was one that became her exceedingly.

For she was called Mary, and that, by interpretation, means illumination. And what shines more brightly that the light of virginity? For this reason also the virtues are called virgins by those who strive rightly to get at their true nature. But if it is so great a blessing to have a virgin heart, how great a boon will it be to have the flesh that cherishes virginity along with the soul!

Thus the holy Virgin, while still in the flesh, maintained the incorruptible life, and received in faith the things which were announced by the archangel. And thereafter she journeyed diligently to her relation Elisabeth in the hill-country.

“And she entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth,”

in imitation of the angel.

“And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leapt with joy in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Thus the voice of Mary wrought with power, and filled Elisabeth with the Holy Spirit. And by her tongue, as from an ever-flowing fountain, she sent forth a stream of gracious gifts in the way of prophecy to her relation; and while the feet of her child were bound in the womb, she prepared to dance and leap. And that was the sign of a marvellous jubilation. For wherever she was who was highly favoured, there she filled all things with joy.

“And Elisabeth spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Blessed art thou among women.”

For thou hast become to women the beginning of the new creation. Thou hast given to us boldness of access into paradise, and thou hast put to flight our ancient woe. For after thee the race of woman shall no more be made the subject of reproach. No more do the successors of Eve fear the ancient curse, or the pangs of childbirth.

For Christ, the Redeemer of our race, the Saviour of all nature, the spiritual Adam who has healed the hurt of the creature of earth, cometh forth from thy holy womb.

“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

For He who bears all blessings for us is manifested as thy fruit. This we read in the clear words of her who was barren; but yet more clearly did the holy Virgin herself express this again when she presented to God the song replete with thanksgiving, and acceptance, and divine knowledge; announcing ancient things together with what was new; proclaiming along with things which were of old, things also which belong to the consummation of the ages; and summing up in a short discourse the mysteries of Christ.

“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,”

and so forth.

“He hath holpen His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy, and of the covenant which He established with Abraham and with his seed for ever.”

Thou seest how the holy Virgin has surpassed even the perfection of the patriarchs, and how she confirms the covenant which was made with Abraham by God, when He said,

“This is the covenant which I shall establish between me and thee.”

Wherefore He has come and confirmed the covenant with Abraham, having received mystically in Himself the sign of circumcision, and having proved Himself the fulfilment of the law and the prophets.

This song of prophecy, therefore, did the holy mother of God render to God, saying,

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour: for He that is mighty hath done to me great things, and holy is His name.”

For having made me the mother of God, He has also preserved me a virgin; and by my womb the fulness of all generations is headed up together for sanctification.

For He hath blessed every age, both men and women, both young men and youths, and old men.

“He hath made strength with His arm,”

on our behalf, against death and against the devil, having torn the handwriting of our sins.

“He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; “

yea, He hath scattered the devil himself, and all the demons that serve under him. For he was overweeningly haughty in his heart, seeing that he dared to say,

“I will set my throne above the clouds, and I will be like the Most High.”

And now, how He scattered him the prophet has indicated in what follows, where he says,

“Yet now thou shalt be brought down to hell,”

and all thy hosts with thee. For He has overthrown everywhere his altars and the worship of vain gods, and He has prepared for Himself a peculiar people out of the heathen nations.

“He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.”

In these terms is intimated in brief the extrusion of the Jews and the admission of the Gentiles. For the elders of the Jews and the scribes in the law, and those who were richly privileged with other prerogatives, because they used their riches ill and their power lawlessly, were cast down by Him from every seat, whether of prophecy or of priesthood, whether of legislature or of doctrine, and were stripped of all their ancestral wealth, and of their sacrifices and multitudinous festivals, and of all the honourable privileges of the kingdom. Spoiled of all these boons, as naked fugitives they were cast out into captivity.

And in their stead the humble were exalted, namely, the Gentile peoples who hungered after righteousness. For, discovering their own lowliness, and the hunger that pressed upon them for the knowledge of God, they pleaded for the divine word, though it were but for crumbs of the same, like the woman of Canaan;and for this reason they were filled with the riches of the divine mysteries. For the Christ who was born of the Virgin, and who is our God, has given over the whole inheritance of divine blessings to the Gentiles.

“He hath helped His servant Israel.”

Not any Israel in general, indeed, but His servant, who in very deed maintains the true nobility of Israel. And on this account also did the mother of God call Him servant (Son) and heir. For when He had found the same labouring painfully in the letter and the law, He called him by grace. It is such an Israel, therefore, that He called and hath holpen in remembrance of His mercy.

“As He spake to our fathers, I to Abraham and to his seed for ever.”

In these few words is comprehended the whole mystery of the economy. For, with the purpose of saving the race of men, and fulfilling the covenant that was made with our fathers, Christ has once

“bowed the heavens and come down.”

And thus He shows Himself to us as we are capable of receiving Him, in order that we might have power to see Him, and handle Him, and hear Him when the speaketh. And on this account did God the Word deem it meet to take to Himself the flesh and the perfect humanity by a woman, the holy Virgin; and He was born a man, in order that He might discharge our debt, and fulfil even in Himself the ordinances of the covenant made with Abraham, in its rite of circumcision, and all the other legal appointments connected with it.

And after she had spoken these words the holy Virgin went to Nazareth; and from that a decree of Caesar led her to come again to Bethlehem; and so, as proceeding herself from the royal house, she was brought to the royal house of David along with Joseph her espoused husband. And there ensued there the mystery which transcends all wonders,-the Virgin brought forth and bore in her hand Him who bears the whole creation by His word.

“And there was no room for them in the inn.”

He found no room who founded the whole earth by His word.

She nourished with her milk Him who imparts sustenance and life to everything that hath breath.

She wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes who binds the whole creation fast with His word. She laid Him in a manger who rides seated upon the cherubim.

A light from heaven shone round about Him who lighteneth the whole creation.

The hosts of heaven attended Him with their doxologies who is glorified in heaven from before all ages. A star with its torch guided them who had come from the distant parts of earth toward Him who is the true Orient.

From the East came those who brought gifts to Him who for our sakes became poor.

And the holy mother of God kept these words, and pondered them in her heart, like one who was the receptacle of all the mysteries.

Thy praise, O most holy Virgin, surpasses all laudation, by reason of the God who received the flesh and was born man of thee.

To thee every creature, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, offers the meet offering of honour. For thou hast been indeed set forth as the true cherubic throne.

Thou shinest as the very brightness of light in the high places of the kingdoms of intelligence; where the Father, who is without beginning, and whose power thou hadst overshadowing thee, is glorified; where also the Son is worshipped, whom thou didst bear according to the flesh; and where the Holy Spirit is praised, who effected in thy womb the generation of the mighty King.

Through thee, O thou that art highly favoured, is the holy and consubstantial Trinity known in the world.

Together with thyself, deem us also worthy to be made partakers of thy perfect grace in Jesus Christ our Lord: with whom, and with the Holy Spirit, be glory to the Father, now and ever, and unto the ages of the ages. Amen.

(Taken from the Preachers Institute website)

 

Please also see:

 The Orthodox Veneration of The Mother of God; Zeal Not According to Knowledge (Romans 10:2); Attempts of Iconoclasts to Lessen The Glory of the Queen of Heaven, They Are Put to Shame; Attempts of Jews and Heretics to Dishonor The Ever-Virginity of Mary; The First Enemies of the Veneration of The Mother of God; etc

(An excellent overview of the “The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God” written by Saint John of Shanghai & San Francisco, a saint of the Orthodox Church with complete holy relics laying in the Orthodox Cathedral of San Francisco, CA)