Greetings for the Annunciation and the Sunday of the Cross

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters, today sees the coinciding of the feast of the Annunciation with the Sunday of the Cross at this point of mid-Lent, and in that coincidence we see a great spiritual complement, as the Mystery of the Cross illuminates and explains the significance of the Annunciation and the Virgin’s obedience and agreement to become the Mother of God, and Mother of our Salvation.

In the troparion for the feast, we hear, “Today is the fountainhead of our salvation and the manifestation of the mystery which was from eternity.” But what is this mystery from all eternity?

The answer is simple… it is the mystery of God’s redemptive love, and the response of that Divine Love to the rebellion and fall of Adam and Eve.

  • a redemptive-love that seeks out out the lost and actively looks for those who have gone astray, descending to earth so that by the Cross, it can raise up humanity to heaven: a love in which God descends so that His earthly children may not only be raised from the dead, but ascend to heaven itself.
  • a healing-love that restores humanity and all creation: sick, fallen, broken, dysfunctional and exiled.
  • a sacrificial-love in which Christ-God hides His Divine glory and exhausts Himself for the sake of His fallen children, taking on human nature at the very moment of the Annunciation, so that human nature could be restored and transformed – to be as God originally intended.
  • a self-denying love in which Christ – Love-Incarnate – was beaten, tortured, mocked and killed, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy in which the Christ of Holy Friday is seen in the Man of Sorrows: oppressed, despised, rejected, wounded, bruised and beaten, and brought in silence like a lamb to the slaughter… in endurance and suffering that was the fruit of this selfless, perfect, unlimited love.

This Divine Love, finds its ultimate realisation in the Cross and the Saviour’s Passion, but the incarnate journey of the Only-Begotten Son to the Cross began when the Archangel appeared to the Mother of God, who accepted her necessary part and obedience in the economy of salvation as she submitted to God’s will, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word…” In plain-speech, I am God’s slave, let what you say come to pass in me. I surrender myself to God. I submit.

In his epistle to the Philippians, St Paul counselled the Christians in Caesarea Philippi, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

In other words… have the mind of Christ through your obedience, humility and submission to God’s Will, with the Cross as the ultimate sign and realisation of this, and do not stop to think of yourself or worry about yourself, but rather give yourself over to the will of the Father.

Though the Cross was decades away from the day on which the youthful Mother of God received the good-news from the Archangel, and even further in time from when St Paul would write those words to the Philippians, her obedience and humble submission to God were already the foundation for the Cruciform redemptive plan of God’s love, as she took on not simply the role of a servant, but of the very Mother of the Saviour: lauded in the akathist-hymn as the “Ladder by which God came down”, and “the Bridge leading from earth to heaven”.

Just as the Only-Begotten Son’s obedience, surrender and submission to His Father’s will is at the very core of the meaning of the Mystery of the Cross, it was already reflected in the Mother of God’s selfless acceptance of the divine plan revealed by the Archangel Gabriel.

This Mystery became an abiding reality in her life at the side of her Son, as was prophetically recognised by St Symeon in the temple, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.”

St Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.” and in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:21-2), the Apostle states that “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

The first Adam brought about the fall by rebellion and disobedience, but conversely, as the Second-Adam, the Saviour brings about reconciliation and salvation through obedience and submission to the Divine Counsel. As the pinnacle of the saving love of God, the Cross is the sacrificial-means of this redemptive act.

Similarly, we an opposite contrast between the first-mother, Eve, and the Mother of God as the “Second-Eve”.

Before the Fall, Eve, like the Mother of God, Eve was a sinless virgin, but in as much they not only listened to such different messengers, through their contrasting disobedience and obedience towards God, the stark contrast of both action and consequence emerges.

Tertullian (160-240) wrote, “As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other, by believing, effaced.”  

Mary’s obedience annuls the rebellion of Eve and its fateful consequences, as expressed by St (c. 120/140 – c. 200/203) in his “Against Heresies”:

“Mary, the Virgin, is found obedient, saying, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord be it unto me according to your word.’ But Eve was disobedient for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin.”

“Thus Mary’s obedience undid the knot of Eve’s disobedience; for what the virgin Eve had bound up by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary set free by her faith…”

At the root of this emancipation and freedom is the conforming of human free-will to the will of God as the very foundation of obedience, and by this alignment of the human and Divine Will, the Annunciation becomes the moment of the Incarnation and “the fountainhead of our salvation and the manifestation of the mystery which was from eternity”.

Despite all of those childhood years within the precincts of the Temple, despite the unknown experiences of the infant-Theotokos in the Holy of Holies, Mary’s ‘fiat’, her ‘yes’ to the Archangel, was not a foregone conclusion. She still possessed freedom and free-will, but her selfless-love for God and obedience to Him, led to her acceptance of God’s plan, and led her through the trials and sorrows of her life as Mother of the Saviour, epitomised by seeing her Son bloodied and disfigured upon the Cross.

From the encounter between the Mother of God and the Archangel at the Annunciation to the Crucifixion of her Son, as she stood at the foot of the Cross, her life was one of continuous agreement and alignment with the Divine Will, negating the disobedience of Eve whose rebellion saw her driven away from the Garden of Eden and barred from the Tree of Life.

Like the moon reflecting the rays and light of the sun, so the Mother of God reflects her own Son in her own life, and by emulating her humility, selflessness and obedience, she will truly be our Hodegetria and show us the way.

That way will lead us to the foot of the Cross, which – as the supreme sign of the Saviour’s sacrificial love and obedience to the Father – is our Tree of Life, which in the poetry of the services of the Church we hymn, saying, “…we embrace thee, O desire of all the world. Through thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away; we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy.”

As the new Eve, the journey of the Mother of God took her from the Annunciation to to stand at the foot of the Cross, as the new Tree of Life, but beyond that, to hear the good tidings of another angel, who would greet the Myrrh-bearing woman on that first Pascha, with the wondrous words,

“Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:5-6)

Today, speaking of the Annunciation, we chant those words of the troparion, “Today is the fountainhead of our salvation” but on Pascha, with our hearts and minds at the empty Tomb, reflecting upon the precious Cross, we can then joyfully proclaim the words of St Ephrem: “through faith it is no longer a tree, but the fountain of life eternal; that the Cross is a fountain of Life even as Jesus said: I am the life and the resurrection (Jn 11:25).”

And as we venerate the Cross at this mid-point to Pascha, hearing the Saviour say, “Whosoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24), we must be joyful in the knowledge that the meaning of this Cross – the submission, humility and obedience, seen in the life of the Saviour, also reflected in the life of His Mother will lead us to the joy of the empty Life-Giving Tomb and the angelic words, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen…”

May the mystery of the Cross in our lives, through selfless love, obedience, submission and humility lead us to the fountain of life and the joy of the resurrection.


Posted in Homily/Sermon.