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Reflection from Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco for the Feast of the Annunciation

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

On March 25, the Church pauses its Lenten character to celebrate the Great Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. This feast is so important to the message of our salvation that even if March 25 were to fall during Holy Week, we would celebrate it. There is a festive Divine Liturgy. Our fast is relaxed, albeit just for one day. We will sing the beautiful apolytikion of the day: “Today marks the crowning of our salvation, and the revelation of the mystery before all ages. For the Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaims the grace. Wherefore, we also cry out with him, ‘Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you.’” 

And for those with Greek ancestry, March 25 is a most important national holiday. It is Greek Independence Day, observing the beginning of the revolution of 1821 of the Greek people. That revolution overthrew their Ottoman overlords and eventually led to the creation of the Greek nation in 1828.

While each celebration has its unique character, taken together they are celebrations of freedom. In the feast of the Annunciation, we celebrate that through Christ we will be freed from the tyranny of death. In the celebration of Greek independence, we remember the battle to become free from the tyranny of autocratic oppression.

A phrase from a hymn of Matins makes clear what is being celebrated: “The fetters of the curse once laid on our forefather now are loosed.” In a word, we celebrate our liberation from the effects of the fall of Adam and Eve. As we read in the book of Romans, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” (Romans 5:12).

The Virgin Mary’s acceptance of the announcement from the archangel Gabriel that she will give birth to the Savior inaugurates our ultimate liberation from death that will come about in the resurrection of Christ. And Mary freely accepted the news, saying “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).

Her freedom became an act that would transform the cosmos; hers was a freedom for others. After the Annunciation, when she met her relative Elizabeth, Mary sang about the transformation that the Savior would bring: “He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53). 

On March 25, the Greek people celebrate the beginning of their freedom, and the beginning of their new nation. Theirs was a freedom from tyranny and oppression. This freedom came at a great price because freedom is never free. They paid in a war that would last seven years. But in the end, they overthrew their oppressors, and the power of the dictators that had ruled over them for 400 years.

Those of us of Greek ancestry will celebrate the events of 1821, its heroes and heroines, with songs and poetry. Underlying them all is a message of freedom, a universal human value, that all people – no matter their ancestry – can celebrate and appreciate. For all of us desire to live as free people in a free society. Many years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt named the four freedoms that all people desire: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. While we might want to add to that list today, we can see that these four still are still very clear to us and very dear to us, especially as we consider the places in the world where people still only can dream of these.

My beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, as we celebrate these two feasts of freedom, consider them in light of our lenten journey and its goal. God created Adam and Eve to live as free beings. This was lost in their fall. At Pascha, we will celebrate the restoration of humanity to the freedom that God had originally created us. But today, on the feast of Annunciation, we celebrate that our new life begins with Mary accepting the news from Gabriel. As the doxastikon of the Annunciation proclaims: “Today is revealed the mystery that is from all eternity. God becomes man so He might make Adam God. Let creation rejoice, let nature exalt!”

May our Lord bless all those who celebrate their Feast Day on this day.

May God bless you all! Χρόνια Πολλά!