With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
The chief commander of the King’s armies, the Archangel Gabriel, was sent to Mary to announce the Incarnation – God’s coming to earth. According to Orthodox iconography, Gabriel appeared to Mary when she was hand spinning with a spindle. The icon shows how she stops and listens to the angel’s words” “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1: 30-32).
The dialogue between Gabriel and Mary is the key to the mystery of the Incarnation. In the liturgy for this feast, Mary says: “How shall my womb contain him whom the wide spaces of the heavens cannot contain?” And the angel answers: “O Virgin, let the tent of Abraham that once contained God teach you: for it prefigured your womb, which now receives the Godhead.”
In the liturgical texts, Mary is addressed with several allegorical names which reflect her exalted role as “Theotokos – The Birthgiver of God.” She is called: “The Chariot and Dwelling of the Divinity”, “The Burning Bush that Remains Unconsumed”, “The Bridge that Leads to Heaven”, “The Ladder raised on high that Jacob saw”, “The Divine Jar of Manna”, “The Deliverance of the Curse” and “The Restorator Adam.”
Mary’ s posture is humble and receptive. The inscription above Mary: “MHP – OV”, is an abbreviation for the Mother of God. By saying yes to God’s plan of salvation, she becomes the mediator between heaven and earth. The blue and red half-circle that directs rays of light towards her, symbolizes God’s supernatural intervention: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
The icon depicts how The King of Heaven has descended into Mary’s womb and is seated there as a small Pantocrator on his throne.
Source: The Mystical Language of Icons.
Reflections on the Icon of The Annunciation
From Weaving Scarlet and Purple – A Legend of Mary:
Mary is spinning the wool for the sanctuary veil, the curtain that hangs in front of the Holy of Holies and the ark of the covenant, the sign of the unbridgeable gulf between sinful humanity and the holy God. No one goes behind that curtain except the High Priest once a year, to stand before the empty throne of God and make peace between God and his people. But as Mary labors away at this sign of separation, holy fear, she is interrupted at her work; God, you could say, steps through the veil himself. From the sanctuary of heaven, from the terrifying emptiness between the cherubim on the ark, God enters another sanctuary, the holy place of a human body. He parts the curtain of human fear and guilt; and he is able to do this because this human creature, this young peasant woman, is enough of a stranger to fear and guilt to let him in wholeheartedly.
Now when we look at God, we do not see only the terror and darkness, the cloud that brooded over Sinai; we see Jesus, taking his throne on a mother’s lap. This is the inmost mystery, the holiest of holies; and the mystery and, yes, the fear is not because God is so strange and so far away, but because he has come closer to us than we are to our own selves, as one of his saints has said.
Rowan Williams, Ponder These Things, pp. 63-64.
In all versions of the Annunciation icon, Mary is on the right, the Archangel Gabriel on the left, while
at the top of the icon is a partially revealed dark sphere, symbol of heaven. In many icons rays of divine power radiate from the sphere toward Mary.
Gabriel’s greeting to Mary has been a rich source of meditation throughout the history of Christianity: “Hail, you who are filled with grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The angel’s raised hand signifies the words. Gabriel continues, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call him Jesus.” Bewildered, Mary asks, “How can this happen, as I have no husband?” Gabriel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Jim Forest, Praying with Icons, pp. 57-58.
“The Angel Gabriel” Hymn
1. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
"All hail" said he "thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady," Gloria!
2. "For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady," Gloria!
3. Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said,
"My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name."
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!
4. Of her, Emanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
"Most highly favored lady," Gloria!
Text: Public Domain
“Praying with Icons”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2021.
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