by Stergios N. Sakkos, University Professor
1,57-58. Τῇ δὲ Ἐλισάβετ ἐπλήσθη ὁ χρόνος τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν, καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱόν. Καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ περίοικοι καὶ οἱ συγγενεῖς αὐτῆς ὅτι ἐμεγάλυνε Κύριος τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ μετ᾿ αὐτῆς, καὶ συνέχαιρον αὐτῇ.
1:57-58 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
When “it was time”, that is, the required nine months were fulfilled, Elizabeth gave birth to a son. The expression “the Lord had shown her great mercy” means that the Lord showed her his magnitude of mercy (cf. Ps 56:11) because He made her worthy, while she was sterile and even in an old age, of becoming a mother.
Elizabeth's neighbors and relatives “shared her joy” as soon as they heard the news. The pre-announcement of the Angel had already begun to be fulfilled; many were happy with the birth of this child (see verse 14).
1,59. Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ ὀγδόῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἦλθον περιτεμεῖν τὸ παιδίον, καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζαχαρίαν.
1:59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah.
Jews circumcised every male child eight days after his birth, as required by law (see Gen 17:12, Lev 12:3). The naming took place at the same time. The circumcision of the child was done either by the father (see Gen 17:23) or another person, even a woman (see Ex 4:25), but always by a Jew and never by a heathen.
The newborn child was given the name of his grandfather or father or some other relative. Since in this case the father was deaf and dumb, those present wanted to make him happy by calling his child Zechariah well before his naming. Of course, they would also wait for the mother's consent.
1,60. Καὶ ἀποκριθεῖσα ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ εἶπεν· οὐχί, ἀλλὰ κληθήσεται Ἰωάννης.
1:60 But his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John”.
Elizabeth responded that the child was to be named John. Apparently, she was informed of the child's name by revelation from the Holy Spirit and spoke like a prophet. If Zechariah had written it to her, they would not need to ask him again (see verse 62). After all, Elizabeth's knowledge, by divine revelation, aroused the surprise and admiration of neighbors and relatives (see verse 63).
1,61-62. Καὶ εἶπον πρὸς αὐτὴν ὅτι οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐν τῇ συγγενείᾳ σου ὃς καλεῖται τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ· ἐνένευον δὲ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι καλεῖσθαι αὐτόν.
1:61-62 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.
Those present were puzzled by the choice of this name answered that there was no one among Elizabeth's relatives with that name. Perhaps they feared that Elizabeth, taking advantage of Zechariah’s muteness, wanted to give the child a name of her choice.
Then they signed gestures to Zechariah what name he would like to give the child. The question “what he would like to name the child” is a typical expression, roughly analogous to the phrase: "Godfather, give the name".
1,63. Καὶ αἰτήσας πινακίδιον ἔγραψε λέγων· Ἰωάννης ἐστὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ· καὶ ἐθαύμασαν πάντες.
1:63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”
A “writing tablet” refers to a square or rectangular wooden tablet they used to write on at that time. It was smeared with wax and letters were engraved on it with a small sharp rod made of iron, copper or ivory, called stylus.
The expression “ἔγραψε λέγων” is a Hebrew expression and is translated “he wrote with these words”. So, Zechariah asked for a small writing tablet and wrote the following: “His name is John.” He didn’t say “I want him to be named John”, but “His name is John”, because this name had been already given to him by the angel (see verse 13).
Neighbors and relatives “to everyone’s astonishment” wondered how Zacharias and Elizabeth had agreed to choose the name without prior arrangement.
1,64. Ἀνεῴχθη δὲ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ παραχρῆμα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει εὐλογῶν τὸν Θεόν.
1:64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.
Zechariah's muteness was the consequence of the punishment imposed on him by the Angel because he did not believe in him (see verse 20). Thus, when, obeying the divine command, he wrote the name of the child, the punishment was resolved and his tongue was immediately set free, as well.
As soon as Zechariah was able to speak, “he began to speak, praising God” he burst out in praise and thanksgiving to God, as seen in the hymn he composed (see verses 68-79). Praise is a form of prayer very pleasing to God. When prayer does not begin and end with personal requests and supplications, it is a sign of a grateful heart. Everything that refers exclusively to the Lord, such as praise, should precede requests.
1,65. Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πάντας φόβος τοὺς περιοικοῦντας αὐτούς, καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ὀρεινῇ τῆς Ἰουδαίας διελαλεῖτο πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα.
1:65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things.
People who lived nearby were filled with awe once they were informed of what had happened at Zechariah's house. They were shocked by the way the child was named, by the fact that Zechariah began to speak again, but also by the narration of the heavenly apparition and the angel’s prophecy about John. With all these amazing events they felt the presence of God very close to them and the desire and expectation of the Messiah began to rekindle in them.
These great events, of course, spread throughout the mountainous region of Judea “throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things”. The word "ῥήμα" in the Holy Bible certainly means “saying” but mainly refers to the event which is the subject of.
1,66. καὶ ἔθεντο πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν λέγοντες· τί ἄρα τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο ἔσται; Καὶ χεὶρ Κυρίου ἦν μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ.
1:66 Everyone who heard these treasured them in their hearts asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
It was not possible to be indifferent to what had happened. Everyone put these phrases in their hearts; “Everyone who heard these treasured them in their hearts” they kept them alive in their memory. It was also reasonable to wonder: what is going to become of Zechariah's son?
The expression “Lord’s hand” signifies God’s power and energy. This power is punitive for sinners and helpful to the righteous. Here, of course, it is used in the latter meaning, that the divine power protected the infant.
1,67. Καὶ Ζαχαρίας ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐπλήσθη Πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ προεφήτευσε λέγων.
1:67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying.
Zechariah “was filled with the Holy Spirit” (see comments on v. 15). God completely forgave his lack of faith and now uses his mouth as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. His ode, which begins in the next verse, is praise and prophecy at the same time. He praised God for the great blessings he bestowed upon his people, prophesied of the approaching Messiah and of John's mission. (For Hebrew poetry see comments on v. 46).
1,68. Εὐλογητὸς Κύριος, ὁ Θεὸς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτι ἐπεσκέψατο καὶ ἐποίησε λύτρωσιν τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ.
1:68 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.
Zechariah belonged to the blessed remnant of Israel, the "λειμμα" (Rom 11:5), which awaited the fulfillment of the covenant which God had made with His chosen people. He saw, therefore, that the time had come for God to fulfill His promises, as he visits his people and grants them redemption. That is why he burst into a hymn full of multitude emotions and theological meanings. Its theme is the condition of fallen humanity and its elevation by the Messiah, in whose presence the great mercy of the Most High is revealed. The hymn is divided into four stanzas with the following content:
(a) Praise (v. 68a)
(b) The cause of praise (vv. 68b-69)
(c) God's promises to the fathers (vv. 70-75)
(d) John as the instrument of God's ministry for the work-purpose of salvation (vv. 76-79).
The expression "blessed be the Lord" is very common in the Bible and mainly in the Psalms. The adjective 'blessed' is attributed only to God - with few exceptions (cf. Deut 7:14; Ruth 2:20) - because only he is absolutely blessed; to him alone belongs all praise, to him belongs all glory, honour and worship. Man as a recipient of God's blessings is characterized as blessed (see v. 28).
“The Lord, the God of Israel” means "Yahweh is the God of Israel." For the expression “Lord God” see comments on v. 16.
In his prophetic hymn Zechariah used the past tense, but not as a prophetic past tense (see comments on vv. 51-53). Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he revealed how God had already visited him and at this moment is hosted in the holiest on earth; he rests in the womb of the Virgin. God's visit is called incarnation and it bestowed the redemption, the liberation from the slavery of sin, corruption and death (cf. Tit 2:14). God's visit is like, we might say, the visit of a doctor who offers the sick person the perfect cure, the visit of a victorious king who frees his people from an oppressive captivity.
By “his people” Israel is meant undoubtedly. Yahweh was their God and he made a covenant with them. To this “people” all the prophecies about the Messiah’s coming were given. Yet this Israel was the type of the new Israel, that is, the Church; to which Zechariah here referred to prophetically, as Gabriel and the Virgin had done before him (cf. 1:16. 54).
Moreover, in the Old Testament it is clearly shown that the Messiah was not only the hope of Israel but also the expectation of the Gentiles. In the apostolic council god-brother James, bishop of Jerusalem, reminded this; “Simeon has reported how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name”. And the words of the prophets agree with this" (Acts 15:14-15). In New Testament times, indeed, Gentile Christians appear to be included in the new Israel, too. These are the 'true Israelites', as St. Theophylact calls them. They are linked to patriarch Abraham not in flesh but in spirit, since they have his faith. The apostle Paul proclaimed this powerfully in his Epistles (see Rom ch. 4, Gal ch. 3).
The Lord's command to his apostles, after the resurrection, was clear: "Go and teach all nations" (Mt 28:19). The Church, the new Israel (cf. Lk 1:33, 55), the offspring of the cross and Lord’s resurrection, is ecumenical. Redemption embraces all nations.
1,69. καὶ ἤγειρε κέρας σωτηρίας ἡμῖν ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ Δαυῒδ τοῦ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ.
1:69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.
The “horn” denotes power, for all horned animals have their power in the horns. It is also a symbol of kingship, for in ancient Israel the anointing of the king was done with oil, which was kept in a vessel shaped like a horn. Jesus Christ, the "King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15) raised up an unshakeable throne, created a mighty kingdom of salvation, his Church, of which he himself said: "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18).
It was known to the Jews that the Messiah would come from the chosen house of David, from the royal line of David (cf. v. 32). David in this verse is called God’s “παις” (cf. Ps (69:17) 68:18; (86:16) 85:16; Acts 4:25), that is, a servant of God, because of his great faith and piety.
1,70. καθὼς ἐλάλησε διὰ στόματος τῶν ἁγίων, τῶν ἀπ᾿ αἰῶνος προφητῶν αὐτοῦ.
1:70 As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began.
The prophets are called saints not only as dedicated to God’s ministry but also as his instruments. God used their mouths as a loudspeaker to announce his promises (cf. Heb 1:1; 1 Pet 1:10-12). That is why we often read in the prophetic books, phrases such as "the mouth of the Lord has spoken these things" (Is 1:20), "this is what the Lord says" (Jer 2:2), "listen to the word of the Lord" (Jer (28,7) 35:7).
The promises of course that God made to his prophets were fulfilled after centuries. This passage of centuries, however, proved God's trustworthiness and the faithfulness of the people who lived in hope of their fulfilment. The expectation of the Messiah in pre-Christian times characterized the remnant of Israel, God's chosen. Today the expectation of Christ's Second Coming characterizes his little flock, the Church. The faithful, knowing the fulfillment of all the promises given by God in the Old Testament, await the Lord’s Second Coming with steadfast faith, living hope and vigilance in the spiritual battle.
1,71. σωτηρίαν ἐξ ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν καὶ ἐκ χειρὸς πάντων τῶν μισούντων ἡμᾶς.
1:71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.
Enemies are the conquerors who seek the enslavement of God's people; “all that hate us” are the Gentiles who do not believe in the true God and therefore hate his chosen people. In the Psalms it is often said that God saves his people from those who hate them and are their enemies; "I will crush his foes before him, and I strike down those who hate him" (Ps [89:23] 88:24).
In this passage the fathers foresee the three great enemies of man - the flesh, the world and the devil - as well as all the general visible and invisible enemies who hate God's people and are hostile to the Church.
1,72. ποιῆσαι ἔλεος μετὰ τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν καὶ μνησθῆναι διαθήκης ἁγίας αὐτοῦ.
1:72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant.
“To perform the mercy promised to our fathers” refers to the fulfillment of God's promises. St. Theophylact explains that the forefathers "all the things they expected, they saw that were fulfilled in Christ". They felt God’s mercy poured out upon them as they shared in the joy of their children, who were enjoying the benefits of the Lord's coming. Moreover, they themselves experienced his visit during his descent into hell.
“Remembrance of the covenant” means that God proves that he has not forgotten the covenant with his people (see comments on v. 54). Zigabenus interprets "For he calls the promise a covenant, and the remembrance of it a fulfillment".
The covenant is called “holy” for the following reasons:
(a) It is between the holy God and his people.
(b) Its content is holy.
(c) It is holy in its purpose; it aims to the sanctification of God's people.
1,73. ὅρκον ὃν ὤμοσε πρὸς Ἀβραὰμ τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν.
1:73 The oath which he swore to our father Abraham.
God’s oath to Abraham is mentioned in the book of Genesis; "I will bless you, and I will multiply your seed" (22:17). Indeed, through the adoption of all the nations who embraced his faith, Abraham's descendants became an innumerable multitude (see comments on v. 68).
Of all God’s Commandments in the Old Testament, some were temporary - the ritual part, for example, concerning the formalities for the sacrifices - while others were eternal and irrevocable. For those which were eternal God made an oath, because he wanted to emphasize that his decision was irrevocable (see Heb 6:17). God's oath is an additional word to his first word; the second "yes", which certifies a truth with certainty (see Mt 5:37).
1,74-75. τοῦ δοῦναι ἡμῖν ἀφόβως, ἐκ χειρὸς τῶν ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν ῥυσθέντας, λατρεύειν αὐτῷ ἐν ὁσιότητι καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς ἡμῶν.
1:74-75 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might worship him without fear. In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
God promised to secure a deliverance for his people from their enemies and an unhindered worship of God. When Zechariah was referring to salvation from the hands of enemies, as a Jew probably envisioned the ousting of the Roman yoke, the deep expectation of the Jewish people. In reality, however, this prophecy refers to deliverance from the bondage of sin and the establishment of spiritual and continuous worship. Release from sin essentially ensures, even in adverse external circumstances, the fearless and free worship of God in which God is pleased by two characteristics:
(a) Holiness, piety and
(b) righteousness, virtue.
St. Theophylact explains: "Holiness is the piety one shows towards God; and righteousness towards men".
1,76. Καὶ σύ, παιδίον, προφήτης ὑψίστου κληθήσῃ· προπορεύσῃ γὰρ πρὸ προσώπου Κυρίου ἑτοιμάσαι ὁδοὺς αὐτοῦ.
1:76 And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High: for you shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.
Zechariah now turns to his son and prophesies about the work and the importance of his mission; John will become a prophet, Messiah’s forerunner (cf. Mal 3:1; Is 40:3; Lk 1:17).
The plural 'ways' refers to the paths which John will indicate to those who will approach him in order to find the way of salvation (see Lk 3:10-14).
1,77. τοῦ δοῦναι γνῶσιν σωτηρίας τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ, ἐν ἀφέσει ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν.
1:77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.
The Jews expected the salvation that the Messiah would bring as deliverance from the conquerors (cf. vv. 74-75). Zechariah, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, prophesied that John would offer the people a knowledge of salvation, which God gives by bestowing remission of sins. In this way he presented the true dimensions of the Messiah’s work, overturning the messianic hopes, as all the Israelites and himself had understood them to be up to that time.
1,78. διὰ σπλάγχνα ἐλέους Θεοῦ ἡμῶν, ἐν οἷς ἐπεσκέψατο ἡμᾶς ἀνατολὴ ἐξ ὕψους.
1:78 Through the tender mercy of our God, through which the sunrise from on high has visited us.
“Σπλάγχνα” are the sensitive internal organs of men; the heart, the liver, the kidneys. They were considered the “seat of compassion”, affection, love. “Σπλάγχνα of our merciful God” is God's great sympathy for man. We certainly owe his visit and the donation of salvation to this and not to our own works.
The prophets foretold that the Messiah would come as the light of the world (see Is 9:2; 42:6-7; 60:1-2; cf. Mt 4:16), as the "sun of righteousness" (Mal 4:2), as the "sunrise" (Zech 6:12). It was known from the book of Numbers that a "star would rise from Jacob" (24:17). John the Baptist’s father announced that the time had come for the Messiah to visit the earth from above. The Church chants the event of the Lord’s incarnation in the Christmas apolytikion, testifying her experience, using the language of the prophets: Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shined the light of knowledge upon the world; for thereby they that worshipped the stars were instructed by a star to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know You, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to You.
1,79. ἐπιφᾶναι τοῖς ἐν σκότει καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου καθημένοις, τοῦ κατευθῦναι τοὺς πόδας ἡμῶν εἰς ὁδὸν εἰρήνης.
1:79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Zechariah proclaimed that God’s visit is different from all his previous appearances in Israel's history, because it will be so evident. It will dispel all spiritual darkness and shadows of death, just as the sunrise dispels darkness, which hides dangers and sometimes the threat of death. It will also illuminate the path of men, so that they may be directed to the way of peace, the way that leads to reconciliation with God (cf. Ro 5,1), towards salvation.
1,80. Τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανε καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πνεύματι, καὶ ἦν ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις ἕως ἡμέρας ἀναδείξεως αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸν Ἰσραήλ.
1:80 And the child grew, and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his revelation to Israel.
The expression "the child grew and became strong in spirit" means the physical growth and spiritual maturity that a child shows as it grows up.
The events of John's childhood are omitted. We are informed only that he was “in the deserts”, that is, at some point he departed to the desert of Judea. In silence and isolation, he prepared himself for his great mission as a Baptist who was coming prior to the presence of the Messiah.
John wandered in various parts of the desert, as the plural “in the deserts” shows. His stay there was prolonged until the day of his revelation to Israel, until the time he received God’s message (see Lk 3:2) to appear to the people of Israel and carry out his mission. This message was probably given to him when he was 30 years old -six months before Christ's baptism- when he reached the age required to begin his public ministry.
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by Stergios N. Sakkos, University Professor
During the Annunciation the angel informed the Virgin that her relative, Elizabeth, was pregnant. Young Mary perceived this information as an indirect encouragement and decided to visit Elizabeth. The Holy Spirit urged her to make this visit, so that after what happened there, her faith would grow even stronger.
1,39. Ἀναστᾶσα δὲ Μαριὰμ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὴν ὀρεινὴν μετὰ σπουδῆς εἰς πόλιν Ἰούδα.
1:39 And Mary rose up in those days and went into the hill country in haste, to a town of Juda.
“In haste”, means urgently. This is how Mary left Nazareth, which was in the south of Galilee, and went to a town in the mountainous Judea. She attempted to make such a long, tiring journey not only for a girl but for men as well. She probably followed a group of fellow travelers, friends or relatives. Maybe it was during Passover, as it is supported by many Church Fathers, when all Israelis travelled to Jerusalem. Therefore, virgin Mary did not have any difficulty in finding fellow travelers for her journey.
1,40-41. καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον Ζαχαρίου καὶ ἠσπάσατο τὴν Ἐλισάβετ. Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἤκουσεν ἡ Ἐλισάβετ τὸν ἀσπασμὸν τῆς Μαρίας, ἐσκίρτησε τὸ βρέφος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ αὐτῆς· καὶ ἐπλήσθη Πνεύματος ἁγίου ἡ Ἐλισάβετ.
1:40-41 And she entered the house of Zechariah, and greeted Elizabeth. And as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
A “Greeting” can be verbal or it can be a handshake or a kiss and embrace. In this case Mary “greeted”, addressed a verbal greeting, which Elizabeth heard. She greeted either with the Greek “Rejoice” or with one of the judaic greetings “Peace be with you” (Judg 19:20) or “The Lord bless you” (Ruth 2:4).
The moment Elizabeth heard her young relative’s greeting and without knowing anything else, she felt the baby moving inside her: “the baby leaped in her womb”. This was not a normal movement of the embryo. Something similar happened to Rebecca but she could not understand what the movements of her embryos meant (see Gen 25:22). Elizabeth, however, “was filled with the Holy Spirit” (cf. verse 15), she was enlightened by the Holy Spirit and she felt this movement as a kind of exultation. Virgin Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth is chanted, in the fifth stanza of the first Stasis of the Akathist Hymn: “The Virgin, bearing God in her womb, hastened to visit Elizabeth, whose own babe at once knowing her greeting, rejoiced and leaping up as if in a song, cried out to the Theotokos”.
1,42. καὶ ἀνεφώνησε φωνῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ εἶπεν· εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξὶ καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου.
1:42 And she exclaimed with a loud voice, and said, blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
The seemingly superfluous repetition of the synonyms “exclaimed” and “a loud voice” expresses emphatically what Elizabeth experienced when she recognized Mary’s grandeur. She was absolutely certain of her divine pregnancy being a fact. Her cry of joy was mixed with awe. Elizabeth’s greeting to virgin Mary was the same with that of the angel: “Blessed are you among women”. It is not a wish to “be blessed” but rather she expressed her conviction that she’s already blessed.
The phrase “and blessed is the fruit of your womb” which is an addition to the angel’s greeting, shows that Elizabeth knew about Mary’s pregnancy by divine revelation. As it was already mentioned, Mary conceived the fruit of her womb the moment she freely consented to God’s plan (see verse 38).
The Church, combining the angel’s greeting with that of Elizabeth’s to Mary, composed one of the finest hymns which is included in the Vesper service of the Lent and in the Artoklasia (The Blessing of the Five Loaves): “Hail, most blessed Mary, Virgin Theotokos, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have given birth to the Savior of our souls”.
1,43. Καὶ πόθεν μοι τοῦτο ἵνα ἔλθῃ ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Κυρίου μου πρός με;
1:43 And how did this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
“And how did this happen to me” expresses the awe Elizabeth felt. She wondered if she had some value or virtue that proved her worthy of such an honourable visit. She knew that the person who came to her house was not a common woman, a simple relative, but the Lord’s mother. Elizabeth called her “mother”, since she was already expecting a baby. Elizabeth respected and venerated her, even though she was older than her, because she realized that virgin Mary would be her Lord’s mother. She would never call Mary “the mother of my Lord” on her own, because only God is the Lord for the Jewish people. The Holy Spirit revealed to her (verse 15), that the expected baby is the God and urged her to this declaration. The way Elizabeth addressed Mary is a testimony that the divine and human nature were both united substantially in Jesus since the moment of conception. The pronoun “my” shows Elizabeth’s intimacy with the God she believed.
1,44. Ἰδοὺ γὰρ ὡς ἐγένετο ἡ φωνὴ τοῦ ἀσπασμοῦ σου εἰς τὰ ὦτά μου, ἐσκίρτησε τὸ βρέφος ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ μου.
1:44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the baby leaped in my womb in exultation.
Elizabeth explained how she recognized Mary to be her Lord’s mother: the baby she carried inside her leaped in exultation.
We cannot explain accurately the phrase “in exultation”. Of course, it means “joy” but, in this case, it denotes something more. It refers to the gladness of the heavenly kingdom. Probably it relates to the Holy Spirit, who in the Ps (45:7) 44:8 is called “the oil of gladness” (cf. Heb 1:9). John was still an unborn baby but he was enlightened by the Holy Spirit to prophesize using his mother’s mouth. In this way the angel’s assurance to Zechariah was fulfilled: “and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb” (verse 15).
1,45. Καὶ μακαρία ἡ πιστεύσασα ὅτι ἔσται τελείωσις τοῖς λελαλημένοις αὐτῇ παρὰ Κυρίου.
1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.
Elizabeth called Mary “blessed”, which means “happy”, for her faith. In contrast to Zechariah, she entrusted God’s messenger. She believed that “there would be a fulfilment”, everything that the angel told her would be fulfilled. God’s promises would be realized.
1,46. Καὶ εἶπε Μαριάμ· Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν Κύριον.
1:46 And Mary said; My soul magnifies the Lord.
After Elizabeth’s unexpected greeting, virgin Mary burst into a spontaneous doxology and praise. She praised the Lord and prophesized. Her expression reminds us of the Psalms. From a very young age the Jewish children learned to study the Holy Scriptures (see 2 Tim 3:15). The Most Holy Theotokos, being very fond of God’s word, with her intelligence and diligence, had managed to memorize many passages of the Old Testament, especially psalms and odes. In that very special moment, when the wonderful divine project unfolded in front of her, the god-inspired prayers came spontaneously to her lips, the same way she had addressed them to God many times before.
Virgin Mary’s ode is a poem. The ancient Jewish poetry is distinct because there is harmony in the content and not in the syllables. Hence, everyone can spontaneously compose lyrics readily. Moreover, the translation does not alter at all the Jewish poems, since they use verses without rhyme and the same meaning expressed twice in a different way.
It was, therefore, quite simple for virgin Mary to express herself poetically, with no special preparation. It was, also, possible for Luke to translate her poetic words into Greek without altering the content or the poetic grace and style.
This spontaneous and god-inspired poem by virgin Mary has two stanzas. In the first one (verses 46-50) virgin Mary expressed her personal feelings, while in the second one (verses 51-55) she spoke on behalf of the Jewish people. She realized that the divine plan she would serve was both personal and of all the Jewish people or rather of the whole humanity. This was an honour for herself, for the Jewish people and the whole humankind as well. The fact that she spoke in a double identity, both as Mary and as Israel, is the only symmetry between the two stanzas.
Our Church has included virgin Mary’s ode in the worship. It is the ninth ode in the Matins. These verses are chanted before the repeated sweetest praise to God’s Mother: “More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Ser-aphim, incorruptibly you gave birth to God the Word. We magnify you, the true Theotokos”.
The pious Jewish people were accustomed to use the expression "My soul magnifies the Lord”, to worship God (see 2 Sam 7:26, Pss (34:3) 33:4; (40:16) 39:17; (69:30) 68:31; (70:4) 69:5). God, of course, is absolutely great and glorious. When the human soul worships Him, it does not add anything to His greatness and glory but admits and declares, lives and announces His magnificence.
1,47. καὶ ἠγαλλίασε τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ Θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου.
1:47 And my spirit has exulted in God my Saviour.
Virgin Mary stunned by God’s glory and magnificence, felt the need to express the exultation she felt deep inside her. The angel’s visit made her rejoice excessively, because she was assured in the most convincing and tangible way that God was her saviour (cf. Hab 3:18). He is not only the almighty Lord who created and rules the universe, but also the God whose love caused him to enter the human history, to visit his creatures in order to save them. It is obvious that virgin Mary herself as Adam’s descendant inherited the original sin and was in need of salvation. This verse disproves the fallacy of the Catholics “immaculata conceptio” that Virgin Mary did not have the original sin all humans are born with.
1,48. ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αὐτοῦ. Ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσί με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί.
1:48 For he has kept an eye on the low estate of his servant with affection. For, behold, from this time forward all generations will call me blessed.
The phrase “has kept an eye on” often occurs in the Holy Scriptures and especially in the Psalms. It means that God casts His affectionate and favourable glance to humans. Mary explained the reason of her extreme joy, which urged her heart to praise. The Most High Lord condescended to cast an eye full of affection and love to His worthless servant. She did not believe that she won God’s favour because of her virtue and qualities. She called herself a servant even though she heard the angel’s unique greeting, Elizabeth’s impressive praise and she was going to bear God who transcends the universe. This humility, indeed, was that attracted God to cast His eye on her. Humility is the beauty that moves and pleases God and wins His favour (see Is 66:2). The book of Proverbs stresses that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov 3:34; cf. Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5). The Holy Fathers strongly emphasize the humility of virgin Mary. They teach that due to this, she attracted God’s grace and blessing. Humility is the basis of all spiritual life, the very first step to heaven.
The obscure girl of Nazareth being conscious of the highest mission that God entrusted her with, prophesized that people would glorify her throughout the centuries. “For, behold, from this time forward all generations will call me blessed”. Her prophecy had already started to be fulfilled when Elizabeth called her “blessed” (verse 45). During Jesus’ life on earth there was another fulfillment of this prophecy. When an unknown woman listened to Christ’s teaching, she expressed herself enthusiastically, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked” (Lk 11:27). Today the name of virgin Mary is the most praised in the whole Orthodox world. The faithful express their piety towards her in many ways. They have deep respect and love for her in their hearts and ask for her help. There are churches dedicated to the Most Holy Mother all over our country. There are even more small churches and shrines which constantly remind us of her close connection to our people’s soul. The genuine piety generously offered her hundreds of other names, as tokens of her live presence: Pantanassa, Glikofilousa, Megalochari, Giatrissa, Gorgoepekoos, Eleousa, Skepi, The Champion General and many others each one reflecting a unique story of faith. Mount Athos, finally, this place which sanctifies people’s souls and is a stronghold of Orthodoxy, was established as the Garden of virgin Mary and treasures a multitude of icons and historic churches dedicated to her.
1,49-50. ὅτι ἐποίησέ μοι μεγαλεῖα ὁ δυνατὸς καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰς γενεῶν τοῖς φοβουμένοις αὐτόν.
1:49-50 Because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
Virgin Mary astounded by the miracle she experienced, she declared that God is powerful, “he who is mighty has done great things for me” and holy, “holy is his name” and merciful “his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation”. It would be natural for almighty God to abhor weak and sinful people. However, his mercy came up with a magnificent plan to save and sanctify humanity. Saint Athanasios briefly states: “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14) so that men will be able to appropriate divinity. This concise phrase encloses the whole theology concerning the purpose of God’s incarnation, which is man’s theosis. Mary was aware of all these miraculous events, while she saw God’s plan realizing and felt God’s mercy permeating Her like a flood. Undoubtedly, opulent God could not have given a more generous charity to a poor person than that he offered to virgin Mary: He appointed her to be his mother.
1,51-53. Ἐποίησε κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ, διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν· καθεῖλε δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων καὶ ὕψωσε ταπεινούς, πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλε κενούς.
1:51-53 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who were haughty in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with fortune but has sent the rich empty-handed away.
In the Bible the expression “with his arm” signifies God’s power but also his incarnation. Much like the phrase “God’s name” denotes the entity of God, God himself (see verse 49), so “God’s arm” is a prophetic saying about the incarnated God, Jesus Christ, who is of one essence with the Father. With his arm, with his Son’s incarnation, God “performed mighty deeds”, established his mighty Kingdom, the Church, and showed his great power. The expected Redeemer of Israel and Savior of the world “has scattered those who were haughty in the thoughts of their hearts”.
He crushed all those who arrogantly rebelled against God. This includes Lucifer, who was the first to stand with pride and wanted to establish his own kingdom, but also the so-called "world rulers", who, following the set example and the instructions of the “prince” of this world (see John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), claim to be surrounded by divine honours.
The tense of the verbs in these verses is the prophetic past, used in the prophetic texts instead of the future. The prophets, being absolutely sure of the fulfillment of their prophecies, used the past simple, as if the fact they were prophesying had already happened. After all, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they saw the future as present and were already living the prophecies fulfilled in their time (see Jn 8:56). And the virgin Mary, enlightened by the Holy Spirit and by the par excellence "Anointed", whom she bore in her womb, described in her ode the events of the future.
In a laudatory sermon, which is attributed to St. Gregory the Miracle Worker, a comparison is made between the words of Elizabeth and the virgin Mary. «We see that the words of the barren are brilliant; however, the words of the Holy Virgin are even more brilliant; and they sing an ode to God full of thanksgiving and fragrance and theology: announcing the new along with the old ones: preaching what happened centuries ago and what will happen until the end of the world and briefly summing up the mysteries of Christ”.
Even, from the admirable history of Israel the virgin Mary knew of incidents where powerful proud rulers were overthrown and humiliated by divine intervention, while humble and despised men rose and took power. Where did Saul end up? What befell upon Jezebel? Where was the fallen Nebuchadnezzar found? From which prison was Joseph raised to the throne of Egypt? From which swamp of the Nile did the exposed baby, Moses, rise? From which pasture of Bethlehem did David emerge? And now, from the crushed Israel, from the poor Virgin, will come the eternal leader of mankind, the Redeemer of the world.
The examples of verses 52 and 53 analyze the meaning of the previous verse (51) and delve into it. The hungry literally swam in a wealth of goods and the rich were chased away empty-handed, without even receiving a single piece of bread. The paradoxical reversal of situations occurs in both the political and social spheres. But also in the spiritual life, the more the believer feels his poverty, his inadequacy and the need of God, the richer he becomes (see Mt 5:3). Whoever proudly, like the angel of the church of Laodicea, says “‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need anything” (see Rev 3:17), relying on his self-confidence, he is led to arrogance and thus stays away from God.
1,54-55. Ἀντελάβετο Ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ μνησθῆναι ἐλέους, καθὼς ἐλάλησε πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν, τῷ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
1:54-55. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.
God “helped his servant Israel”, He stretched out His divine hand and helped his servant Israel at the most critical time, when the world had reached the end of the outmost point of rebellion and corruption (see Rom 1:18-32), but Judaism had also become an empty formalism (see Rom 2:17-29). Just then God “with His arm” (verse 51) with His incarnation grabbed man and saved him from certain doom.
“Remembering” is a human expression used for God, as if it were possible for God to forget. As soon as the virgin Mary appeared in the history of mankind, the Lord proved that He did not forget the promises He had made (see Gen 22:16-18). He generously offered His help and mercy “to Abraham and his descendants”, that is, to Israel, and in fact to the new and eternal Israel, which is descended from Abraham by faith (see Rom 4:13-17, Gal 3:7).
1,56. ῎Εμεινε δὲ Μαριὰμ σὺν αὐτῇ ὡσεὶ μῆνας τρεῖς καὶ ὑπέστρεψεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς.
1:56. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
After a three-month stay with Elizabeth, who was in the ninth month of her pregnancy and the time of her childbirth was approaching, the Virgin returned to her homeland, Nazareth.
by Stergios N. Sakkos, University Professor
In this passage 1:26-38 Luke describes with great simplicity, strong emphasis and undeniable historical credibility the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. It is the event which marks the beginning of the fulfilment of the salvation plan as we chant in the Apolyticion of this feast: "Today is the beginning and most important opening event of our salvation and the revelation of the eternal mystery, the Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin and this grace is evangelized by Gabriel proclaims grace ...". This divine plan, "which was kept secret since the world began" (Ro 16:25), is revealed in the event of the Annunciation.
The infinite and immortal God wishes to unite his life and history with the life and history of the finite and mortal men. He who, through the creation of nature, has already manifested his presence and omnipotence (cf. Ro 1:19-20), unites his divine nature with men’s nature. He comes to visit our earth as a Godman, so that he may draw closer to us and we may approach him more closely. In this course of his encounter with us, while the inconceivable magnitude of his love and the unfathomable depth of his humility are revealed, we distinguish twelve extremely important milestones, beginning with the event of the Annunciation.
The Church has defined twelve feasts concerning the Lord corresponding to the stations of the divine economy: Annunciation, Christmas, Circumcision, “Sarantism” (a jewish tradition where the firstborn was brought 40 days after its birth to the temple to be blessed), Baptism, Transfiguration, Entrance into Jerusalem, Last Supper, Passion, Descent into Hades, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost. By these celebrations we experience through the sacraments up to today, all that was prophesied for our salvation in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament. The promises of the Old Testament, which are historical events of the New Testament, become our personal experience. Our faith is thus established on an amazing solid tripod -prophecy, history, experience- which is not found in any other religion or philosophy.
1,26. Ἐν δὲ τῷ μηνὶ τῷ ἕκτῳ ἀπεστάλη ὁ ἄγγελος Γαβριὴλ ὑπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ εἰς πόλιν τῆς Γαλιλαίας, ᾗ ὄνομα Ναζαρέτ.
1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee.
Six months after his appearance to Zechariah, Gabriel was sent by God to the virgin Mary, who lived in Nazareth of Galilee. This definition of time allows us to define the difference in age between Jesus Christ and John the Baptist.
Nazareth was a small town in southern Galilee, approximately 140 km north of Jerusalem. Some interpreters question its existence because it is not mentioned in the Old Testament. But the Old Testament is neither a geographical dictionary nor a postal directory of Palestine. It would certainly be foolish to claim that there were no cities in ancient Greece other than those mentioned by Thucydides.
Nazareth in general was a notorious area. Nathanael's objection is characteristic, when Philip spoke to him enthusiastically about Jesus "of Nazareth", "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Jn 1:45-47).
1,27. πρὸς παρθένον μεμνηστευμένην ἀνδρί, ᾧ ὄνομα Ἰωσήφ, ἐξ οἴκου Δαυΐδ, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς παρθένου Μαριάμ.
1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
The virgin Mary was engaged, betrothed to Joseph. The duration of the engagement in the Old Testament was not defined. However, because there was no marriage ceremony, from the time of the engagement the young girl belonged to her fiancé. An engagement did not mean a mere promise of marriage, but the perfect legal contract of marriage. Joseph was a man of prudence and self-control, an exceptional person whom God chose to entrust with the custody of His Son’s mother. He was not a man of carnal disposition, that is why he did not immediately make his fiancée his wife. This is attested by his dilemma, when he perceived her pregnancy: should he deliver Mary to be stoned to death, as the Mosaic law prescribed (cf. Deut 22:23-24), or "to divorce her quietly" (Mt 1:19), as his nobility of feelings and morality dictated? Only after God's revelation that “who is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 1:20), he calmed down and, at the angel's command, kept the Virgin, the Most Holy Mother, close to him.
God devised this wise plan for Mary to be engaged to Joseph, because for the Jews it was unthinkable for an unmarried woman to give birth to a child. In the eyes of the people Jesus appeared to be Joseph’s and Mary’s son (cf. Lk 3:23). Only the two of them and Elizabeth knew the secret of Jesus' conception, which should not be revealed, lest the Virgin would be considered an adulteress and the conception by the Holy Spirit would be known to the devil. St. Ignatius writes that three things escaped Satan’s attention: "And the ruler of this age did not understand, the virginity of Mary, her giving birth, and likewise the death of the Lord, three obvious mysteries that took place in the silence of God".
Joseph (see Lk 2:4) and the virgin Mary descended from David’s lineage and house. As a rule, as already mentioned (see comments on v. 5), every Israelite married a woman from his own tribe and usually from his own generation. The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that the virgin Mary came from David’s lineage. He had said that the Messiah would come "from the root of Jesse" (11:1).
Elizabeth, although she came "from the daughters of Aaron" (v. 5), was a relative of the virgin Mary. Apparently, her mother was of David’s lineage, while her father was of Levi’s lineage.
The Hebrew name Mariam is often found in the Old Testament and had been given many interpretations: 'powerful', 'worshipful and praiseworthy', 'sea-born'. The first two are the most likely.
1,28. Καὶ εἰσελθὼν ὁ ἄγγελος πρὸς αὐτὴν εἶπε· χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη· ὁ Κύριος μετὰ σοῦ· εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν.
1:28 The angel went to her and said, “Rejoice, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you; blessed are you among women”.
“Rejoice” is the first word that the unexpected visitor addressed to the virgin Mary, filling her with God’s joy. It is a Greek greeting; it was used alongside the Hebrew "peace" (cf. Mt 28:9; Jn 20:21). By the "rejoice" exclamation the angel breaks the bonds of sorrow which Eve bequeathed to us. The event was called Annunciation because it refers to such a joyful announcement. The angel's greeting was the model from which, as from a divine seed, numerous and sweet greetings sprouted and rose. Our Church addresses these to the Most Holy Mother during the service of the Akathist Hymn (the Standing-Up Hymn).
The address “highly favored” which is explained by the angel himself -"you have found favor with God" (v. 30)- indicates that the Virgin, although as a human being she is not sinless, but she, too, is burdened with original sin, she also has the grace, the favor of God, she is flooded, saturated with divine grace. She is full of light, mercy, love, joy, peace, goodness, holiness, of all God’s blessings and gifts generally. But she also has the supreme favor to conceive God’s Son. This makes her sinless. Her grace remains inexhaustible, because she has with her the source of grace, God Himself, as the angelic word testified “The Lord is with you”.
At the hour of the Annunciation, the humble daughter of Nazareth received God’s supreme blessing and proved to be blessed among women. This greeting becomes a characteristic of the Virgin's identity. This is how the spirit-motivated Elizabeth addressed her (cf. 1:42). She is the most blessed of all women, the most elect among all mankind. The "fullness of the time" (Ga 4:4), the suitable time for God to fulfill the promise of salvation, which he gave to Adam and Eve after their fall, the so-called first gospel (cf. Ge 3:15), had now arrived. It was then that sin yielded its most rotten fruit, an impoverished dying humanity, that "had knelt, was bent over, unable to stand and could not fully straighten herself" (Lk 13:11), but just then grace also brought forth its most mature and perfect fruit, a humble and pure Virgin, the highly favored.
1,29. Ἡ δὲ ἰδοῦσα διεταράχθη ἐπὶ τῷ λόγῳ αὐτοῦ, καὶ διελογίζετο ποταπὸς εἴη ὁ ἀσπασμὸς οὗτος.
1:29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
From this passage which narrates the Annunciation and from the one that follows next (see v. 39-56), presenting the meeting of the Lord’s Mother with Elizabeth, we derive a wealth of authentic information about the personality of the virgin Mary. The evangelist Luke depicts her portrait with vividness and grace, which shows not only her purity but also her prudence, deep humility and genuine faith. The virgin Mary was an intelligent and graceful young girl. When she heard the message of the Annunciation from the angel, she was not overwhelmed by the great honor, nor did she believe thoughtlessly in the heavenly announcement. She did not hasten to apply to herself the prophecies she knew about the Messiah, namely, that he would be born of a virgin (cf. Ge 3:15; Is 7:14, etc.). Her reaction revealed a person from whom any egoism or morbidity in religious issues was absent.
Mary was “greatly troubled”, very upset by the unexpected appearance and the angel’s greeting. She wondered “what kind of greeting this might be”, what this greeting meant. The prudent Virgin stands hesitantly before the angel, in contrast to Eve, who unreservedly accepted the evil’s proposal when he approached her in paradise (cf. Ge 3:1-7). Restrained and modest, Mary inquired into the words of praise she heard from the angelic mouth.
Zigavinos writes: “She feared that the words might be deceptive". She thought that it was possible that the deceitful devil had transformed himself into an angel of light and was setting a trap for her (cf. 2 Cor 11:14).
1,30. Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ ἄγγελος αὐτῇ· μὴ φοβοῦ, Μαριάμ· εὗρες γὰρ χάριν παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ.
1:30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
The angel sensed the Virgin’s inner anxiety. By “Do not be afraid”, he soothed her agitation and, as God's representative, gave her peace. Then he answered her speculation with his revelation; “you have found favor with God”. He explained his greeting “highly favored” by telling her that she had received grace from God, she had won his favor and his special love.
1,31. Καὶ ἰδοὺ συλλήψῃ ἐν γαστρὶ καὶ τέξῃ υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.
1:31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
The angel clearly announced to the Virgin the message he was proclaiming: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus”. The paradox in this message is that a virgin will give birth, because "childbearing is unknown to virgins", as the Church chants on the Nativity of the virgin Mary. With this child’s birth, the prophecy of Isaiah would be fulfilled: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14).
The Hebrew name Jesus, Yeshua, means "Yahweh saves". Many persons had this name in the Old Testament. But in the case of Jesus Christ, as the angel revealed to Joseph, it means "for he shall save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). Jesus, the son of the Virgin, is the God savior, the very Yahweh who will save his people from sin.
1,32-33. Οὗτος ἔσται μέγας καὶ υἱὸς ὑψίστου κληθήσεται, καὶ δώσει αὐτῷ Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς τὸν θρόνον Δαυῒδ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ, καὶ βασιλεύσει ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον Ἰακὼβ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, καὶ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.
1:32-33 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.
Jesus who will be born by Mary, will be the Messiah expected from David’s lineage. The angel's message summed up all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of his eternal spiritual kingdom.
John the Baptist may well be called great (cf. v. 15), but certainly only Jesus Christ is absolutely and undoubtedly great.
Jesus was from the beginning of his incarnation the Son and Word of God. He “will be called the Son of the Most High” (cf. Ps 2:7) means that men would recognize his divinity by the signs he would accomplish and call him the Son of God (cf. Ro 1:4). The voice of God the Father, heard at Jesus’ baptism, was also revealing; "this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17).
One main characteristic of the Messiah is that he will reign eternally on the throne of his father David, from whose lineage he descends as a human being (cf. 2 Sam 7:12-14). 16; Ps 131:11; Is 9:7); “and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever and there shall be no end of his kingdom”. The message was clear that was given to the Wise Men who inquired in Herod's palace where the king of the Jews was born; "in Bethlehem of Judea" (Mt 2:5), where David came from (cf. Mic 5:1).
“Jacob’s descendants” were all those who would believe in Jesus Christ and would form God’s new people, the Church. This is the Messiah’s eternal and endless kingdom.
1,34. Εἶπε δὲ Μαριὰμ πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον· πῶς ἔσται μοι τοῦτο, ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω;
1:34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
Mary didn’t receive the angelic message without hesitation. She did not doubt, of course, that it would come true, but she wanted to know how, raising a serious objection “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
The expression "ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω;" means “I have no conjugal relations”. The present tense of the verb indicates an intention of lifelong virginity. The expression “οὐ γινώσκω”, “I have no conjugal relations”, does not only refer to the period up to the time of Annunciation -the Virgin's objection would not make sense then- but also embraces the future. Just as the one who has decided never to drink wine in his life and expresses himself in the present tense by saying "I do not drink"; just as the non-smoker says "I do not smoke", meaning that he does not intend to smoke in the future either, so the Virgin uses the so-called "βουλητικός" present tense, indicating her firm will to abstain completely from conjugal relations.
Of course, Mary knew the prophecy of Isaiah; "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14). However, it never crossed her mind the suspicion that the prophet was referring to her. Her deep humility did not allow such a thought even after all those the heavenly messenger revealed to her (cf. vv. 30-33). The feeling that prevailed within her and spontaneously manifested was her anxiety lest her secret marriage with the Lord, her sacred vow, should be dissolved; lest she should lose what she had accepted from childhood as a calling from God and to which she responded with all her being, with a wondrous vocation.
Interpreting this passage, St. Augustine observes: "She would not have said this if she had not made a vow to God beforehand to remain a virgin". And in a sermon attributed to St. Gregory of Nyssa also points out that because Mary had an inclination towards virginity, she neither disbelieved the angel nor departed from her secret decision. Her question “How will this be since I am a virgin?”, reveals what she was hiding in herself. And this thought is proved as follows: If Joseph had the intention to make the Virgin his wife, it would not be natural for her to be surprised, when it was foretold that she would give birth, since she herself would expect to become a mother, according to the law of nature. St. Gregory of Nyssa says: "But because her flesh, which was consecrated to God, was to be preserved intact, therefore, she says, although you are an angel and have come down from heaven and your appearance is something supernatural, yet it is impossible for me to have conjugal relations. So how can I be a mother without a husband? For I recognize Joseph as a fiancé, but not as a husband".
Virgin Mary, apparently, in order to secure her secret holy vow, she was engaged to Joseph, who was already middle-aged and after the death of his wife he was responsible of his children. It seems that they agreed to have a peculiar marriage, free of conjugal relations; she would help him in the upbringing of his children and he, appearing to the world as her husband, would provide the social protection necessary to maintain her virginity. For the decision for lifelong virginity was totally alien to Jewish morals, incomprehensible and provocative for that time.
In the Old Testament, after Abel was killed and did not manage to get married, only three men are mentioned as virgins, Elijah, Elisha and Jeremiah. No woman seems to had chosen the virgin life. The modest girl of Nazareth was the first to love God so much that she desired to consecrate her virginity to him. And her desire was so strong that it remained irrevocable even after the angel's amazing prophecy. Thus, indeed, it was fitting for the most excellent soul known to the ages; for the one who rose to the highest dignity of becoming God’s mother; for the ever-blessed Mary, who was rightly described as "the good carer" of virgins.
1,35. Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῇ· Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σὲ καὶ Δύναμις ῾Υψίστου ἐπισκιάσει σοι· διὸ καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον κληθήσεται υἱὸς Θεοῦ.
1:35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Without difficulty the angel answered Mary's question. He did not rebuke her, like he did with Zechariah. Her reaction was perfectly justified, for there had been no similar incident in the past. No child was ever born to a virgin woman.
The angel, therefore, explained to her that she would be visited by God Himself and would be overshadowed, just as the bright cloud overshadowed the tabernacle-Tent of Testimony, indicating the power and presence of God (see Ex 40:28-32). Jesus’ conception would take place at the descent of the Holy Spirit.
In this verse the three persons of the Holy Trinity appear. The designation "Most High" is attributed to the Father and the Power that would overshadow the Virgin was the Son. The Holy Spirit is also clearly mentioned. Just as at the creation of the world, according to the proclamation of St. Athanasius, "the Father through the Word in the Holy Spirit acts in everything", so now the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit founded the new creation, the Church, in which the rebirth of man took place. And in this work the Triune God used the virgin Mary as his first and best collaborator.
The child that the virgin Mary would bring into the world is called “holy” in an absolute sense, because it is the only child born free from original sin.
The Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, was incarnated in the Virgin’s womb. How did exactly this happen? A mystery! All we know is that it happened with the descent of the Holy Spirit. Even the servant of this mystery, Gabriel, and the God-inspired historians who recorded the event could say nothing else, except that it was done by the Spirit. How and in what way, no one explained; "it was not possible", declared St. Chrysostom categorically.
The heretical Nestorians maintained that Mary gave birth to the man Christ and that the deity came to dwell within him later. But this passage confirms their error. The deity was of course covered through the incarnation, but it never ceased to exist even for a moment. Jesus "is human in appearance yet God in concealment", according to the apt wording of George Acropolitos. Our Most Holy Lady is therefore, rightly called Theotokos, Mother of God, and not Christotokos, Mother of Christ, as the heresiarch Nestorius claimed.
The modest girl of Nazareth succeeded in experiencing the sublime divine communion. She gave to God her human nature (cf. Heb 2:14), so that God might become the God-man, and God granted her divinity, so that she might become the first human-god. It is on this theological basis that the honour, which the Orthodox Church attributes to her, is based. It does not deify her, as the Catholics do, nor does it belittle her, as the Protestants do; it honours her, inspired by the way God Himself has honoured her.
The devil, taking advantage of man's desire for “theosis” = partaking in the divine nature -which was inherent, since he was created "in the image and likeness" of God (Ge 1:26)-promised him deification (cf. Ge 3:5) and led him to destruction. But through the incarnation of God the surest and perfect way for man's theosis was opened. The Virgin Mary was the first to walk in it. All those who, taking her as a model, strive to live in submission to the will of God, all the human beings who are "participants of the divine nature" follow (2 Pt 1:4).
The Annunciation which the virgin Mary experienced as a historical event is something that every believer is called to live in his spiritual life. Just as she conceived and gave birth to Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, so too the Christian who has communion with the Holy Spirit is called to conceive and bring into the world a little Christ, his Christified self, a true copy of the archetype-prototype.
1,36. Καὶ ἰδοὺ Ἐλισάβετ ἡ συγγενής σου καὶ αὐτὴ συνειληφυῖα υἱὸν ἐν γήρει αὐτῆς, καὶ οὗτος μὴν ἕκτος ἐστὶν αὐτῇ τῇ καλουμένῃ στείρᾳ.
1:36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
Because Mary did not show disbelief to the angel's words, he strengthened her faith by telling her of a miraculous incident of supernatural birth. The angel did not refer to the examples of Sarah and Rebekah, which were in the past. He informed her of a similar event of her day, the truth of which she could ascertain for herself. It is Elizabeth's pregnancy, which had not yet become known to men (see p. 24). In order to strengthen her faith in the omnipotence of God, Elizabeth's age and sterility are emphasized and details of the time of the conception and the sex of the child are revealed to Mary.
1,37. ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ πᾶν ῥῆμα.
1:37 For no word from God will ever fail.
The paradoxes announced by the angel would be accomplished by the power of God. Nothing is impossible to Almighty God (cf. Job 42:2). Mary, who believed in the all-powerful Lord, was assured that what the angel announced to her would be fulfilled.
1,38. Εἶπε δὲ Μαριάμ· ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη Κυρίου· γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου. Καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ᾿ αὐτῆς ὁ ἄγγελος.
1:38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled”. Then the angel left her.
God was waiting for Mary's answer. He asked for the free consent of Ηis servant, as the bridegroom waits for the answer of the bride-to-be. The Virgin freely, responsibly and voluntarily agreed to cooperate in the fulfillment of the plan of the divine providence; “I am the Lord’s servant” she humbly said and became a god-bride. She believed that what had been said would come true and entrusted herself completely in God’s hands. She accepted "what was said", the will of God revealed to her, and did not search for all those that heaven had kept "in silence". To the Lord’s nod she willingly surrendered without resistance, just like clay in the potter’s hands. For this deep humility that raised the girl of Nazareth to the heavens, the teacher of our nation Elias Miniatis exclaimed: "O wondrous power of a Virgin, who with “May your word to me be fulfilled” made God change the stars with the earth!".
The word “may” expresses a wish. St. Nicholas Cavassila commented on this: "May, the Virgin wishes and immediately Jesus was incarnated in her" and continued: "During the time the Virgin asked to know the way in which the pregnancy would take place, God was not descending. At the moment she was convinced and accepted the call, the whole work was accomplished at once: God took upon Him as a garment the human form and the Virgin became the mother of the Creator... In this way the incarnation of the Word was the work not only of the Father who "was pleased" and of his Power who "overshadowed" and of the Spirit who "descended", but also of the Virgin's will and faith."
It is remarkable, finally, that the Virgin did not say "according to the word of the Lord", but “according to your word”. At that moment she saw the Lord present in the presence of the angel. The angel present was the administrator of the divine plan.
by Stergios N. Sakkos, University Professor
Saint John the Baptist is the person who connects the Old Testament with the New Testament. His birth was prophesized by Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament (see 3:1. 4:4-5). According to Mark the evangelist, John signifies “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (1:1). He is the morning star that heralds “the sunrise (= sun) from the heights” (Lk 1:78).
Since Luke the evangelist is planning to narrate the facts “from the beginning” (Lk 1:3), he starts by making a reference to the miraculous way of John’s conception. Thus, he gives validity to the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus.
1,5. Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἱερεύς τις ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας ἐξ ἐφημερίας Ἀβιά, καὶ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν θυγατέρων Ἀαρών, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς Ἐλισάβετ.
1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife, one of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
Following the example of the historians and the prophets of the Old Testament (Hos 1:1; Amos 1:1; Mic 1:1; Zeph 1:1; Zech 1:1; Is 1:1; Jer 1:1-3) the evangelist is used to giving the time coordinates of the facts he narrates. In this way he confirms that he describes a truly historical fact and connects the story of the divine economy to the history of mankind. The accurate reference to historical facts gives the ability to anyone who wants to examine and verify the Gospel’s truth. In ancient times the chronology was stated by using the names of distinguished people, emperors, administrative officials and other political or religious rulers. Luke the historian notes that this fact, the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist (see comments on 1:3) at the beginning of his narration, took place during “the days of Herod, king of Judea”.
Herod, who is mentioned here, is known in history as Herod Ι the Great. He is the first and most important leader of the Herod dynasty, which ruled in Palestine for about 140 years after the Hasmonean dynasty. He was a ruthless, cunning and extremely ambitious person. Even though he was an Idumean – a descendant of Esau (Edom) and not of Jacob (Israel), he managed to ascend the throne and rule the people of Israel using every means of diplomacy and flattery. His life was marked by a multitude of criminal actions. One of them is the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem. His behavior even to his own family was that of a hardened tyrant. Driven by suspicion he did not hesitate to murder his wife Mariamne I, whom he extremely loved and was jealous of, their two children Alexander and Aristobulus, as well as a number of other relatives. When the emperor Augustus was informed that among the boys Herod murdered in Syria was one of his sons, he made the following pun in Greek, the language spoken by all roman aristocrats: “It’s better to be a pig (ὗς) than a son (υἱός) of Herod”. Herod was one of the most bloodthirsty people in history. Today, aside from the memory of his inhumane brutality, a number of the ruins of cities, palaces and fortresses he built, remain.
The title of the king was still existent during the roman dominance but it was deprived of its earlier status and grandeur. In fact, Herod –as well as his predecessors and his successors– were local rulers with limited power, subjugated and accountable to the roman ruler of the wider area. In the New Testament there are three other kings by the name of Herod. The first is his son, Herod Antipas (see Lk 3:1.19; 13:31) his grandson, Herod Agrippa I (see Acts 12) and his great-grandson, Herod Agrippa II (see Acts 26).
Palestine (Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Perea) as well as a part of Koili Syria were under the jurisdiction of Herod. Judea was a part of Palestine but “Judea” here is used in a wider sense. It means the whole Palestine in general (cf. Lk 23:5; Acts 10:37; 11:1.29).
The term “division” denotes the priestly service in the Temple for a week but also the order of priests who carried out that service. When King David reorganized the Judaic worship by introducing the psalms, he went on to organize the Levites and the priests. The body of the priests was divided into twenty-four orders-lots (see 1 Chron 24). Their shift-service was repeated every twenty-four week cycle. Abijah was a descendent of Eleazar, son of Aaron, and head of the eighth out of the twenty-four priestly orders. After the end of the Babylonian captivity only four priestly orders returned from exile. These were again divided into twenty-four keeping the ancient names. Zechariah did not belong to the original division of Abijah, which never returned, but to the one that arose after the Babylonian captivity.
Zechariah’s wife came from the daughters of Aaron, she was a descendant of Aaron. As a general rule, every Israelite chose his wife from the tribe he belonged to. Only priests, descendants of the Levite tribe, could marry a woman of any tribe, since they lived scattered all over Palestine (see Num 35:1-8). However, the marriage of a couple coming both from the tribe of Levi was a mark of a special racial authenticity. Zechariah’ wedding was in such a way. So, both of John the Baptist’s parents held a Levi’s lineage.
The names of John’s parents are directly related to his mission. The name Zechariah means: “the one God remembers”, that is “God-remembered”. While the name Elizabeth is translated as “my God is my vow” or “God has vowed to protect me”, God-protected. Messiah’s arrival which would be announced by John the Baptist (the forerunner), declared that God remembered His people and fulfilled the vows He gave, concerning His divine protection.
1,6. Ἦσαν δὲ δίκαιοι ἀμφότεροι ἐνώπιον τοῦ Θεοῦ, πορευόμενοι ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐντολαῖς καὶ δικαιώμασι τοῦ Κυρίου ἄμεμπτοι.
1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
The word “righteous” in the Holy Bible describes the pious, god-fearing and virtuous man, the man of God. It is strongly emphasized that the parents of John the Baptist were both pious in the eyes of God, according to His judgment, who knows every heart. “To be righteous in the eyes of God”, an ancient scholar assures “is the perfect praise, since He is the one and only who knows the heart of people”. Zechariah and Elizabeth led their life observing the law, all the moral orders, the commandments and the ritual ones, too. Of course, they were not sinless, but they were blameless. No one could blame them for deviations in their moral life or in the ritual practice.
1,7. Καὶ οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τέκνον, καθότι ἡ Ἐλισάβετ ἦν στεῖρα, καὶ ἀμφότεροι προβεβηκότες ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῶν ἦσαν.
1:7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Being childless caused great sorrow and shame to the Jews. It was a sign of God’s disfavor. Zechariah and Elizabeth were suffering this great pain until their old age: they had no child. However, they remained devoted to God. Undoubtedly, this would had been one of the strongest wishes in their prayers but their piety was not connected with the satisfaction of their desire to have a child. This is real piety: love and unconditional trust to God and not one of a transaction relationship.
The fact that Elizabeth was unable to conceive and the couple was old prove that the birth of John the Baptist was not of course beyond the laws of nature, but it was definitely beyond human ability, it was a miracle.
In the Holy Bible there are three kinds of births mentioned:
a) Natural birth: That is according to the laws of nature. In this way almost all people on earth are born.
b) Birth by promise: This takes place regardless of the laws of nature, since it relies upon God’s miraculous intervention. Some of the greatest people of the Old and the New Testament were born this way such, as Isaac, Samson, Samuel, Virgin Mary, St John the Baptist, including some of the saints in the Orthodox Church. The parents of all the above had no human ability or hope to have a child. However, they were given God’s promise and gave birth to the child of that promise, who in all cases was a great person, serving God’s plan.
c) The supernatural and unique birth in the history of mankind: It is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ “by the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary”, as we declare in the Symbol of faith.
1,8-9. Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ ἱερατεύειν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ τάξει τῆς ἐφημερίας αὐτοῦ ἔναντι τοῦ Θεοῦ, κατὰ τὸ ἔθος τῆς ἱερατείας ἔλαχε τοῦ θυμιᾶσαι εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὸν ναὸν τοῦ Κυρίου.
1: 8-9 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the Temple of the Lord and burn incense.
When it was Zechariah’ turn to minister his priestly service, the offering of sacrifice and incense, the lot was drawn to him to enter the Temple of the Lord and burn incense. This service was originally appointed by God to the high priest (see Ex 30,1-10) and then to the priests (see Num 18:7; De 33:10).
The lot was drawn twice a day just before offering the incense, to appoint the priest who would carry out this honorary task of burning incense, in the morning and in the afternoon. It is not mentioned at which of these two cases Zechariah entered the Temple. By the large number of the people gathered it could be assumed that it was during the afternoon offering, unless it was Saturday whereby many people might have been gathered in the morning incense offering.
The one and only Temple of the Jewish nation was the luxurious and majestic Temple built with divine guidance by King Solomon. For four centuries it was the central worship place of God (Jehovah), the landmark and glory of Israel. However, it was totally destroyed as well as the whole Jerusalem by the Babylonian conquerors (587 BC). When the Israelites came back from the Babylonian captivity, Zerubbabel, who was the leader of the people, undertook the reconstruction of the Temple. This was completed by 516 BC after many obstacles. This was the Temple that Herod I wanted to replace by a more majestic building. The construction began in about 20-19 BC and was completed in 62-64 AD, during the administration of Albinos, that is, a few years before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
At the area of the Temple Mount, where there was a series of structures, such as galleries and courtyards covering the Moriah hill, the Temple sanctuary building was raised in the most prominent spot. It was divided into two unequal parts. The first and bigger one was the Holy Place with the Table of the showbread, the golden lamp and the altar of incense. The second part was the Holy of the Holies a small square space which sheltered the Ark of Covenant between the two golden cherubim. However, in the new Temple of Herod the Holy of the Holies remained empty. The Ark was not there anymore. There was only a rather high stone base in its place. The high priest placed the censer on this stone. The priests who were ministering entered daily in the Holy Place, while the Holy of the Holies could be entered only by the high priest once a year, to offer the sacrifice of Atonement.
Zechariah, after taking coals from the altar of burnt-offering, which was in the outer courtyard, entered the Holy Place. He put the coals on the altar of incense and put the incense upon them.
1,10. καὶ πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος ἦν τοῦ λαοῦ προσευχόμενον ἔξω τῇ ὥρᾳ τοῦ θυμιάματος.
1:10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.
The people were praying outside in the spacious courtyard of the Temple, which was divided into four distinct yards: the Court of Priests, the Court of the Israelites, the Court of Women and the Court of the Gentiles. The Jews used to pray by raising their hands. This symbolized the fact that their prayer went high to the throne of God according to the psalm (Ps 140:2): “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice”.
1,11. ῎Ωφθη δὲ αὐτῷ ἄγγελος Κυρίου ἑστὼς ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου τοῦ θυμιάματος.
1:11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
The verb “appeared” usually expresses a miraculous appearance, a vision. The fact that the angel appeared “standing on the right side of the altar of incense” declares that he had a high rank, was sent by God and brought a happy message. The angel’s appearance to Zechariah asserts that the latter was indeed “righteous” and blameless, worthy of an angel’s visit.
1,12. Καὶ ἐταράχθη Ζαχαρίας ἰδών, καὶ φόβος ἐπέπεσεν ἐπ᾿ αὐτόν.
1:12. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.
When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and afraid. His reaction in front of the unexpected visitor, who was sent by God, was natural. God’s people feel fear and awe when they realize that something supernatural is being revealed to them. Quite the contrary, nowadays some visionaries often boast easily and refer to supposed revelations or conversations between them and saints!
1,13. Εἶπε δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ ἄγγελος· μὴ φοβοῦ, Ζαχαρία· διότι εἰσηκούσθη ἡ δέησίς σου, καὶ ἡ γυνή σου Ἐλισάβετ γεννήσει υἱόν σοι, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννην.
1:13. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.
The angel encouraged Zechariah with the urge “Do not be afraid”. Later he would address to Virgin Mary with the same words (see verse 30). He also strengthened him, as he spoke to him intimately and called him by his name. Zigavenus comments that the angel reassured Zechariah in order to listen carefully to what he would announce.
“Your prayer has been heard”, the angel reassured Zechariah. This prayer was:
a) The prayer of that moment for the forgiveness of his own sins and of all the people, which was depicted and symbolized by incense.
b) The request for the coming of the Messiah, whom all God’s people were waiting for and especially the priests were praying for.
c) Zechariah’s personal request, which he persistently and imploringly addressed in the past, to be given a child by the Lord.
God would fulfill all three of these interrelated requests: Zechariah would have a son, who would announce the good news that the Messiah had come and would redeem the world from sin.
The Jews used to give their children names that signified either family adventures or events related to the child’s birth or the parents’ feelings. The baby’s name was often the first word or phrase the mother said at the time of the birth. In certain cases, which were very important for the salvation plan, God himself defined the name (see Gen 17:5, 32:28). This happened with Zechariah’s son, too. God wanted him to be called John, Johanna, which means gift of Yahweh, that is, of God, “Theodoritos” or “Theodoros” or gift by God, “Dorotheos”. Indeed, this child proved to be God’s gift not only for his parents but for all mankind, too.
1,14. καὶ ἔσται χαρά σοι καὶ ἀγαλλίασις, καὶ πολλοὶ ἐπὶ τῇ γεννήσει αὐτοῦ χαρήσονται.
1:14. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.
John’s birth would give joy not only to his parents but also to many others. Moreover, this joy would be great, because this birth would be a response, as mentioned above, to three great requests. This joy began with the first movements in his mother’s womb and reached its peak when John began his public action. When the crowd gathered to hear John’s preaching, and to be baptized by him, they saw the long-awaited Messiah, being finger-pointed by the great prophet.
1,15. ῎Εσται γὰρ μέγας ἐνώπιον τοῦ Κυρίου, καὶ οἶνον καὶ σίκερα οὐ μὴ πίῃ, καὶ Πνεύματος ἁγίου πλησθήσεται ἔτι ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς αὐτοῦ.
1:15. For he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.
Many people are called great by others, but they are insignificant in the eyes of God. John would be great in the sight of the Lord, because he would please God both with his life and with his teaching (see Mt 5:19). His greatness was seen, indeed, both in his holiness and in his mission. His life was the life of an earthly angel and his teaching was inspired by the Holy Spirit. John, according to the Lord’s testimony (see Mt 11:11), is the greatest man ever born by a woman. He is greater than all the patriarchs and prophets, because he was counted worthy to see and baptize "whom they foretold", as we chant in the Apolytikion of his celebration.
The Old Testament refers to the order of the Nazirites, who were dedicated to God. These were married. Their devotion was evident from the fact that they did not cut their hair and did not drink wine or other intoxicating drinks. This usually happened for a specific period of time (see Num 6:1-21). Some, however, remained Nazirites for life, such as Samson and Samuel. Zechariah’s chosen son would be included among them, because according to the angel’s revelation “he shall drink no wine nor strong drink”. In addition, John would live an ascetic life and would remain a virgin.
The expression “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit” is often found in the New Testament and especially in St. Luke’s texts. It means "he will be flooded with the Holy Spirit" and shows very aptly that the Holy Spirit permeates and overwhelms the whole existence of the person to whom it is given. John would deny the intoxication of wine but would live the intoxication of the Holy Spirit that would fill his existence (see Eph 5:18). This prophetic word found its fulfillment very soon. In Elizabeth’s meeting with Virgin Mary, John even before he was born, already from his mother’s womb, was filled by the Holy Spirit and leaped with joy in front of Virgin Mary and her unborn baby (see Lk 1:41).
1,16. καὶ πολλοὺς τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραὴλ ἐπιστρέψει ἐπὶ Κύριον τὸν Θεὸν αὐτῶν.
1:16. He will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.
The word “Lord” translates into Greek the Hebrew four-letter name of the one and only God Yahweh (transliterated as YHWH). The Jews also identified God with other names, such as Adonai, Sabaoth, Elohim. Because they reverently avoided pronouncing the name Yahweh, they wrote it along with one of God’s other names, without pronouncing it. They usually wrote "Yahweh Elohim" which means Lord God. In the New Testament this name was given to Jesus Christ.
According to the angel’s message, Zechariah’s son would announce the coming of the kingdom of God and with the preaching of repentance would reconcile many of the Israelites “to the Lord their God”, that is, to Jesus Christ. This verse, then, is one of the biblical testimonies that confirm that Jesus is the incarnated Yahweh and proves his divinity (cf. Jn 20:28, Acts 20:28).
John would address the message of repentance to everyone. However, not everyone would accept it, but “many”. These will surely taste the joy of redemption (see verse 14).
1,17. καὶ αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἠλιού, ἐπιστρέψαι καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα καὶ ἀπειθεῖς ἐν φρονήσει δικαίων, ἑτοιμάσαι Κυρίῳ λαὸν κατεσκευασμένον.
1:17. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
In ancient times, before the royal procession, certain soldiers marched and played trumpets to announce the king’s arrival. The kings of the East, when they started a trip, sent a messenger to prepare the road and their accommodation. Today a special security goes ahead and announces that a high rank person is coming. Such would be the role of John; “he will go on before the Lord”. With his preaching he would prepare the way for the Lord to follow. That is why he is called the Forerunner.
He would also be a prophet with the spiritual gifts and power of Elijah, “in the spirit and power of Elijah”. The Lord himself assured us that “this is Elijah who is to come” (Mt 11:14, cf. 17:12). If we compare the life and action of Elijah and John the Forerunner, we will find, in fact, that they have many similarities. They were both virgins and ascetics. They dwelled in the desert, wore leather belts, and lived without any comfort eating simple food. They exercised strict criticism over the people, the pseudo-prophets and the impious rulers. They were ardent preachers of repentance. They zealously developed a great activity for the prevalence of justice and caused with their courage the displeasure and revenge of the people in power. Because of a corrupt woman, Elijah was exiled and John was beheaded.
John’s mission also included “to turn the hearts of the parents to their children”, referring to the prophecy of Malachi: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction” (Mal 4:4-5). "Fathers" are the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, who were distinguished for their piety. "Children" are the contemporaries of Malachi, who had strayed away from the piety of their fathers and lived in infidelity and corruption. Their apostasy resulted in God’s abhorrence but also the disapproval of their fathers. A similar situation -unfaithfulness and immorality- characterized the people in John’s time. He, as a messenger of God with the preaching of repentance, came to reconnect the fathers with the children, that is, to bring his contemporaries back to the life of faith and piety, so that the hearts of the fathers may rest in them again.
With the phrase “and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous”, the same meaning is emphasized in other words. John with his preaching will inspire those who are disobedient the wise spirit of righteous people, and he will make them obedient and pious. Thus, he will prepare the people, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord”, in order to be ready to receive and accept the Lord. Through John’s baptism "with water", the people were, in fact, prepared to receive Jesus Christ’s baptism "by the Holy Spirit".
1,18. Καὶ εἶπε Ζαχαρίας πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον· κατὰ τί γνώσομαι τοῦτο; ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι πρεσβύτης καὶ ἡ γυνή μου προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῆς.
1:18. And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years".
Zechariah’s words do not denote a query but a sign of unfaithfulness. He thought it was impossible to have a child after so many years of a fruitless marriage. Thus, he asked for a sign in order to believe. In the Old Testament there were some people who asked for a sign (see also Gen 15:2-8, Ex 4:1-6, Judg 6:36-40, 2 Kings 20:8, Is 7:11) and God did not deny it. However, the spirit and the mood of the person who asks for it are different in each case. Furthermore, Zechariah knew of previous examples of childless and elderly parents who were given a child, when it was God’s will. He should have remembered Abraham and Sarah, the parents of Samson and Samuel, and finally David’s declaration that God is “who maketh the barren woman to dwell in a house, a mother rejoicing over children” (Psalm 112:9).
1,19. Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἐγώ εἰμι Γαβριὴλ ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐνώπιον τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ ἀπεστάλην λαλῆσαι πρός σε καὶ εὐαγγελίσασθαί σοι ταῦτα.
1:19. And the angel answered him, "I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.
The angel introduced himself and announced his mission. He was Gabriel “who stands in the presence of God” and appears before God ready to do His will immediately. One more reason Zechariah should not had shown lack of faith was the authority of the heavenly messenger. It is as if he were saying to him: "Of course you are an old man, but I am Gabriel, God’s aide, that’s why my word will be fulfilled".
Gabriel is the angel who revealed to Daniel the defeat of the Persians by Alexander the Great (Dan 8) and defined after how many "weeks" the Messiah would come. He himself would later bring God’s message to Virgin Mary (see Lk 1:26).
In the Bible there are many instances in which we see angels serving God’s will and plan (cf. Heb 1:14). Three angels brought to Abraham the message that he would have a son (see Gen 18:1-15). Angels saved Lot and his family in Sodom (Gen 19:16). An angel brought the message of God to Virgin Mary (Lk 1:26). An angel informed the shepherds about Christ’s birth (Lk 2:10). Angels also announced the resurrection of the Lord to the myrrh-bearers (Lk 24:4). St. John Chrysostom exclaims: “Understand the honor, how great it is, when God sends angels as ministers to people as if to friends”.
1,20. καὶ ἰδοὺ ἔσῃ σιωπῶν καὶ μὴ δυνάμενος λαλῆσαι ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας γένηται ταῦτα, ἀνθ᾿ ὧν οὐκ ἐπίστευσας τοῖς λόγοις μου, οἵτινες πληρωθήσονται εἰς τὸν καιρὸν αὐτῶν.
1:20. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.
Zechariah would temporarily become mute. This would be a sign for him and the people. This is certainly not the sign he had asked for. It was a “punishment” for his lack of faith. St. John Chrysostom comments: “Your tongue, which showed lack of faith through words, it shall also accept the punishment for it”. Zechariah, who spoke in disbelief, learned to believe through his silence. The Bible also mentions some people, who after a great revelation, suffered some alteration without permanent damage. For example, for a short period of time Jacob limped (Gen 32:31), Paul couldn’t see (Acts 9:8). Zechariah’s silence would last “until the day that these things come to pass”, that is until everything the angel informed him about would come true. Indeed, his tongue loosened the day his son was circumcised and was named John (see Lk 1:64).
Man’s lack of faith does not abolish God’s trustworthiness. God’s promises “will be fulfilled in their due time”.
1,21-22. Καὶ ἦν ὁ λαὸς προσδοκῶν τὸν Ζαχαρίαν, καὶ ἐθαύμαζον ἐν τῷ χρονίζειν αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ ναῷ. Ἐξελθὼν δὲ οὐκ ἠδύνατο λαλῆσαι αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐπέγνωσαν ὅτι ὀπτασίαν ἑώρακεν ἐν τῷ ναῷ· καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν διανεύων αὐτοῖς, καὶ διέμενε κωφός.
1:21-22. And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they wondered at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he made signs to them and remained dumb.
While the smoke of incense was rising, the priest went out and blessed the people (Num 6:22-27). Zechariah’s delay made the people wonder what was happening. When he appeared, he tried to give explanations with gestures. From his inability to speak, because he was troubled and upset, it became clear that he “had seen a vision”. In addition, Zechariah had also lost his hearing as it is obvious from the continuation of the narrative. The phrase “remained dumb” here means unable to speak and hear (i.e., deaf-mute).
1,23-25. Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ, ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ. Μετὰ δὲ ταύτας τὰς ἡμέρας συνέλαβεν Ἐλισάβετ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ, καὶ περιέκρυβεν ἑαυτὴν μῆνας πέντε, λέγουσα ὅτι οὕτω μοι πεποίηκεν ὁ Κύριος ἐν ἡμέραις αἷς ἐπεῖδεν ἀφελεῖν τὸ ὄνειδός μου ἐν ἀνθρώποις.
1:23-25. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, "Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men".
When “his time of service” -a week- was over and the division of Abijah had finished their service at the temple, Zechariah went home. He lived in a mountain town in Judea (see verse 39), the name of which we do not know.
“After these days” which means after the days of Zechariah’s service, Elisabeth became pregnant. Initially, she did not talk to anyone about her pregnancy, “for five months she hid herself”. She rejoiced alone and enjoyed the great blessing of God for five months. She shared it with others when it became apparent. The first to learn about this event was Virgin Mary. She was informed about it by Gabriel, who visited her six months after his appearance to Zechariah.
Elizabeth's gratitude to the Lord was infinite, because he removed from her the shame of childlessness. The very fact and all the wonderful signs that accompanied it caused in her a sense of awe, so that she would say: “Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people”.
The event of the Annunciation is then followed. The two events quoted below by St. Luke suggest that the imperfect Levitical priesthood -the Old Testament- was now being replaced by Christ’s perfect Davidic -the New Testament. The priesthood of Aaron, the praise and glory of Israel, was only a symbol and a type-form. The whole point of its mission was to lead to Christ, the high priest “in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 7:11-14). The real meaning of the Levitical priesthood is expressed in the person of the righteous and blameless priest Zechariah, who ministered for the atonement of himself and the people and was given a son, who would be the forerunner of the Lord.
ΑΓΙΟΣ ΚΟΣΜΑΣ Ο ΑΙΤΩΛΟΣ
Ο ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΣΚΛΑΒΩΜΕΝΟΥ ΓΕΝΟΥΣ
Στ. Ν. Σάκκου
By Stergios N. Sakkos
a) Prologue of the Gospel (1:1-4)
Luke the evangelist begins his Gospel with a short introductory note addressed to the recipient of the Gospel, Theophilus. The author, in a clear language and simple style, explains the reason of his work, the way in which he worked to collect his material and the method he followed to record it.
1,1. Ἐπειδήπερ πολλοὶ ἐπεχείρησαν ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων.
1:1 Seeing that many have attempted to draw up a narrative of the facts which are received with full assurance among us.
The attempt by many to write narratives about the person of Jesus Christ became a motive for Luke to take over the writing of his Gospel. The “πολλοί” many who are mentioned are not of course the evangelists Mark and John. Luke only knew the Gospel of Matthew, which had preceded his, since his writing is placed in the decade 50-60 A.D. (probably around 55 A.D.). The Gospels according to Mark and John were written after Luke, in the years 64-68 A.D. and 69-72 A.D. respectively. Nor are these “πολλοί” many the authors of the apocrypha or pseudepigraph Gospels (e.g., Peter’s, Thomas’, Philip’s, etc.) The apocrypha began to appear later, in the 2nd-3rd century AD. Besides, if he were to refer to such texts, the evangelist would have questioned them. Luke rather implies some anonymous Christian scholars, who, using as a basis either the oral tradition or their personal notes, had recorded smaller or larger collections of Christ's words and narratives of the facts of his life. These were not false narratives; they were genuine with true data. But, because this was a human initiative and effort, it couldn’t survive through the passage of time. The Gospel is not a narrative characterized only by historical reliability. It also bears the seal of the divinely inspired spirit. When evangelist Luke began his writing, he was conscious of being directed by the Holy Spirit to deliver to the "the heathen" Christians - just as Matthew to the “circumcised" - divine truths and events of salvation significance.
Many interpreters, relying only on the use of the verb have taken in hand, came to the wrong conclusion that those who attempted to write short narratives intended to misguide the faithful. Others understood those who tried to write something, but had not been able to complete it. The verb, however, has a neutral meaning. It means "putting my hand on something, taking over, attempt."
The co-expression “to draw up a narrative” belongs to the "once-so-called" of the Holy Scriptures; It means the arrangement of the content, the draft of the content which the oral tradition saved about Jesus.
Hence, many tried to write a narrative about what they have been informed. In the brief and concise interpretation of Zigavinos; «εἰσὶ δὲ ταῦτα τὰ πράγματα... ἡ ἔνσαρκος αὐτοῦ (τοῦ Ἰησοῦ) πολιτεία», "these facts are... his (Jesus’) incarnate life", i.e., the acts and words, miracles and teaching of the Lord (cf. Acts 1:1-2). All these are known to the believers of the next generation, among whom Luke includes himself among us. These are not legends and folk traditions, but undeniable events which, with a sense of responsibility and piety, were entrusted to Christians by the preachers of God's word. The verb «πληροφοροῦμαι», when it refers specifically to events, it means “absolute trust” that “I become absolutely believable”.
1,2. καθὼς παρέδοσαν ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς αὐτόπται καὶ ὑπηρέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου.
1:2 Just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.
The many referred to in the previous verse - including Luke - received the Lord's teaching from reliable sources. Those who were from the beginning, they were eyewitnesses, and they delivered their testimonies to the next ones who received them. It becomes apparent that Luke was not among the eyewitness-disciples of Jesus Christ. This information is also recorded in Muratori's catalogue, where we read (in the Greek version); "Luke is called a doctor, zealot of the law, Paul’s companion, who did not see the Lord in flesh but he wrote as he had been informed “ἄνωθεν".
The apostles are eyewitnesses, who personally attended what Jesus did and taught during the three years of his public actions. They were entrusted to be the servants of the word and transmit what they had seen and heard by testifying these with the power of the Holy Spirit (see Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
1,3. ἔδοξε κἀμοί, παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν ἀκριβῶς, καθεξῆς σοι γράψαι, κράτιστε Θεόφιλε.
1:3 It has seemed right to me also, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.
In this verse Luke describes the way in which he worked. He points out that his narrative is not based on hypotheses or disputed data, but on his own personal research. Luke, of course, was Apostle Paul’s disciple. Undoubtedly, however, he also met the other apostles who belonged to the group of the Lord’s twelve disciples. In addition, he collected important information from the Lord's own mother.
Therefore, he dealt with a serious historical research, as the participle “παρηκολουθηκότι” states. He made sure of all the facts from the beginning, “ἄνωθεν”, and “πᾶσιν”, precisely, with accuracy. His Gospel begins with the pre-announcement of the birth of John the Baptist and continues by offering a complete picture of the Lord’s life and teaching, with a lot of information that is not mentioned in the other Gospels. The recording of all this material is characterized by a systematic arrangement. The word “καθεξῆς” refers to that, and not to a strict chronological order; this order exists only in the first (chapters 1-2) and in the third part (chapters 22-24) of this Gospel.
The responsible historical research and the style of the text bear Luke's personal stamp. The Gospel being “God-inspired” does not diminish the educational level or the intellectual abilities of the author. In his research, of course, as in the selection and arrangement of the subject material, the evangelist had unquestionably the guidance of the Holy Spirit, secured of any error and brightened the talents that adorned Luke.
From the address, “excellent Theophilus”, we realize that the recipient of the Gospel had a high social position. We meet the same title "Your Excellency", with the same meaning in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (see 23:26; 24:3; 26:25). If it is true that Luke was a military doctor in Philippi, where a Roman legion was based, Theophilus may well have been one of the supreme lords of Philippi.
From the authors of the Gospels, the two, Matthew and John, are among the first generation of believers, while the other two, Mark and Luke, belong to the second generation. This is very important as far as the one and only tradition of the Gospel is concerned. As it is well known, many lines can pass through one point, while only one line passes through two points. Two eyewitnesses testify Jesus’ life and teaching, and there are two more through whose testimony, the Gospel was delivered from one generation to the next. The agreement between these four witnesses confirms the reliability of the Gospel narratives.
1,4. ἵνα ἐπιγνῷς περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης λόγων τὴν ἀσφάλειαν.
1:4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Theophilus had already known the truth of the Gospel, but it was necessary to proceed to a more essential and complete knowledge, as he states “ἵνα ἐπιγνῷς”. Oral teaching, after all, is always at risk of change over time. Luke, with his Gospel, aims to secure and guarantee catechism. In the language of the scrolls of the Greek and Greek-Roman era, "ασφάλειαν" mainly means the written guarantee of a financial agreement (proof, contract, promissory note etc.) Luke, in other words, tried to offer Theophilus a written and complete teaching (catechesis), which would be the guardian and guarantor of the oral apostolic tradition.
The Gospel according to Luke, therefore, is a catechetic letter, containing the teaching of the apostolic times. But in every age the Gospel must be the main teaching of the faithful. Other useful narratives might seem more attractive and fascinating. However, it is the God-inspirited word of the Holy Scripture that transforms, cultivates and sanctifies. Saint John Chrysostom advises: "So sanctify your soul, sanctify your body by always having them (the words of the Holy Scriptures) in your heart and lips. For, if obscenity pollutes terribly and invites demons, it is obvious that spiritual reading sanctifies and attracts the Holy Spirit’s grace. These words are divine melodies. So, let them become within us the refrain, and by using these let’s make the medicines for the passions of the soul. If we realize the value of these readings, we will listen to them willingly”.
ΜΑΘΗΜΑΤΑ ΚΑΤΩΤΕΡΟΥ ΚΑΤΗΧΗΤΙΚΟΥ
Ἀπό τήν σειρά "Μαθαίνω γιά τόν Θεό", τόμ. Β΄
Ὁ Θεός στήν Καινή Διαθήκη
(Ἐκδόσεις "Χριστιανική Ἐλπίς" Ὀρθόδοξη Ἀδελφότητα)
The Resurrection of the Daughter of Jairus
(Mt 9:18-26; Mk 5:21-43; Lk 8:40-56)
Today, we are going to visit one of the houses in Capernaum. This house hides a lot of pain. It's been a long time since laughter and joy were heard here. The only child in the family, a twelve-year-old girl, is seriously ill; she’s dying. The smile faded from her parents' lips and sadness tightens their hearts.
On the shore of Capernaum, many people were eagerly waiting for Jesus, once again. The suffering father was among the crowd. He had heard of Jesus. He had been informed that Jesus had cured many patients with serious illnesses. A hope was awakened in him. Could He cure his own child? If only he could reach Jesus…
And there he was! The father whose heart was full of pain, ran towards him. He forgot his high social status. He was actually the leader of a synagogue, responsible for maintaining order in one of the local synagogues, where Jews gathered to study the word of God, the Old Testament. In other words, he was a respected person in Capernaum. Jairus, that was his name.
The pain he was feeling, however, made him fall on his knees. He begged Jesus to come to his house. “My daughter”, he said, “is dying. I beg You, come and put Your hand on her so that she may be healed and live”.
Jesus, sympathized with the desperate father, reassured him and followed him. On the way to Jairus’s house the crowds almost crushed Him.
Thus, an unwell woman found an opportunity to approach and touch the edge of Christ’s clothes. She thought that she could go unnoticed. She had been losing blood for twelve years. She felt terribly exhausted. She had also spent all her money to pay for doctors to help her but they couldn’t do anything for her. In addition, she has been isolated from everyone for so long because of her illness. But this time she dared to approach Jesus.
As she approached Him, she said to herself: "If only I touched his clothes, I would be healed". Her faith in Christ was strong. And our Lord, who knows everything, rewarded her strong faith. Indeed, as soon as the sick woman touched Jesus' clothes, the bleeding stopped! What so many doctors could not do for years now, our Christ gave her in an instant.
Who touched me? Jesus asked because he wanted to show everyone the faith of the bleeding woman. “Teacher, the people are crowding and pressing against you and you ask who has touched you?"! Peter responded spontaneously. But Jesus insisted. The bleeding woman fell to her knees before Jesus and confessed to everyone what had happened. “Have courage my daughter!” Christ said. “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace!”
While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from Jairus’s house. He brought the bad news: “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the Teacher anymore. There is no reason for him to come to your house”.
The father’s heart broke. Hope faded. He believed that Christ could heal his dying child. But now? She is dead now. But what did the Lord say to him? "Do not be afraid Jairus, just believe in me and she will be healed". "Keep relying on me and your child will be saved". What did Christ mean by these words?
They arrived at Jairus's house. Everyone was crying, they were mourning for the death of the young girl. But Jesus said to them: “Stop wailing! She is not dead, but asleep!" How strange were the words of this Teacher! Everyone was convinced of the child's death. Some sneered and mocked Him.
Jesus Christ entered the house, the room where the dead girl was. He asked everyone to go out. He only kept with Him the girl's parents and three of His disciples: Peter, James and John. Everyone looked at him with wonder. What was he going to do?
Our Lord took the hand of the dead girl. Then, as if trying to wake her up from her usual sleep, he said sweetly: "Wake up, my girl!". And then - how miraculous! - immediately the child got up and started walking! The Lord raised her up!
Who can describe the surprise, the great happiness and the gratitude that the parents felt! Jesus urged them to give the child something to eat. They no longer doubted that their child was completely well.
Christ overcame death.
Our visit to this house in Capernaum, is an awe-inspiring event. If we go to the house of a dead person and tell his relatives: "Your man is not dead but he is sleeping", they will think that we are making fun of them. Christ however, to those who were crying without hope, said: "Do not cry, she is not dead but asleep!"
Christ calls death “sleep”. And the Church calls the dead “people who have been asleep”. Thus, a great truth is revealed to us: As the man who is tired falls asleep and he will wake up, so the dead are not lost, but asleep and they will wake up. Life does not stop at the grave. At the same time that people close their eyes to this life, they open the eyes of their soul to the other life and face our Savior Christ. That is why the early Christians were not afraid when their persecutors threatened them with death. Even small children waited fearlessly for death, because it would bring them closer to Christ!
Our life has lots of joys. But it would be a lie to tell you that it has only joys. If we look around, we will see many people suffering, others suffering from a serious illness, others in pain because they have lost their loved one.
Have you ever thought that we, ourselves, could be in their place? And if such a thing happens - it may has already happened to some of us - what will we do? Will we despair? No. We are certainly in pain, we are sorry for the separation from our loved ones, because we want to have them with us, to see them. But when we know that our dead are not lost, but live in the presence of God, we are in peace. We do not despair. Instead, we strive to be children of God, in order to be granted with the paradise where we will meet Him and those we love.
Today we witness our Lord resurrecting the twelve-year-old girl. He, who created the universe with one word of His, He also commanded the dead girl to be resurrected and she so did. But, is it possible for dead bodies to have ears and hear His word? Of course not. And yet, they hear our Christ’s voice and obey it, because He is the creator of life and the one who has defeated death!
And as he resurrected the daughter of Jairus, so he will resurrect us and everyone else, in His Second Coming. We confess this faith every time we say the Creed of our faith. Do you remember how it ends? "I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the future age to come." That means: "I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the future eternal life!"
2b. The King of All
Whenever the top leader of a nation leaves his place or presidential mansion to tour the cities and towns, the local authorities prepare a grand reception. They call the people to come out and welcome him. But who is the real, the incomparable authority of the entire world, the King of all? This leader did not receive and hold His authority by force and slaughter, or through lies, fraud and exploitation. His authority is spiritual, holy. He Himself is the source of His authority, because He is the God, the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the King of all, as the Cherubic Hymn chants. Who can be compared with His holy Person and which government with His kingdom? On this bloodied earth the prayer of Christians will be always heard: “Thy Kingdom come” (Mt 6:10). Christ, the king of all, came here to earth without the external and vain characteristics of the political rulers of this world, without clubs and weapons, without force and exploitation, without lies and deceits. He came so humbly that the people did not recognize him. And when Christ declared before Pilate that He was then King of a kingdom very different from the kingdoms of this world, the soldiers and the mob mocked Him. They suffered, they were tortured and heavily taxed by the Caesars of Rome, and yet they chose them and not Christ the King of justice and love. The people, living under various political systems, which change so often with the hope to find joy and happiness, still behave in this way against Christ. But the only source of joy and happiness is Jesus Christ, the King of all.
Every time there is a Divine Liturgy, Jesus comes in the humble form of bread and wine. He comes to offer His sacrifice for the salvation of the world. And all the Christians are called to receive Him: to hasten to the church, to stand with reverence and to receive Him with feelings of deep gratitude when the priest, holding the precious gifts, comes out through the northern door of the sanctuary.