1978 (2) Homily Annunciation St. Philaret Moscow
by St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow
And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end (Lk. 1:33).
WE HAVE JUST HEARD in the Gospel the wondrous dialogue between the Archangel and the Most Holy Virgin, a conversation during which the great mystery of heaven and earth was spoken of, in so far as it can be described; a conversation in which one can behold an event incomprehensible to both earthly and heavenly eyes. When the Archangel said unto the Virgin: “Thou shalt conceive in thy womb --- the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee,” and when the Virgin replied: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word”; at that instant, by means of these words, the earth was betrothed to heaven, mankind to the Divinity; and in consequence of this, He Who is without beginning was conceived: “The Word became flesh.” The Son of God became the Son of Man, while not ceasing to be the Son of God, the Virgin became heaven and the throne of Divinity, and within her was placed not merely the promised, but the actual beginning of our salvation and blessedness.
“How shall this be?” The All-Holy Virgin first inquired concerning this event, not because of any lack of faith, not out of curiosity, but from a feeling of reverent awe and out of concern for the preservation of her virginity, which was dedicated to God, when it was announced to her that she would be a mother. Do not dare, O inquisitive mind, to ask after this occasion: How could this be? The angel shall not come to resolve this audacious question for you. That the saving incarnation of the Son of God was accomplished, you can see in the miraculous and salvific results. Do not inquire into the unattainable. Humble yourself before the infinite Wisdom. Be reverent before its mystery. Stand in awe of the profound condescension of the Most High. Glorify and give thanks unto Him for His undeserved, priceless gift. In faith embrace the salvation granted, and do not interrogate God the Savior before the tribunal of human wisdom.
Yet the Lord said: “Search the Scriptures” (Jn. 5:39). And so let us permit ourselves that examination which is accessible and instructive for us.
After his first, lofty, but general greeting of the Most Holy Virgin, the Archangel perceived that she was afraid. “Fear not, Mary,” he said. How is it that in the very moment that he sought to free her from fear, he continued to say that which is yet more astounding and awesome, and whose announcement, apparently, might have been delayed? Why did he not simply announce that she, while remaining a virgin, would bear a son? Such an announcement was indeed the actual goal of his being sent, but he added even more, saying that this Son would be Great, the Son of the Most High, the Savior and King, and moreover the King of such a kingdom as would have no end. This was essential because of the law according to which faith acts, and which is known to us from the following words of Christ: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mk. 9:23). Therefore, for the Most Blessed Mary, all was indeed possible, insofar as she could believe. Thus, in order for it to be possible for her to give birth to the God-Man, Savior and King of the everlasting Kingdom, it was necessary that she hear and believe beforehand that she must give birth to the God-Man, Savior, the King of an eternal Kingdom. Let us stand in awe, brethren, at the immeasurably lofty faith of the All Holy Virgin, before which the faith of Abraham, the father of the faithful, who believed in the prophecy of the birth of Isaac despite the barreness of old age, is less than a mustard seed before a cedar of Lebanon. In reverence and joy let us render thanks to the most blessed Mary that she had this faith, without which we would not have had Christ the Savior and King Who promises us the heavenly and eternal Kingdom.
Together with this, brethren, let us bring ourselves to reason about the power of faith. It was able to contain the uncontainable God in the person of the all-holy Virgin, not only spiritually, but bodily as well. And bodily, I say, did her faith contain God; and before this I stand in yet greater awe, all the more that, in comparison with the spirit, the body seems separated from its relationship and kinship with God the Spirit, in its very corporeality, in its limitations, in its corruptibility. In what way, then, could our faith fail to satisfy us --- our faith for which there are set forth far lesser requirements than for the faith of the Virgin Theotokos? Yet are there not among us sufficiently frequent revelations of true faith, which are lifted sensibly above nature and clearly sealed by grace? For this reason have we no need to pray to the Lord with the apostles: Increase our faith (Lk 17:5)? But the Lord, not rejecting our prayers, submits to us the requirement for faith. “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say to this sycamore tree: Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you” (Lk. 17:6). O, if only you had the beginning of faith in the sincere disposition of your heart! Then would you faithfully receive great power from grace. Thus, the matter is up to you, and not to God. Have the heart-felt disposition to believe (a state of mind which depends on you) and God will not fail to increase within you that mighty faith, which is the gift of His grace.
Let us not overlook the particular point that was first required of the faith of the All-Holy Virgin Theotokos: the recognition of the Son foretold to Her, not only as the Son of God and Savior of men, but also as King, this being a substantial necessity for the mystery of the Incarnation: “He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” From this one must conclude that of our faith also, together with the recognition of the Son of God in the person of Jesus, the God-Man, our Savior, there is also required the recognition of Him as our King, this being an absolute essential for faith that saves.
In fact, that this belief is essential is evident, when the Lord Jesus, though He ordinarily avoided human fame, and even on one occasion, “perceiving that they would come and take Him by force, to make him a king, made haste to conceal Himself from this” (Jn. 6:15), yet at the time of His solemn entrance into Jerusalem, in reply to the demand of the Pharisees that He forbid the exclamations addressed to Him: “Blessed is the King that cometh,” He not only did not forbid, but even affirmed that if the people were silent, the stones themselves would proclaim Him King: “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Lk. 19:38-40). Just as then, when His being named King threatened Him with death, He only corrected the imprecise concept of His Kingdom, saying: “My kingdom is not of this world”; to the question of Pilate: “Art thou a king then?”, He answered without hesitation: “Thou sayest that I am a king, thou speakest truly, that I am King” (Jn. 18:36, 37). Finally, after His resurrection, He Himself proclaimed His royal authority: “All-power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth” (Mt. 28:18); and likewise in His prophecy of the judgment of the whole world He called Himself King: “Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand: ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father’” (Mt. 25:34).
Christ reigns throughout the entire universe as its omniscient Creator --- especially in the heavens as the King of Glory --- on earth in His Church, as in the Kingdom of grace. He reigns here by His Word, as by the law of the kingdom: and by His Spirit as by royal power. His Kingdom extends into the soul by means of Grace, on His part, and by means of faith and love, on our part, as He Himself said: “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:21); this is why we pray: “Thy Kingdom come.” From the Kingdom which “is not of this world” He extends His royal actions to the kingdoms and peoples of this world, blessing, ordering, and prospering the authorities and people that are well-pleasing to His spiritual Kingdom; but those that war against it, especially after betraying their fealty to Him, He commits to the action of the dread condemnation of God the Father Who entrusted the kingdom unto Him: “Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:9). Finally, on the last day of the world, Christ shall appear as the King and Judge of the world, to render unto each according to his deeds, and to transform the transient, preparatory kingdoms of nature and grace into the one eternal Kingdom of glory.
O Christians! It is pleasant for us to look upon Christ as our Savior, Who takes away our sins, reconciles us with eternal justice, frees us from eternal condemnation, transforms us from sons of wrath into sons of God with the right to the heavenly inheritance. Let us be grateful and upright. Let us not forget to look upon Him also as our King, Who is master over us so as to order our spiritual life, to guard and defend us from adverse powers, to mold us into citizens worthy of the heavenly Kingdom, capable of eternal blessedness; and Who for this very thing requires of us perfect submission to His sovereignty.
There is but one Son of God --- Jesus Christ, the Savior and King --- and He does not separate these qualities with which He signed Himself in His very Incarnation. If you do not wish to have Him as your King, you cannot have Him as your Savior.
Did not your godfather tell you that you have given oaths of loyalty to Christ the King? To be exact, you gave them at baptism when, through the mouth of your sponsor, you confessed several times that you denied satan and all his service, and joined yourself to and worshiped Christ as King and God. Be, then, ever attentive, so as not to be deceived, or to become a breaker of oaths and a traitor. If you do not remain loyal to Christ the King in heart and life, in word and deed, and if you do not set aright those acts of infidelity that occur from your weakness and inattentiveness by repentance and correction, you shall lose any right to the protection of Christ the King and the mercy of Jesus the Savior, and by your disloyal actions shall join yourself to those rebellious and false counselors, whom He shall “rule them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces as a potter's vessel” (Ps. 2:9).
Be faithful to Christ the King, through the Orthodox Faith, in obedience to His Holy Church; be faithful with that unhypocritical love which overcomes every earthly attachment; be faithful by a life well ordered according to the commandments and teachings of the Gospels; be faithful and ready to recognize your falls into sin with a pure heart and to restore the purity of your conscience, lest death precede you and shut the doors of repentance. Hearken unto Christ Himself Who commands and promises, saying: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Amen.
Translated from The Works of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna, Sermons and Discourses (1849-1867), Vol. V, Moscow, 1885, p. 71-75.