SEEKING THEOSIS

READING OF ICONS – ICON OF THE ANNUNCIATION

The Indian Orthodox Church as it prepares to enter the Advent fast, commemorates the third Sunday of its liturgical new year with the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ to the Virgin Mary, by the Angel Gabriel. This event is also commemorated on March 25 of every calendar year. I have always marveled how the church from the early centuries taught the Bible through the use of icons and I have always sought to study the icons whenever I can. In this blog article, I would like to share a few basic thoughts gained while viewing study of the Icon of the Annunciation. In another blog, I will share on why the Orthodox Church believes in icons and how icons are used in worship in the church and at homes.

We commemorate this event to celebrate both the divine initiative of God, whereby He took on the flesh from the Virgin for our salvation, and the human response, whereby Mary freely accepted the vocation offered to her. He elected to become man, and He desired to do this with the willing agreement of her whom He chose as His mother. Mary could have refused, for she was not a passive instrument, but an active participant with a free and positive part to play in God’s plan for our salvation. Thus, when on this and other feasts the Orthodox Church honors the Theotokos, the Mother of God, it is not just because God chose her but also because she herself chose to follow His will.

ICON OF ANNUNCIATION

ICON OF THE FEAST

The icon of the Annunciation is one that presents the joy of the announcement of the coming of Christ. It is an icon of bright colors, depicting the Archangel Gabriel, who has descended from heaven, and the Virgin Mary, who has been chosen to be the Mother of God.

The Archangel Gabriel presents the good news of the coming of Christ to Virgin Mary, who was chosen to be the Mother of God

The position of Archangel Gabriel’s feet suggest that he is running to share the news with Mary.

The Archangel is shown with his feet spread apart as if he is running to share the good news with Mary. In his left hand is a staff, the symbol of a messenger. His right hand is extended toward Mary as he delivers the message and announces the blessing bestowed upon her by God.

On the right side of the icon the Virgin sits on an elevated seat, indicating that as the Mother of God she is “greater in honor than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word.” In her left hand she holds a spindle of scarlet yarn, which depicts the task she was assigned of preparing the purple and scarlet material to be used in making the veil for the Temple in Jerusalem. Her right hand is raised in a gesture of acceptance in response to Gabriel’s message. Her posture expresses willing cooperation with God’s plan of salvation. The three stars on her garments represent that she was a Virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ.

At the top of the icon the segment of a circle represents the divine realm, from which three rays emerge. This demonstrates the action of the Holy Spirit coming upon her.

OLDEST SURVIVING ICON OF THE ANNUNCIATION

The oldest surviving icon of the Annunciation is found in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome, Italy, and dates from the second half of the second century A.D. Priscilla is thought to have been a well-to-do Roman who converted to Christianity and was martyred. These Christian catacombs, along with many others found surrounding Rome, are a treasury of early Christian iconography.

THE ANNUNCIATION, LATE 2ND CENTURY, ROME

One difference between this depiction of the Annunciation and later icons is that the Mother of God is shown with her head uncovered. In Rome, young virginal maidens would always have their heads uncovered, and so the imagery is in keeping with the Christian beliefs regarding Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. The veil worn in the East would come to dominate iconography of the Mother of God in later centuries.

Other than this difference, it is remarkable how similar this image is to the established iconography of the Annunciation: Mary seated in a high-backed chair, the Archangel Gabriel stood, robed simply, with bare feet, and arm raised to signify he is speaking:

“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you…”

Special Hymns sung for the day we celebrate the Annunciation of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ to St. Mary – in English. Hymns used on this day are sung in Tone 4, and marks the fourth week of the Church Calendar.

{NOTE: The link for the above article on "Seeking Theosis", can be found at: http://www.seekingtheosis.blog/2019/11/25/icon-of-the-annunciation/}

Your brother in Christ Jesus

Jobin George