Sermon of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Blessed Memory
on the Feast Day of the Annunciation
“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” With these words, the Most-Pure Virgin Mary ended her conversation with Archangel Gabriel, in which he told her that she would become the Mother of God. Some of our contemporaries now express pious surprise: how could she give her consent, for it implies that she recognizes her ability to become the Mother of God. How could she agree? How could she not decline? Yet these questions are incorrect, for one must discern between consent to recognize her ability and consent to obedience. Yes, she gave her consent, not because she deemed herself capable, but because she admitted being the servant of the Lord.
When people decline to accept responsibility within the Church out of humility, this is seemly, for humility is a great virtue. But is one declines outright, then it is to deny Divine Will, which chose a person for such a duty.
Obedience is a loftier sensibility than humility, and the refusal to obey even in humility is sinful.
When one is selected for a great, lofty responsibility, the candidate must be led by only one certain virtue-obedience. There can be no discussion of worthiness, just as we can never feel worthy to partake of the Holy Gifts.
But, one might argue, I was not called by an Archangel, and I make no quarrel with him, but with mere mortals: to be an important hierarch demands such and such abilities and powers, and I lack these, I do not consider myself worthy. But we must remember that the Church summons you and expects obedience.
In order to better understand the obedience displayed by the Most-Holy Virgin, and compare it with the hesitation of others with a calling, let us remember Apostle Peter during the Last Supper: “No, Thou shalt never wash my feet.” These are words of humility. “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me,” responded Christ. Then Peter replied “ Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” This consent was given not because Peter felt worthy, but from the fervent desire to be with the Lord, which is not yet pure obedience, for he adds the words “also my hands and my head.” The Lord, washing only Peter’s feet, shows that what is needed is obedience.
Some are troubled why the Most-Holy Virgin answered so simply, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord,” in agreeing to become the Mother of God. Why did she not fall to her knees in love and in fear? Did she even consider this?
Yes, she consciously received this great calling, not blindly. She displayed profound wisdom, requesting that the Archangel explain this one historic event unrepeatable in the world. In this she is like Apostle Thomas, or rather, her objection was pleasing to the Lord. She had to know that it was not an apparition speaking to her, she was not delusional. Her request was not denial but a call for clarification. The prophets foretold the miraculous birth of the Savior, but not so clearly that it required no further explanation. It was so astounding, sudden and miraculous, that the Most-Holy Virgin could not but come to understand this supernatural Conception.