Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Mother of God, our teacher of the Prayer of St. Ephrem

By Mother Gabriella

As we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, we come into contact with one of the great mysteries of our faith – the Incarnation.  God enters into time, at the consent of a virgin in Nazareth, and takes on human flesh.

As I pondered this mystery, something else that came to mind is the Prayer of St. Ephrem, a staple of the Byzantine Lenten prayer diet, which is as follows:

O Lord and Master of my life,
spare me from the spirit of indifference, despair,
lust for power, and idle chatter.

Instead, bestow on me your servant,
a spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love.

Yes, O Lord and King, let me to see my own sins
and not judge my brothers and sisters;
for you are blessed forever and ever.  Amen.

As I was praying these words and thinking of the Theotokos at the Annunciation, I began to see just how beautiful it is to celebrate this feast in the context of Lent.  Being a lover of feasts and all things relating to St. Gabriel, I have a natural affinity for the Annunciation, but Mary wanted to take that love even deeper.  I stood in awe of her, as did my namesake, as I began to see how Mary, as the first disciple of Jesus, is our model for living out the Prayer of St. Ephrem.

 “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!...Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Lk 1: 28,30).  Hearing Gabriel’s exhortation, I can see what might be a bit disconcerting!  How often in my life do I hear Jesus calling me to something more and deeper, and I cringe and moan and shudder to think of it (until I finally say yes!).  Mary, hearing these words for the first time, could have fallen into any of the first sins that are named in the Prayer.  Indifference – she could have given Gabriel the cold shoulder and walked away!  How could a conception happen without a man?  Despair – she could have realized the full weight of what he was asking her, without considering the mercy and love of God, and folded under the weight of the request.  Lust for power – can you imagine what kind of prestige would come if people knew and believed she was the Mother of God?  Idle chatter – how many people could she have told about her news – the world’s greatest “gender reveal!”  But instead, she receives the angel’s request and asks only one practical question.  She does not pause in her question long enough to consider any amount of worry about the future.  She does not flippantly share about her pregnancy.

Her response embodies integrity, or wholeness of being, so much so that her “yes” cooperated directly with the power of the Holy Spirit to conceive a child – Jesus.  She accepted this invitation to motherhood with the utmost humility; she put no conditions on her acceptance, but simply offered herself to God.  She became our model of patience and love, starting with her care of Elizabeth in the hill country and ending at the foot of the Cross on the mount of Calvary.

Lastly, she exemplifies not simply introspection into faults but a proper understanding of herself before God – seeing her weaknesses and trusting perfectly in His mercy and grace at all times.  This posture of receptivity allows her to place love above judgment, loving any and all who may have been lead to judge what they did not understand regarding her pregnancy, and later, her life in service to her Son.

On this Feast of the Annunciation, let us take a moment to reflect on our own Lenten journey, in light of our beloved Theotokos and her “yes.”  How are we saying “no” to sin and “yes” to virtue during these days in the midst of our own daily "annunciations?"  What more needs to be purged before we can give ourselves, fully and without reserve, to all that Jesus is asking of us this Lent?  We place ourselves under the mantle of Mary and ask for her intercession – O Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

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