For almost two thousand years Greek Orthodox have called the holy day of March 25th the EVANGELISMOS. Other Christians know it as the Annunciation. When l was a child growing up in a small Virginia town that had no Greek community or church, I knew March 25th as the "Greek Fourth of July." Years passed before l learned the many connections and multiple meanings of this ancient and joyous festival.
The origin of the Feast of the Evangelismos (Glad-tidings) lies in Luke 1:26-38. In these few verses the Evangelist records the dramatic encounter between Archangel Gabriel and a young Jewish girl living in the house of Joseph, her fiancee. This story is so familiar that we fail to see how extraordinary it is, how significant for the historical and religious experience of Christendom.
Sent by God to Nazareth, Gabriel brings a strange message of glad tidings to Mary. The angel tells the frightened girl that she will bear a child who is the Son of God. This announcement baffles Mary. And she asks how that can possibly be. Yet she does not, as a proper Jewish girl should, run to Joseph, her future husband, to ask for his permission and advice. Instead, relying on her faith in God's word, she decides for herself, independent of any man-made authority and tradition. Mary's decision is hers alone. Of her own free will, she accepts her unique destiny, consenting to lend her flesh so that God could become human. Thus by her act of faith and freedom, a young woman becomes the human agent through whom a divine revolution begins to unfold in the world, a process of change that will continue.
Mary's cooperation with God, her participation in the design of salvation, initiates a new era of liberation for humankind. In her ecstatic psalm of thanksgiving she expresses not only the spirituality of the new Christian order, but its political and social realities as well. "My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit rejoices…because the Mighty One has done great things for me…He has…scattered the proud…He has pulled down rulers from their thrones, and raised up the humble; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:46-55).
Orthodoxy's beautiful hymns for the Evangelismos combine praises of the Theotokos with variations on the themes of her song-salvation, restoration, reconciliation, the end of injustice and oppression. Because God assumed human face and form in a woman's womb, Satan is defeated, the old order of sin is vanquished. "Today come glad tidings of joy; it is the feast of the Virgin…Adam is made new, and Eve liberated from her ancient sorrow." Once again the gates of Eden are open. The new creation begins with the Evangelismos, with Mary's words, "Here is the servant of the Lord; may it happen to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38).
Also, Eve and Adam's alienation from God now ceases. Creator and creation are reconciled in Mary's child, the God-person (theanthropos). The Incarnate Logos (Word) restores the divine image and likeness in women and men. "Today is revealed the mystery that is from all eternity…Now God becomes human" in order to make us God.
Through the long centuries of foreign rule and oppression Greeks celebrated the Feast of the Evangelismos, the beginning of the divine revolution that brought the God of love and life to dwell on earth, to show the way to freedom, justice and peace. The message of the Evangelismos illumined Greek minds and hearts, inspiring generations to hope and struggle for their human dignity and liberty.
March 25, 1821…the Feast of the Evangelismos, the day of glad tidings. The heroic revolutionaries could not have chosen a more appropriate and auspicious day for proclaiming Greek Independence. When the Revolution ended eight years later, proud rulers had been humbled, and the humble subjects of the sultan had been exalted. At last the Greeks were free.
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