At the Annunciation – The Cause of All Things

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I treasure the small volume of George Gabriel,  Mary the Untrodden Portal of God. Gabriel occasionally strikes hard at the West and the book would perhaps be strengthened with a less combative approach to the differences of East and West in the faith (my own opinion), but I liked the book and found Gabriel addressing many things, well foot-noted, that are not found in many other places. I share an excerpt.

From eternity, God provided for a communion with His creation that would remain forever. In that communion mankind would attain to the eternal theosis for which it was made. The communion, of course, is the Incarnation through the Ever-Virgin. Mankind’s existence and, therefore, that of all creation is inexorably tied to Mary because she was always to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word. The fathers say that neither the course of human events nor necessity of any kind forced the Uncreated One to join to Himself a creaturely mode of existence. God did not become flesh because some actions of the devil or of man made it necessary, but because it was the divine plan and mystery from before the ages. Despite the works of Satan and the coming of sin into the world, the eternal will of God was undeterred, and it moved forward.

History and the course of human events were the occasion and not the cause of the Incarnation. The Incarnation did not take place for the Crucifixion; the Crucifixion took place so the Incarnation and the eternal communion of God and man could be fulfilled despite Satan, sin, and death. Explaining that there was no necessity in God the Father that required the death of His Son, St. Gregory the Theologian says of the Father “neither asked for Him nor demanded Him, but accepts [His death] on account of the economy [of the Incarnation] and because mankind must be sanctified by the humanity of God.” St. Gregory is telling us that, from before the ages, it was the divine will for mankind to be sanctified and made immortal by communion with the humanity of the Incarnate God, but corruptibility and death came and stood in the way.  By His Passion and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed these obstacles and saved, that is, preserved, mankind for the Incarnation’s eternal communion of the God-Man and immortal men. St. John of Damascus repreats the same idea that the Incarnation is a prior and indeed ontological purpose in itself, and that redemption is the means to that end. Thus, he says the Holy Virgin “came to serve in the salvation of the world so that the ancient will of God for the Incarnation of the Word and our own theosis may be fulfilled through her.”

It seems worthwhile to me, for us to meditate on the fullness of our salvation which is to be accomplished in God’s great Pascha. Indeed, it seems to me that everything always was about Pascha – the “Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth” (Rev. 13:8) We are approaching the end of all things – and, I should add, their beginning as well.

Reposted from a year ago.

14 Responses to “At the Annunciation – The Cause of All Things”

  1. ML Says:

    I believe the correct reference is Rev. 13:8. Not trying to make more work for you, but since the verse is rather startling in its implications, I had to look it up for myself (and others may want to as well).

  2. Carl Says:

    Hmm, compare these versions of Revelation 13:8.

    King James Version:

    “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

    American Standard Version:

    “And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.”

    And for the scholars amongst us:

    και προσκυνησουσιν αυτω παντες οι κατοικουντες επι της γης ων ου γεγραπται το ονομα εν τω βιβλιω της ζωης του αρνιου του εσφαγμενου απο καταβολης κοσμου

    I don’t know Greek, but apparently αρνιου is “lamb”, εσφαγμενου is “slain”, and καταβολης κοσμου is “the foundation of the world”.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    Oops! I got it fixed.

  4. Margaret Says:

    This is so worthwhile a meditation! Thank you, Fr. Stephen.

  5. Sbdn. Lucas Says:

    It would appear that the ASV gets it far wrong–they’ve moved the clause, “απο καταβολης κοσμου” (from the foundation of the cosmos) up from the end, which is grammatically unsupportable. It changes the meaning from the (correct) understanding that the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the cosmos, to a sort of predestinational condemnation. This is unfortunate.

    the sinner,
    Sbdn. Lucas

  6. audrey Says:

    My Protestant friends will bring up the verse (I think it’s in Hebrews but I could be wrong), that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hence they will say that Christ did have to die in order for us to be forgiven. How would you respond to someone who brings up this along with the penal substitution theory?

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    I would respond, hopefully with patience. I fully support and believe the verse in Hebrews. But when they go to penal substitution they have gone past what the verse says, and have gone into extra-Biblical theory – and a theory that was not espoused until Anselm in the 11th century. Christ shed His life’s blood for us – absolutely – but not to pay the devil. Not to pay the Father. I think it’s much deeper than that.

    You can’t pay God anything, even if God is doing the paying.

  8. Ioannis Freeman Says:

    Bless Father Stephen,

    The narrative of the Good News! (Annunciation) in Luke’s Gospel puzzles me this year, because I wonder why Mary registered no surprise at a visit by Gabriel or at being able to see and hear a member of the highest legion of angels. It’s no surprise that Mary raised doubt about the message that Gabriel brought, and the text addresses her reason to doubt.

    Ouspensky and Lossky both address the value of the nous or reason in their treatments of the Annunciation text. Hence, the subtle references to doubt, which appear in many icons of the event.

    Would you address the tradition of a pre-Annunciation event, which appears to have become prominent among Russains and Slavs? Did the pre-Annunciation event of Gabriel at a spring or a well (not in Luke’s account) begin in order to explain the absence of St. Luke not having noted initial surprise by the Theotokos, which I mention?

  9. Sbdn. Lucas Says:

    Ioannis,

    I always thought it might be related to the accounts from the Proto-Gospel of James. In it, it says that the Theotokos was fed and taught by the angel as she was living in the Temple while growing up (some icons of the Entrance of the Theotokos also depict this in the background). In that case, she would have been familiar with St. Gabriel.

  10. Sbdn. Lucas Says:

    Icons displaying the same can be found here:

    and here:
    http://www.goarch.org/en/special/listen_learn_share/vmpresentation/learn/ (this second also mentions the angel detail toward the bottom of the page)

  11. Ioannis Freeman Says:

    Lucas, my thinking progresses along similar lines, starting with what might have been seeds of faith first planted in early 2nd-century apocryphal and pseudo-epigraphic accounts, which were composed in the spirit of true devotion to the Theotokos as the “Mater” or divinely pre-ordained human being through whom the hypostasis not only “could,” but also “should” occur.

    The close interplay of necessity for Jesus’ human existence–as having had to have come through Mary of Nazareth–and the “consent” of Mary to Gabriel’s announcement keeps Mary’s iconic gaze not on Gabriel, but instead on the Source of the message.

    (Much later we see the theology of prayerful dialogue with canonical texts and holy Tradition as flowering in such dogmatic statements as George Gabriel’s, quoted in context by Father Stephen,”…that of all creation is inexorably tied to Mary because she was always to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word.)

    I take accounts of Mary’s initiation into divine mysteries inside the Temple according to the authority of Tradition, particuarly in light of the way that the Church creates and maintains sacred space with central focus on the Theotokos and Christ to this day. The Church has kept this focus for a very long time; may God will that the Church persevere in keeping it for many more years to come, in my opinion. Persistence of this architectural and catechetical focus on the Theotokos and Christ, as central to theosis, confirms my confidence that Mary had already completed a lengthy rite of initiation long before she was greeted by Gabriel on the day that we call the Annunciation.

    But the lacuna in Luke’s text keeps drawing me to more frequent repetition of the Akathist. Perhaps that was God’s plan all along to inspire confidence in raising humanity into God by praying over subtle omissions such as the one that you have answered.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    I have always thought of it as unique among human encounters with God. This time, it seems the angel trembles instead of the other way around. I think the text is best read theologically, since that’s how it was written.

  13. Susan Says:

    Please forgive my ignorance and lack of understanding. I am hoping to come to a new understanding our Lord God’s plan for our Redemption but have been so steeped in the Western paradigm that the unlearning is difficult. I thought God knew from all ages that we would sin and that His divine plan was that He would send His only begotten Son to save us. If we hadn’t sinned, then no need for the Crucifixion. I guess I am flummoxed by the statement, “God did not become flesh because some actions of the devil or of man made it necessary, but because it was the divine plan and mystery from before the ages.”

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, in His foreknowledge He always knew that we would fall, and He would come to save us. He certainly came to save us, but we were not the cause of His saving us. His love for us, if you will, is the cause. Your first statement is correct nothing to change there. He simply always knew that we would sin. In this sense it would be pointless for people to speculate about “what if Adam and Eve had not sinned?” They were not predestined to sin, but God simply always knew, even before creating us, that a free creation would abuse that freedom.

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