St. Mary’s faithful response makes her the highest model of obedience to God. The early Church Fathers and Church History says that when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she was knitting a curtain for the temple. The Virgin Mary is honored not only because God chose her, but also because she, herself, chose to believe and obey God firmly.
Beginning at verse 39, we see that Mary went to Judah to the house of Zechariah to visit Elizabeth. In verse 41, we see that the babe, John, in his sixth month of gestation, leaped in Elizabeth’s womb as a joyous response to the presence of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, in Mary’s womb. Mary receives veneration from both the angels and human; for as did the angel Gabriel (verse 28), Elizabeth calls Mary “Blessed (verse 42).” Here we see that Mary is the model of womanhood. No one else has ever received the glory given to Mary, either in Scripture or in Church History.
Mary is confessed as the “mother of my Lord” by Elizabeth. This was no mere man that Mary was carrying. The title “THEOTOKOS (mother of God)” is given to the Virgin Mary by the Church, derived from the truth of this confession. The “Magnificent” is presented next in verses 46-56, which is a remarkable hymn of praise to God. It comes from the heart of Mary, who was probably only 15 or 16 years old at that time. In the first book of Samuel 2:1-10, we can see the first utterance of this prayer by Hannah, the mother of Samuel, who was advanced in years and was yearning for a child in her bareness like Elizabeth. This prayer has been said by Jewish expectant mothers for centuries.
St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and one of the Fathers that made the greatest contribution to the new interest in the person and mission of the Virgin Mary in the plan of salvation says that when Mary and Elizabeth greeted each other, Christ also greeted John in his mother’s womb, as it says in the Gospel, “it happened that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby stirred in her womb for joy.” St. Athanasius continues that when John heard hi Master’s voice, He greeted Him through the mouth of His mother. Then, with great joy, through his mother’s mouth, addressing the Virgin, “Blessed are you among woman, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
In narrating his parallel accounts of John’s and Jesus’ nativities, St. Luke is the only New Testament writer to state that their respective mothers are blood relatives (1:36). The emphasis on women’s role in the divine purpose is a typical Lukan concern. Also significant is St. Luke’s hint about Mary’s background. Since Elizabeth is of the “priestly descent,” which means that she belongs to the tribe of Levi, it seems probable that Mary also belongs to the Levitical clan rather than the Davidic tribe of Judah. In relating the two infancy stories, Luke subtly indicates the relative importance of both children. He dates John’s birth during the reign of King Herod. Throughout the infancy stories of Jesus and John, St. Luke follows the Greco-Roman practice of inserting speeches that illustrate themes vital to the subject. The long poem uttered by Zechariah, known as the BENEDICTOS, combines scriptural quotations with the typical view taken by St. Luke about the significance of Jesus. These liturgical pieces include the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear a Son, called the AVE MARIA and Mary’s exulting prayer called the MAGNIFICAT.
For two thousand years, the Church has preserved the memory of the Virgin Mary as the prototype of all Christians, the model of what we are to become in Christ. Mary was truly pure and unconditionally obedient to God. As Mary bore Christ in her womb physically, all Christians now have the privilege of bearing God within themselves spiritually. From early times, the Church has called her Mother of God (Theotokos), a title that implies that her Son, Jesus Christ, is both fully man and fully God. As His mother, Mary was the source of Jesus’ human nature, yet the one that she bore in her womb was also the eternal God. Christians appropriately honor Mary as the first among the Saints. The angel Gabriel initiated this honor in addressing her, as seen in St. Luke 1:28, “Rejoice highly favored one, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.” The salutation clearly indicated that God Himself had chosen to honor Mary. Her favored status was confirmed when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. In obedience to the clear intention of God, the Orthodox Church honors Mary in icons, hymns, and special feasts. We ask St. Mary to intercede with her Son on our behalf. We ask for guidance and protection and we venerate her, but we do not worship her, for worshipping belongs to God alone.
As St. Mary accepted her call, we also are called today to make resolutions in our lives that involve forgiving one another, bearing with one another, and loving one another, as St. Paul clearly teaches us. We are called today to be leaders to work for the development and growth of our church and society as a whole. May this be a time of rejoicing, praising and honoring our Heavenly Father, His only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit.