On Friday, 24 March 2023, the Great Festive Vespers on the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated with splendour and devotion at the Holy Cathedral of the Annunciation of Our Lady of Sydney. His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia presided over the Great Vespers, and also chanted the Fourth Stanza of the Salutations to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A multitude of devout believers came to the Cathedral to pray together and venerate the Holy Icon of the Virgin Mary, while the Festive Vespers and the Service of the Salutations were attended also by Their Graces, Bishop Iakovos of Miletoupolis, Bishop Christodoulos of Magnesia, Bishop Bartholomew of Charioupolis, The Chancellor of the Holy Archdiocese and Parish Priest of the Cathedral, Archimandrite of Ecumenical Throne Christophoros Krikelis, and a multitude of priests from the city of Sydney.
The homily was preached by His Grace Bishop Christodoulos of Magnesia, who first described the twofold nature of the feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos. “It is a Despotic Feast Day,” he explained, “since it directly refers to the theandric person of Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin. And it is a feast of Theotokos, since it refers to the Mother of God, to the person who was found worthy to participate on behalf of the human race in the conception and incarnation of the Word of God”.
Then, His Grace Bishop Christodoulos theologically analysed the Mystery of the salvation of man, how it took place through the event of the Annunciation as a starting point, while distinguishing that faith is a requirement for the existential experience of this saving event. “It is not enough to just celebrate and theologically interpret the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, but we must celebrate it and experience it existentially”, he emphasised and pointed out: “According to the interpretation of the Holy Fathers of the Church, the seed is the word of God and the womb is our mind and heart. Through faith, the word of God reaches our heart and sprouts the fear of God, the fear of not being far from God. This fear, of alienation from God, fertilises the struggle for the purification of our hearts and the acquisition of virtues. This struggle lends itself to the pains and sufferings of childbirth. This spiritual goal gives birth to the spirit of salvation, synonymous with deification and sanctification. This spiritual goal forms Christ within us.”
His Grace Bishop Christodoulos of Magnesia also focused on the value of faith, which was highlighted through the sermon of His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia, during the short address to the congregation at the end of the Vespers service. His Eminence described the issue of faith as vital and a condition for spiritually experiencing not only the event of the Annunciation, but all major church events, culminating in the Resurrection of Christ that we will celebrate in a few weeks. He observed, however, that in modern times “many times, confused with knowledge and secularisation, we lose our bearings or, even worse, are ashamed of our faith. We are ashamed to confess that we are Greek Orthodox Christians.” In order to prevent such a spiritual decline, he paternally urged the faithful to always have as their model, the Virgin Mary, who was distinguished for her deep faith in God and ignored the opinions and judgments of the world. “We must keep this faith too”, he pointed out emphatically in closing, while he thanked Bishop Christodoulos and wished him that the Mother of God would bless him and sanctify him.