B'. ICONS PERTAINING TO THE TWELVE FEASTS
1. THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE THEOTOKOS
The person of the Theotokos is mentioned many times and in many ways, during divine Worship. Many also are the liturgical elements that help us keep the Mother of God in our thoughts. The hymns sung during divine Worship often refer to her. The blessed hymn-writers compete amongst themselves, to find praises, adjectives, images, rhetorical expressions that befit her; and all this, to better describe the Theotokos' place in the mystery of Christ's incarnation, in the life of the Church, and in the hearts of the faithful.
Beyond the hymn-writing, there are also the divine services and the feast-days that are especially dedicated to the Holy Mother, for whom the hymns were written. Our Church has dedicated special services and festivals, in honorary adoration of the Holy Mother of God. With the familiar "Paraclesis Canons" (the Major and the Minor), the "Non-Sedentary Hymn" and the so-called "Maternal feast-days", the faithful express the feelings of love, gratitude and devotion that they harbor for the "unblemished, immaculate, incorruptible, pure Virgin, our Lady, the Bride of God".
Finally, many icons have been crafted and many holy temples have been erected, in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos. They bear a variety of names, all related to the characteristics that the Church bestowed upon the Holy Mother, such as the "Swift Respondent", the "Charitable", the "All-Blessed", the "Guide", the "Consoler", the "Omni-Queen", the "Prominent", etc.
All these titles are justified. She " donated her flesh to the all-creating Logos " (from the Canon of the Pentecost, ode 9), thus, as saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain said: " for a donation of this magnitude, she caused the Son of God to be indebted to her ". It is only fair, that saint Andreas of Crete lauds her with the words: " You rejoice, together with God, as a God who has second place by the Holy Trinity " (Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain , "Theotokarion", p.107).
The various events of the Theotokos' life are excellently portrayed in our Byzantine icons. In them, her posture and her facial characteristics express the sentiments of her pure and bountiful heart, and they also remind us of her chastity, her faith and her humility; above all, her role in the incarnation of the Lord.
The Theotokos' contribution to the incarnation of the Logos of God is brought to the minds of the faithful by our Church, during the feast of the Annunciation. The divine service of this feast-day is based on the narration of Luke the Evangelist:
" In the sixth month of the year, the angel Gabriel was sent forth by God to a town in the Galilee province by the name of Nazareth, unto a virgin maid who was betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Mariam. Approaching her, the angel said to her: 'Rejoice, o grace-filled one, the Lord is with you. You have been blessed, among all women.' Upon hearing this, she became disturbed with his words, and wondered to herself what kind of greeting this was. And the angel said to her: "Fear not, Mariam; you have been favored by God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father. And he will reign over the house of Jacob for all time, and his kingdom will never end.' And Mariam said to the angel: 'How can this happen to me, since I have not associated with a man?' And the angel replied to her: 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; that is why your divine offspring will be called the Son of God'. And Mariam said: 'Behold, the maidservant of the Lord. May this happen to me, according to your words.' And the angel departed from her" (from the Bible excerpt of the feast-day, Luke 1, 26-38).
All that the blessed Evangelist has set forth above, is summarized in the closing hymn of the feast-day of the Annunciation: " Today is the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the all-time mystery: the Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel joyously announces this divine favor. Hence we, along with him, cry out to the Holy Virgin: 'Rejoice, o grace-filled one, the Lord is with you! ". This closing hymn - along with the other hymns of this feast - re-creates for us the moment when the archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mariam that, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, she is to become the Mother of God.
Everything that Luke the Evangelist narrates and the sensitive language of poetry so beautifully expresses in our hymns, can also be seen portrayed in Byzantine icons of the Annunciation. The stance of the bodies, their expressions and their gestures, as well as the colours and the other details of this portrayal, all annotate the event.
Description of the icon (pic.4): (a) The Archangel Gabriel. He is the "master-of-events" angel, the messenger of God who brought the joyous announcement to the chaste daughter of Nazareth . His posture in the icon is characteristic of his joy of being the bearer of this news. Albeit the archangel appears standing on the ground, he is portrayed in a rushing movement that is made evident by the open stride of his legs. In the Daphni Monastery's Annunciation icon, the impression is masterfully given, in that the angel's flight has not quite ended and yet he is already addressing the Theotokos. In his left hand, Gabriel holds a sceptre or rod - symbolic of a messenger - and not a lily, as western art has accustomed us. His right hand is outstretched in a vigorous movement towards the Theotokos, indicating an ongoing conversation. He is crying out to her, according to the familiar verse: " What praise could I offer, that is worthy of you? What could I name you? I wonder, and I stand amazed. Therefore, as I have been commanded, I cry out to you: Rejoice, o Grace-filled one! ".
(b) The Theotokos. The Mother of God is the "Grace-filled one", the most blessed among women. The Byzantine icon of the Annunciation portrays her as seated on her throne, or, in other icons, standing. Wherever the Theotokos is portrayed in a seated position, it is because the icon is emphasizing her superiority to the archangel. As we know, our Church praises the Theotokos in its hymns, as " more valuable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim (of the angelic hosts)". Here, the hagiographer remains faithful to the apocryphal text. James' First Testament mentions that the Holy Mother " had taken the purple twine, sat on her throne and began to spin the yarn. And at that moment, an Angel came and stood before her ". In other icons, the Theotokos is portrayed standing. In this position, apparently she could hear the divine message much better.
With regard to the Theotokos, it is worth examining her sentiments, her thoughts and generally the state of her soul, at the moment of the Annunciation.
First of all, the sudden appearance of the archangel and his announcement surely must have shaken her. The spindle with the yarn that she - according to tradition (James' First Testament) - held in her hand had fallen to the floor from the shock that she experienced. She became lost in her thoughts. She contemplated the significance of the angelic greeting. She had no doubts; she did not disbelieve in the archangel's reassurance that she would become the Mother of God; she only asked very prudently: 'How can this happen to me, since I have not associated with a man?'. This is where the Theotokos differs from Eve. Eve was carried away by her ego, accepting everything that the serpent (Satan) had proposed, without any hesitation. Quite the opposite, the Theotokos, adorned with humility and obedient to God's will, asked in what way the predictions of God's messenger were to be fulfilled. When the archangel assured her that everything would happen by the grace of the Holy Spirit and the power of God (this is depicted by the overhead circle and the rays emanating from it, at the top of the icon), she unreservedly conceded, saying: 'Behold, the maidservant of the Lord. May this happen to me, according to your words' . In the Vespers glorification hymn of the feast-day, our Church rightly chants: " An angel ministers the miracle; a virginal womb receives the Son; the Holy Spirit is sent forth; the Father on high condescends, and the transaction is fulfilled, with mutual volition ". That is, everything happened with the mutual agreement, the desire, between God and the Virgin; the Creator and the created, because " the incarnation of the Logos was not only the work of the Father and His Powers and the Holy Spirit.... but also the will and faith of the Virgin ." (Saint John Kavasilas, the Mother of God , p. 134)
The Theotokos' perplexity and prudence - as they are described in the marvelous dialogues of the feast-day hymns - are also portrayed in other icons, as the spread palm of her right had. This gesture seems to be saying: " I am unversed in marriage; how can I beget a child? " (Verse 2 of a Vespers hymn).
Other icons of the Annunciation highlight the Theotokos' acquiescence to the words of the archangel. The Mother of God is portrayed with her head bowed (as in our icon), with her right hand placed over her bosom, or protruding from the folds of her outer garment. These details remind us of the 'Behold, the maidservant of the Lord...' . In our icon, the hagiographer has depicted in the posture of the Theotokos both her perplexity and her acquiescence. It portrays her with her head bowed, and herself deep in thought.
Gazing in reflection upon the icon of the Annunciation and kneeling before it in adoration, the faithful are filled with joy, and in gratitude, softly chant: " You, Theotokos, are truly worth beatifying, the most blessed and most immaculate, Mother of our God....