Icon of the Annunciation
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
The Archangel Gabriel is shown in swift motion, legs apart as if running intently to carry the message from God to the Virgin. The Staff held in his hand is the staff of a messenger. The Greek word "Kontakion" literally means "from a pole". A scroll was rolled up and placed inside a pole and sent by a messenger. The word "angel" means, "messenger" and in this Icon the Archangel carries the pole, which carries a message from God.
The Theotokos is shown in the icon either standing or sitting involved with her work usually with a pedestal under her feet. In some icons the focus of both the Theotokos and the angel is upward toward the circle and ray of light. The upturned face of the angel directs the Theotokos to the source of his message but his stance is forward toward the Theotokos who is the main focus of the icon. The pedestal shows honor toward the person and is used in icons of Christ, the Theotokos, John the Baptist and the Presentation icon with the figure of Simeon.
The first reading of the Divine Liturgy is the Epistle from Hebrews which focuses on the theme of re-creation of humanity in the likeness of the creator through the sanctification of the God-bearer: " For both he who sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all from one. From which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren...that through death he might destroy him who had the empire of death...Wherefore it was right that he should in all things be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. "
The Gospel reading is the story of the Annunciation and the content of the icon. Mary is greeted as on "highly favored" and "blessed" among women. This graciousness of God allowed Mary to question the angel because of her wisdom and self-control. This can be compared to Zachary who questions and in struck dumb. Following Gabriel's reply that by the power of the Holy Spirit the Holy One to be born is the Son of God and the revelation of the miracle of pregnancy of her elder cousin, Elizabeth, replies her assent "Behold the handmaid of God..." The content of this Scripture is iconographically written in the catacomb of Pricilla, which is attributed to the second century.
The icon of the Annunciation is one that presents the joy of the announcement of the coming of Christ. It is an icon of bright colors, depicting the Archangel Gabriel, who has descended from heaven, and the Virgin Mary, who has been chosen to be the Mother of God. The Archangel is shown with his feet spread apart as if he is running to share the good news with Mary. In his left hand is a staff, the symbol of a messenger. His right hand is extended toward Mary as he delivers the message and announces the blessing bestowed upon her by God. On the right side of the icon the Virgin sits on an elevated seat, indicating that as the Mother of God she is “greater in honor than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word.”
In her left hand she holds a spindle of scarlet yarn which depicts the task she was assigned of preparing the purple and scarlet material to be used in making the veil for the Temple in Jerusalem. Her right hand is raised in a gesture of acceptance in response to Gabriel’s message. Her posture expresses willing cooperation with God’s plan of salvation. The three stars on her garments represent that she was a Virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ. At the top of the icon the segment of a circle represents the divine realm, from which three rays emerge. This demonstrates the action of the Holy Spirit coming upon her.