MOSCOW, April 7. /TASS/. Russian Orthodox Christians are marking the feast of Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, one of the twelve main feasts of the liturgical year that coincides in 2018 with the Holy Saturday.
On this day, the Church celebrates the event described in the Gospel According to Luke - the meeting between the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, during which he told Her the good news that She would give birth to the Savior.
This is one of the fixed-date feasts in the liturgical year and it is always marked on April 7 under the ‘new style’ Gregorian calendar of March 25 under the ‘old style’ Julian calendar, which is in effect in a number of Eastern Christian Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church.
March 25 under the Julian calendar is also the date, on which the Lord created man, and also the date on which He granted a chance for salvation to humankind.
Most typically, the feast of Annunciation falls on the days of the Great Lent. Far more rarely, it occurs during the Holy Week but sometimes it coincides with the Easter, in which case the latter becomes Kyriopascha, which means ‘the Lord’s Easter’, or ‘the Most Genuine Easter’, since the Christian tradition suggests that Christ’s resurrection from the dead took place exactly on March 25.
Coincidence of the Annunciation and the Easter is a very rare phenomenon. In the past century, it happened in 1912 and 1991. As for the 21st century, the two great feasts will coincide in 2075 and 2086.
According to the Gospels, the Virgin Mary was brought up at the Temple of Jerusalem since she was three years old. When She came of age, She was supposed to leave the Temple and either to marry or to return to her parents’ home.
Her parents had died by that time, however, and She devoted Herself to God, taking the vows of chastity. As a result, the high priests decided to place Her under the patronage of an elderly relative, man coming from the lineage of David. Their choice fell on the 80-year-old carpenter Joseph who lived in Nazareth and who came to be known later as Joseph the Betrothed.
Mary moved to Nazareth, too. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her several months later, telling Her that She would conceive of the Holy Spirit, which would descend on Her.
The words, with which the Archangel Gabriel hailed the Virgin, have turned into an Orthodox Christian prayer: "Rejoice Mary, Birthgiver of God, Virgin, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb." The Roman Catholic equivalent of this prayer is Ave Maria.
Annunciation is one of the most ancient feasts in Christianity. Tradition suggests that it was established in the middle of the 4th century by St Cyril I, the bishop of Jerusalem, but some sources said it was known already in the middle of the 3rd century.
St Helena, the mother of St Constantine the Great, a Roman Emperor, put up the first Basilica of Annunciation at the supposed place of the Virgin’s meeting with the Archangel Gabriel in Nazareth in the 4th century. It construction proceeded simultaneously with the construction of the Nativity Basilica in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
The dietary requirements of the Lent permit fish at dinner on two occasions - on Annunciation and on Palm Sunday but if Annunciation falls on the Holy Week, it is a regular Lenten day then.
In the Russian tradition, the priests and parishioners culminate the morning service by setting free small birds like goldfinches. For this purpose, the whole parish goes out of the church into the yard; the priests stop on the church building’s porch, take birds in their hands and let them fly away.
Some parishes use doves for this particular occasion. The tradition of setting free the doves re-emerged after decades of oblivion on April 7, 1995 when the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Alexy II, and students of a Russian Orthodox school in Moscow released dozens of doves from the porch of the Annunciation Cathedral in the Kremlin.