The Feast of the Annunciation & the Veneration of the Cross
This year the two feasts coincide: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent, the Week of the Cross, is March 25th, the Annunciation. In her wisdom, the Church calls for the Holy Cross to be placed on an analogion in the center of the nave throughout this middle week of Lent so that we, who are likely at this point to be fatigued by fasting and in danger of faltering, may be encouraged and strengthened in our resolve to keep the Fast.
This year, for the single day of the Annunciation, the icon of this Great Feast will also be set out on an analogion …
What a remarkable combination! In the icon we see the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary the unbelievable good news that God has chosen to enter His world and become one of us through her; and right next to this icon we see the Cross, the instrument of torture and death by means of which the world killed this very Man.
The icon tells us the astonishing truth that the Creator of the Universe cares about us, and more than that, loves us! And simultaneously the Cross tells us the even more astonishing truth that He loves us so much as to willingly die a brutal death for us- because that is what it takes for us to inherit life. In the Tradition of the Church the connection between these two- the Annunciation and the Crucifixion- has long been the subject of deep reflection and mystical contemplation.
In the hymnography of the Church there is a large category of stichera and troparia to the Mother of God standing at the foot of the Cross; stavrotheotokia they are called. They turn up in the daily services on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. If one opens the Matins service appointed exactly for this midde day of Lent, one will find this Stavrotheotokion:
The all-holy Virgin Mother of God the Word cried weeping and lamenting: “Such are the good tidings of joy that Gabriel brought me. Go forth then, Child, to fulfil the secret counsel of the divine plan of salvation.”