I was eight years old and it was a typical evening at home, probably a school night. As was typical in those days, the late 50s, in another cultural world now all but gone, a Catholic family would place a crucifix in each room of their house. I had one over my bed and could easily look at it to my right, as I lay in bed preparing for sleep. We were never taught to pray at home. In fact, my family was not at all religious beyond the Sunday mass attendance in common practice. In fact, I never saw my parents pray outside of Mass (the Roman Catholic nickname given to their liturgy). My father would attend the parish church for morning prayers during weekdays in Lent–as I remember in my small boy’s memory, since he would arouse me from sleep to accompany him there before going to school.
So, there I am, the 8 year old, awaiting sleep. I sensed being called. What is this? Who is in the room with me here? Who is summoning? I lay there, aware of a presence. Again, a call. The heart is a mystery; it breathes for, aspires to, and does not rest short of, the Voice. The ancient Hebrews called it the Qol Yhwh: the Voice of the LORD. When God speaks, “let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Everything in the mind and heart trembles and grows still: “the Voice of the LORD is upon the waters, the Voice of the LORD shatters cedars,… grinds the cedars of Lebanon to powder, the Voice of the Lord cuts through fiery flames; … shakes the desert of Kadesh… and in His temple, everyone says ‘Glory!'” (Ps 28). I lay there in fear and wonderment, perplexed as to how to respond. What answer can I give? What is His Name?
I rolled out of bed, dropped to my knees and took up these words, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Ok, so that is what the nuns who were my school teachers taught us to pray. It was awkward and I felt embarrassed. The moment passed. I lay in bed and fell asleep and did not awake again for 11 long, painful years. But I said the NAME; Jesus. She taught me to do that, “whatever He tells you, do it!” (Mary to the servants at the wedding in Cana, the first of Jesus’ miracles: John 2: 5). And that ONE who carries the Name of salvation, Jesus, would call me again, for keeps…
In the Orthodox Church, we use the angelic salutation as a way to stand with the Virgin and share in her holy moment when the uncreated Master of the Ages overshadowed her. With these words, the Angel announced the conception of God to become man. He announced it: Annunciation, Evangelismos, in Greek. The event and the feast is the Evangelism of God-become-man! Mary is the select vessel: pure, obedient, ready to serve God. “The angels offer a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, a cave; the wilderness, a manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother. O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!” (prosomoion for Vespers, Feast of Nativity).