06 July 2024

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
58, Saturday 6 July 2024

The icon of the Annunciation in the new iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar and tomorrow is the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI). The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship day remembers Thomas More, Scholar, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Reformation Martyrs (1535).

Before today begins – indeed, before I even think of facing a choice between making breakfast or going to sleep for a few hours – I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the icons in the new iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The icon depicting the Annunciation is the final icon to the right among the 12 feasts depicted in the upper tier of the new iconostasis in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on images to view full screen)

Matthew 9: 14-17 (NRSVUE):

14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding attendants cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are ruined, but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

The Archangel Gabriel and the Theotokos or Virgin Mary … two circular icons in Royal Doors of the iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stony Stratford iconostasis 21: the Annunciation (Ἡ Ευαγγελισμός):

In recent weeks, I have been watching the building and installation of the new iconostasis or icon screen in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. In my prayer diary over these weeks, I am reflecting on this new iconostasis, and the theological meaning and liturgical significance of its icons and decorations.

The lower, first tier of a traditional iconostasis is sometimes called Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates or Royal Doors facing forward is an icon of Christ, often as the Pantokrator, representing his second coming, and on the left is an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), symbolising the incarnation. It is another way of saying all things take place between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

The six icons on the lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford depict Christ to the right of the Royal Doors, as seen from the nave of the church, and the Theotokos or the Virgin Mary to the left. All six icons depict (from left to right): the Dormition, Saint Stylianos, the Theotokos, Christ Pantocrator, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ambrosios.

Traditionally, the upper tier has an icon of the Mystical Supper in the centre, with icons of the Twelve Great Feasts on either side, in two groups of six: the Nativity of the Theotokos (8 September), the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September), the Presentation of the Theotokos (21 November), the Nativity of Christ (25 December), the Baptism of Christ (6 January), the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2 February), the Annunciation (25 March), the Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Ascension, Pentecost, the Transfiguration (6 August) and the Dormition (15 August).

In Stony Stratford, these 12 icons in the top tier, on either side of the icon of the Mystical Supper, are (from left): the Ascension, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Raising of Lazarus and the Crucifixion; and the Harrowing of Hell or the Resurrection, the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Pentecost, the Transfiguration, the Presentation and the Annunciation.

The final icon in this top tier of 12 icons in Stony Stratford is the icon of the Annunciation or Ευαγγελισμός (Evangelismós).

The Annunciation of the Theotokos (Ευαγγελισμός της Θεοτόκου) is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church. It is third in the list of Great Feasts, after the Nativity of the Lord and Holy Theophany, and is celebrated on 25 March, which always falls during Great Lent.

The word Evangelismos (Ευαγγελισμός) means the announcement of the Good News of the salvation of humankind by the Lord our God.

This story of the Annunciation is told in Luke 1: 26-38. The Feast commemorates the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, who was living in Nazareth, that she would conceive and give birth to Christ, the Son of God. The biblical story of the Feast of the Annunciation is told in Saint Luke’s Gospel (1: 26-39).

On the Feast of the Annunciation, Orthodox Christians commemorate both the divine initiative of God and the human response of the Virgin Mary.

The icon of the Annunciation presents the joy of the announcement of the coming of Christ. It is an icon of bright colours, depicting the Archangel Gabriel (left), who has come from heaven, and the Virgin Mary, who has been chosen to be the Mother of God.

The Archangel Gabriel presents the good news of the coming of Christ to Mary. He 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 on her by God.

On the right side of the icon, the Virgin Mary sits on an elevated seat, indicating that as the Mother of God she is ‘greater in honour 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 or crimson yarn that depicts the task she is engaged in of making the purple and scarlet material used in making the veil for the Temple in Jerusalem.

Her right hand is raised in a gesture of acceptance in response to the Archangel Gabriel’s message. Her posture expresses willing co-operation with God’s plan of salvation.

The three stars on the garments of the Theotokos represent that she is 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. In other depictions of the same icon, Christ himself – as a man – is shown in this semi-circle.

The Annunciation in a double fresco in the Church of Panaghia Dexia in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 6 July 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Saint Luke’s Hospital, Nablus.’ This theme was introduced last Sunday with a programme update.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Saturday 6 July 2024) invites us to pray reflecting on these words:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73: 26).

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, we beseech you,
that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered
by your governance,
that your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Almighty God,
send down upon your Church
the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who minister the gospel
your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of Trinity VI:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The new iconostasis or icon stand installed in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford in recent weeks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

An introduction to the Stony Stratford iconostasis (15 June 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary in icons of the Annunciation in Lichfield Cathedral (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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