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Entrance of the Holy Theotokos
Entrance of the Holy Theotokos.
Entry of the Holy Theotokos Into the Temple.

The feast of the Entry of the Holy Theotokos into the temple is a marvelous model of our entry into the Heavenly Kingdom. The church itself symbolizes the Kingdom of God on earth. In church we see the altar table, which is like a throne on which the Lord God sits, just as He does on His heavenly throne. In church, through the partaking of holy communion, we become united with the Lord Himself. In church, as in heaven, we are surrounded by hosts of angels and saints. In church, by means of the divine services we glorify God, as do the angels and saints in heaven.

When the righteous Joachim and Anna brought the Holy Virgin to the temple, they offered to the Lord a gift that was most pure.

So should we, in order to enter the Heavenly Realm, be absolutely pure, because the Lord Himself said that nothing unclean can enter the Kingdom of God. But we can cleanse ourselves of our sins and all manner of spiritual impurity only through the sacrament of penitence, through confession and communion.

As the righteous parents of the Holy Virgin prepared to take Her to the temple, they first dressed Her in royal garments, adorned Her, and provided Her with an escort of maidens carrying lighted candles. So should we, in order to enter the Heavenly Realm, first clothe our souls in the garment of obedience to the Lords commandments, adorn our souls with virtues, and accompany them with the lighted candles of prayer and charity.

Upon arriving at the temple, the 3-year-old Infant Mary had to make an effort to ascend 15 high steps in order to enter the temple. So should we, in order to enter the Heavenly Realm, make the effort to ascend the ladder of virtues, to labor at fasting and prayer. The Holy Virgin went up the steps by Herself, without any help from others, but with the miraculous help of God. So should we, in our attempt to attain the Heavenly Realm, make the effort ourselves, but constantly asking God for help along the way.

Such is the lesson we receive from this wondrous holiday! The Holy Mother of God, by entering the temple, clearly shows us the Way, and through the earthly temple lies the way into the heavenly temple, the Kingdom of God. Let us follow the Holy Theotokos into the temple, into the church. Now is the time of the Nativity fast, a time for preparing oneself to greet the Saviour on earth, a time for purifying oneself through fasting, prayer and repentance, a time of increased church attendance. Let us not pass by this important period of time, for from this holiday, and throughout the entire Nativity fast, we will hear in church the joyous tidings of our coming salvation, we will hear the joyous appeal: Christ is born - glorify Him!

Homily for the Entry of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple

Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple
Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple

The Entry of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple is one of the twelve major church feasts and is numbered among those that affect our salvation. What takes place on this day? The three-year-old Child, the Most-holy Virgin Mary, is brought by Her parents to the temple of Jerusalem. She is placed on the temple steps and, moved by Divine revelation, the high priest Zacharias comes out to Her and leads Her into the Holy of Holies the place where God Himself was mysteriously present, the place which no man could ever enter except the high priest, who, moreover, went in only once a year and not without sacrificial blood. And it is precisely this place, the Holy of Holies, which the Virgin Mary enters, invisibly carrying within Herself a new, living sacrifice the forthcoming Christ, Saviour of the world, Who will sacrifice Himself in order to deliver all men from sin and death.

This holiday is wondrous, as sings the Church, not finding words to express the inexpressible joy, hope and expectation which commence with todays event.

From a mysterious and grace-filled seed there will grow up a new covenant between God and man. The Saviours most-pure, animate temple the Most-holy Maiden, precious bridal chamber, sacred treasure of Gods glory is led into the Lords temple. And She brings with Her the foreshadowing of Gods goodwill to all of mankind, the beginning of a new covenant between God and man, the end of the many centuries of mans alienation from God, and the end of our bondage to sin. Only a brief time remains, only several more years, for the fulfillment of that which the entire humanity awaits the appearance of God Himself in the flesh, by way of the Most-holy Virgin.

She will be brought up in Gods temple a place of holiness, purity and the power of God. She will be nourished by Divine grace, in order to become capable of containing Divinity Itself, so that the mystery of Gods incarnation could take place through Her. She must become used to conversing with the angels, in order to harken to the Archangel Gabriels glad tidings. She must encompass God within Her heart, in order to truly become a new temple of God.

We are all familiar with the words of the Apostle Paul: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. This mystery is revealed to us because we are called upon to become the temples of God, and this is the reason for todays celebration.

Todays feast reminds us of the unique significance of man-made temples (i.e. churches). Let us ponder today: what is a church of God? When we come here today to celebrate the feast, we not only participate in wondrous hymn-singing, but we touch upon eternity, which is always present in a church of God. And nothing else in life makes sense except in the light of eternity. We should ponder this and repent of how often we remain deaf and blind to these great mysteries, and reject Gods gifts.

The Church cannot save us by itself. For our salvation we must actively participate in church life. The Lord calls upon us today to think of this, and to see the sinful condition in which each one of us lives. The Lord continues to await our repentance. He continues to patiently tolerate our detrimental lack of faith, and continuously wishes to enfold us within His grace, in order that we may be saved from the terrible misfortunes that are coming upon the world.

And we know that the Most-holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the suffering mankind that is being destroyed by its sins, will surely intercede for all those who appeal to Her with faith and love, and who offer their lives unto Her.

Let us thank God that our churches are still standing, and that the Lord and the Mother of God are present in them along with us. We magnify Thee, O Most-holy Virgin, God-chosen Maiden, and we honor Thine Entry into the Temple of the Lord.

The feast of the Entry of the Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, into the temple is a feast of the Church itself. It is also a feast of all of us, because the Holy Virgin, ascending the steps of the temple of Jerusalem, presages not only Her future life, Her ascension into the Holy of Holies, but also presages the affiliation of mankind with Christs way of the cross and with His Resurrection. This feast tells us that the Mother of God, Who now enters the Holy of Holies, is even greater than the Holy of Holies. By the grace of God She is more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim. She is above all creation. And not only by the grace of God, but by the hope of all of mankind, which has rushed towards this light, towards this holy of holies, towards this focal point of life and the source of life itself the Lord through the darkness of ages, through all sorrows, through all the sins and horrors of history.

The entry of the Most-holy Mother of God into the Holy of Holies is revealed to us as the path each one of us must take. It has been said: The virgins that follow Her shall be brought unto the king, Her companions shall be brought unto Thee (Psalm 45:14). This has been said about every person and primarily about children. For this reason children participate in a special way in todays feast along with us. This is always very joyful, because if everyone were to participate in what the Lord gives us, our entire being would be transformed. The salvation which the Lord grants us depends on our offering of our children and on our own lives. It also depends primarily on how we lead our children through life, for what we prepare them and to what we actually dedicate them. What Joachim and Anna did was a great labor of love. Having been barren their entire life, they gave up their sole daughter. They gave Her to God, dedicated Her to the Lord, as though they separated Her from themselves, in order that She belong entirely to God alone.

What Joachim and Anna have done, offering to God the fruit of their prayers, far exceeds any spiritual labors that we could set up as an example. But let us ponder the following: often we find ourselves in a situation similar to these people Joachim and Anna, when misfortune befalls us, when we are in need, when we are ready to promise the Lord everything, say all kinds of words of love, just so He would help us, would deliver us from such a state. And then sorrow passes, need passes. But when the time comes to fulfill our promise, we begin to vacillate. We begin to delay the fulfillment of our own words: I will definitely do this, Lord, only I pray Thee, do such-and-such for me, what I ask of Thee. And for this reason our life turns out to be barren. It is barren not in terms of childlessness (although that may also be possible), but in a deeper and more significant sense.

Thinking about this, we should pray today to the Lord and the Mother of God that we may be granted the grace of understanding that we have a true life, that we may be aware that the event which the Church celebrates today is the entry of the holy 3-year-old maiden into the Holy of Holies and Her sanctification by the grace of God for Her future encompassing of God the Word. And all of this for the fulfillment of the sacrament of Gods incarnation and for our salvation, which is already coming to pass. For it is not in vain that we sing: Christ is born glorify Him, Christ descends from heaven meet ye Him.

Remember that our salvation has actually come to pass already, and it is not only a remembrance. Over and over again we are given the Lent and the approach to the Nativity of Christ in order for our life to become truly more profound, truly deepen with the knowledge of the one unique mystery that God has become man, that He is present in the life and destiny of each one of us. He always hears our every prayer, because there is no longer that curse which used to hang over every person, there is no longer that inescapable and ineffaceable stamp of evil which tainted mankind before Christs incarnation. The way to heaven is open to every person. We must only desire and want genuine truth, genuine beauty, and the light which had once shone for us, the light which the Lord sometimes gives back to us, and without which everything becomes extinguished.

What can we bring to the Lord on this feast day? The parents of the Most-holy maiden Mary Joachim and Anna brought Him their own child, but what shall we give the Lord? Does the One to Whom belongs the entire earth and before Whom all the stars in heaven shine need the candles and the vigil lights which we offer to God? They are needed only to testify to the meaningfulness of our prayers and our standing before God. There are no other sacrifices which we can offer Him except one, of which He says: Son, give Me thy heart, because our heart is the only thing which does not yet fully belong to Him. He has given us His own heart and wishes us to give Him ours. He, Who loves us and gives all of Himself for us, is waiting for our love in return.

Let us pray to God that we may learn this love. Every person understands what reciprocal love is, and how terrible is unrequited love. It is precisely love which each person needs, every human soul needs. And the Lord Himself needs us to love Him with all our heart, all our thoughts, all our strength, our entire life. And to love God means to keep His commandments, as He Himself has said. Only when we keep His commandments can we learn what this all means and of what kind of love Christ is speaking. Only then can we learn this love and be worthy of the Lord, be able to stand up for Christs honor in this world where childhood, purity, and sanctity are being defiled. And this we can accomplish only when we go to church and receive Gods grace there, which is always given as long as we are turned towards the Lord.

Let us entreat the Lord for this incorruptible wealth, which He bountifully grants to all of us by the prayers and intercession of the Holy Theotokos. Let us also entreat Him for the ability to respond to His immeasurable gifts with our love, our entire life, the offering of our children to Him. And most precious of all the unity which we achieve through Him. Amen.

Protopriest Alexander Shargunov

 

Mother of the unfathomable light

 

Entry into the temple

There are many priceless pearls to be found in the spiritual treasury of the Church. They bring joy and light to the one who approaches them with love and faith. But the most precious of them all is the Most-holy and Most-blessed Mother of the Unfathomable Light, the “warm protectress of the cold world,” the Theotokos Virgin Mary.

It is hard to comprehend the Church’s veneration of the Mother of God for someone who is far away from the Church, who belongs to the sheep “not of this fold.” Only within the Church may one see the brilliance of Her Most-pure Visage. Only in the living church Tradition does Her glittering image live and will live forever… And the present feast of the Entry of the Most-Holy Theotokos into the temple is truly a feast of the church Tradition.

A mystery of faith takes place… As a 3-year-old maiden the Virgin Mary is brought by Her pious parents into the holy bounds of the temple of Jerusalem. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the high priest leads Her into the holy of holies, presaging with this entrance the forthcoming incarnation. “The most pure temple of the Saviour, the most precious bridal-chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasury of the glory of God, is on this day brought into the house of the Lord, bringing with Her the grace that is in the Divine Spirit” – joyously sings the holy Church on this day.

And on this same day, for the first time in the cycle of yearly services, it sings the majestic hymn to the coming Christ: “Christ is born – glorify Him! Christ cometh from heaven – meet ye Him! Christ is on earth, be ye exalted!”… Christ and the Theotokos… How inseparably are the Son of Man and the Mother of God joined together in the mind and heart of the church world! He is coming into the world to save the sinners… She is the best and the holiest that the earth could present to its Redeemer. And not only there, in the high blue dome and beyond the bounds of countless worlds, but here, too, in the sorrowful vale of tears, the Blessed One continues to stand at the Cross on Golgotha.

Centuries pass… Empires fall and thrones are destroyed, but She still stands and intercedes for those who come to Her with faith and love. The Theotokos eternally lives in the Church, eternally spreads Her omophorion over the sorrowful and embittered world… Being humble Herself, She seeks true worshippers among the humble, who venerate Her in the Spirit and the truth.

Saint blessed fool-for-Christ Andrew was shown a vision of the luminous paradisiacal dwellings. He was also shown the indescribable glory of the triumphant host of Saints. He saw there the prophets, the apostles, the venerable ones, and the entire multitudinous host of God’s saints. Only the Mother of God he could not find in this shining world… “Where is the Most-pure?” – he asked in bewilderment… “She is there, on earth, among the sorrowing and the suffering,” – replied the heavenly denizen…

Truly, brethren, the Mother of God is not far from us all… She is next to us, right here in the boiling cauldron of earthly worries. We must only distance ourselves from our usual half-belief, we must seek communion with that indescribable world where pure hearts gaze with pure eyes upon the Face of God…

Among our daily busyness and constant earthly vanity, may this present feast, dedicated to the Entrance of the Holy Mother of God into the temple, serve as a joyous and uplifting reminder of the perfect joy of the future life.

In our sorrows, illnesses, and frequent embitterment, may we always keep before our eyes the image of the One Whose heart “was pierced by a sword.”

And may the constant and heartfelt prayer of each one of us be: “Do not spurn me from Thine Visage, O Mother of the Unfathomable Light.” Amen.

 

(Hieromonk Methody, “Before the eyes of God’s truth”)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia, No. 13, 2007)

 

The Holy Theotokos enters into the temple… and what about us?

Entry into the templeIn the beginning of the Nativity fast, dear brethren, we celebrate the glorious entry of the three-year-old child Mary, blessed daughter of the righteous Joachim and Anna, into the temple of Jerusalem, in order to be brought up to serve the Lord. Since the Holy Virgin was brought specifically to the temple, which became Her abode and where She was prepared for Her great destiny to become the Mother of God, let us talk about the benefit and the need for us, too, to come to church, which is an abode of God and the place where we are prepared for the heavenly homeland.

We are called Christians, and all of us have been summoned by the Lord Jesus Christ to enter the heavenly homeland. But in order to enter it, we must be found worthy. Only in church can we attain the requisite knowledge of how to become worthy and how to enter the heavenly homeland, the Heavenly Kingdom. In church we partake of the Holy Mysteries, without which we cannot cleanse our souls. In church we hear the word of God in the reading of the Holy Gospel and other scriptures during the services.

In order to reach the kingdom of God we must acquire a righteous, meek, and humble spirit. Who will show us what constitutes our Christian name and responsibilities, and how we should conduct ourselves in the different circumstances of life? All of this is taught to us by the Church, which is filled with a heavenly, unearthly spirit. Here is the school of the Lord Jesus Christ, in which future citizens of the heavenly realm are educated.

The benefit and the need for a Christian to come to church is revealed even more clearly when we compare the church with the vain world in which we prefer to spend more time than in church. What do we find in the world and what do we find in church?

In the world at every step we find vanity, deceit, vice; in church we find only truth, sanctity, and virtue. In the world we see destruction, sin, death; in church we witness the incorruptibility of saints and eternal life. Beyond the walls of the church we come upon objects of vanity, carnal temptations, the rudeness of people, physical and spiritual filth. Within the confines of the church we find physical and spiritual cleanliness; there is no pornography here, but there are icons that show us the purity and the beauty of the spiritual world. Within the church we are not exposed to any earthly temptations which destroy our soul; instead, we are summoned to attain perfection.

In church we find rest for our hearts, which are battered by the terrible bustle of the world and by the constant fruitless rushing around. In church we find healing for our souls, which are wounded by sins and passions and depressed by the surrounding world. The modern world, in its current state, stands on the brink of ruin and destruction. In our Orthodox Church we touch upon constancy and eternity. Where we will find ourselves in this eternity will largely depend on how we come to church and how we take part in the services.

Even before She was born, the Holy Virgin was destined to become the Mother of God. Her pious parents could have brought Her up in their home or in any other place. But they brought Her to the temple, and this indicates to us the importance and the need to come to church in order to attain spiritual perfection.

Let us follow the uplifting example of the Mother of God, and let us come to church as often as possible, in order to partake of the Holy Mysteries that are so essential to the salvation of our souls. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

 

 

***

Today the Church celebrates the Most-holy Virgin Mary’s glorious entry into the temple. This event was foreseen and predestined by God before the ages – before the creation of the angelic world, before the existence of heaven and earth, – as was the fall of one third of the angels and of all mankind foreseen by God and allowed to happen, for – as the Apostle says – all God’s deeds are known to Him from the beginning of the ages. Through God’s infinite goodness and by His word countless bright angels, of various ranks and orders, were brought out of nothingness into being, were endowed with wondrous, God-like beauty and immortality, and one of them was distinguished from all the others by a greatly superior mind, brightness (for this reason he was called Lucifer, i.e. morning star), power and beauty; because he was especially close to God, this bright angel began to think too highly of himself and of his perfections, and instead of being grateful to God, from Whom he had received everything he had, – he fell into great pride and desired to be equal to God and to establish his own renegade kingdom, enticing one third of the angelic world to follow in his wake.

He was blinded by pride: he became resolved and unrepentant in his intent, as were those whom he had lured along with him, and so God’s grace left him and all the renegades, and they turned into a force of evil, pride, and eternal rebellion, and declared war on – whom? – on God Himself and on all the other faithful and good angels; and when man was created and was subjected to a test of loyalty and obedience to God, – the fallen Lucifer, appearing to the first woman, Eve, in the form of a serpent, tempted her and her husband, and made them rebel against their Creator and Benefactor. Thus through the first people occurred the fall of the entire mankind.

God is true to Himself and remains eternal and immutable in His holiness, truth, and goodness, while His loyal, God-like and blessed creation was transformed into a willful, disloyal, malicious and evil entity, which turned away from Him and for this became subject to God’s wrath, damnation, and death.

Man was pitifully robbed by the serpent, deprived of his divine image, left with only some poor, distorted, and pitiful remnants of God’s likeness, and became a slave to the devil, being subjected to all manner of depravity, especially paganism. But even in the fallen mankind, in its subsequent generations, there were concealed great treasures, as witnessed in some of its future descendants, such as Enoch, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, David, and first and foremost among them – the Virgin Mary, whom God foresaw from eternity and whom He chose to accomplish His divine plan for the salvation of mankind.

What does God’s grace do for the salvation of perishing mankind? To save man, one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity Himself became man, in order to fulfill the obedience of Adam, Eve, and all of mankind, in order to satisfy God’s justice, to take upon Himself all of mankind’s sins, damnation, and death, in order to trample upon death by means of His own divine death, to overcome death’s sting, arise from the dead, and grant resurrection and eternal life to all. Wondrous are Thy deeds, O Lord, our Saviour!

Thus it was decided in God’s pre-eternal council that the Son of God Himself would become man without ceasing to be God, and would fulfill the will of His Father concerning the salvation of mankind. But who could serve as the means of incarnation? All people were sinful, while the All-just could not be born from sin. What communion is there between light and darkness, between truth and iniquity?

The incarnation takes place supernaturally, for wherever God so desires – the order of nature is superseded. According to the will of God the Father, a Most-pure Virgin, purified by the Holy Spirit, is chosen for the incarnation of the Son of God, is brought up from childhood in the Holy of Holies, and upon Her coming of age a messenger is sent to Her – a holy Archangel – to give Her glad tidings of the conception of the Son of God in Her virginal womb. The Holy Virgin accepts the tidings with obedience, – and so the Son of God is conceived within Her and in due time is born.

Here is the miracle of miracles, – the supreme, unfathomable, salvific, and at the same time awe-inspiring sacrament of the incarnation of God the Word, Who still continues to create mankind with His Word.

It is for this that out of all generations a pure Virgin was chosen, was ceremoniously brought into the temple as a three-year-old child, and was brought up by the Holy Spirit to be the Mother and the abode of God the Word.

Rejoice, faithful Christians, in such leniency on the part of God towards fallen mankind! Let all celebrate with a pure heart the entry of the Mother of God into the temple, and let all glorify and laud the Theotokos, Protector of all faithful Christians, and our Intercessor before Her Son and God!

Be loyal to God’s Church and come to it to be reared for the Heavenly Kingdom. Take into abhorrence all sin, which is the cause of both temporary and eternal perdition, and instead do deeds of truth and holiness, walking in the fear of God. Amen.

St. John of Kronstadt

***

Entry into the Temple

The feast of the entry of the Most-holy Theotokos – a three-year-old Child and the future Mother of God – into the temple of Jerusalem symbolizes for us the Holy Virgin’s ascension up the steps of the temple straight to God and the ascension of all of believing mankind in Her footsteps. But what did this mysterious ascension of the God-pleasing Maiden, Who was led by the high priest into the Holy of Holies, signify?

Before entering the Holy of Holies She entered the Holy – the tabernacle into which only priests and Levites were allowed to enter. As we know from the Scriptures, the tabernacle contained a golden lamp with seven branches that was the only source of light there, as a sign that the God-chosen people of Israel must bring light to other peoples after being themselves enlightened by the Light of the world – the coming Christ. Here there were also the 12 loaves of offering, according to the number of the tribes of Israel, as the sign of the constant presence of God, Who nourishes the faithful, and as a symbol of the Bread of life – the coming Christ.

We see here the fullness of God’s gifts. However, the main mystery from which everything else arises was that only once a year, on the day of purification, and only the high priest alone could enter the Holy of Holies. And “not without blood,” as the Holy Scriptures say. When the high priest sprinkled the ark of the covenant with sacrificial blood which represented the forthcoming Blood of Christ, then God, as the Scriptures tell us, looked not upon the sins of the people, who stood accused by the ten commandments, but upon the future sacrifice of Christ, which He was to offer for the sins of the whole world.

No one, not a single Old Testament believer except for the high priest, and that only once a year, could dare enter the Holy of Holies through the thick curtain which divided God from the people. Only through Christ’s death, when His most-holy Body was being torn up on the Cross, and when the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, did the way into the dwelling of God the Father become open to all. Such are the depths of contact with God into which the Most-holy Virgin Mary enters today and brings with Her all of mankind. This is why today the Church sings for the first time: “Christ is born – glorify Him!”, and reveals to us the mystery of God Who will become man, and the mystery of man.

In falling away from God, man can never become man, because his fall and his madness lie precisely in his attempt to follow the serpent’s advice to “live like gods,” and in his dislike of being simply a man. Thus God became man, in order to save man through forgiveness of his sin – the sin of non-acceptance of our human dignity, the sin of rejection of that humanity of ours which resides in each person and was manifested by Christ Himself. We stand before this mystery, knowing that never before has there been such desecration of man, such dehumanization of man as in today’s world, and especially of children, who are encompassed in today’s joyous celebration.

But let us also remember that God’s precious temple, whose mysterious depths reveal to us in today’s feast our contact with God through the mystery of our ascension to Him, should likewise be inseparably bound with everything that takes place in our lives, particularly with our opposition to satanic evil. We must be ready to ascend for the sake of Christ, for the sake of our children (and not only during the Nativity fast, not only when we are standing in God’s church, but throughout our entire lives), in order to reach the mystery which today’s feast reveals to us: the mystery of God’s depletion for our sake, the mystery of His divine incarnation, the mystery of the Cross and of our own depletion in life and in death. We must not be deceived by any riches, in acquiring which man thinks that he no longer needs anything else and can safely delete God from his life, – and so he loses everything and ceases being man.

May God grant that our life be like this feast of ascension into God’s temple, ascension towards the mystery of communion which unites us with Christ and, through our own ascension, may we help others enter this eternal temple of life. Amen.

 

* * *

Entry into the Temple

The feast of the Entry of the Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, into the temple is a feast of the Church itself. It is also a feast of all of us, because the Holy Virgin, ascending the steps of the temple of Jerusalem, presages not only Her future life, Her ascension into the Holy of Holies, but also presages the affiliation of mankind with Christ’s way of the cross and with His Resurrection. This feast tells us that the Mother of God, Who now enters the Holy of Holies, is even greater than the Holy of Holies. By the grace of God She is more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim. She is above all creation. And not only by the grace of God, but by the hope of all of mankind, which has rushed towards this light, towards this holy of holies, towards this focal point of life and the source of life itself – the Lord – through the darkness of ages, through all sorrows, through all the sins and horrors of history.

 The entry of the Most-holy Mother of God into the Holy of Holies is revealed to us as the path each one of us must take. It has been said: “The virgins that follow Her shall be brought unto the king, Her companions shall be brought unto Thee” (Psalm 45:14). This has been said about every person and primarily about children. For this reason children participate in a special way in today’s feast along with us. This is always very joyful, because if everyone were to participate in what the Lord gives us, our entire being would be transformed. The salvation which the Lord grants us depends on our offering of our children and on our own lives. It also depends primarily on how we lead our children through life, for what we prepare them and to what we actually dedicate them. What Joachim and Anna did was a great labor of love. Having been barren their entire life, they gave up their sole daughter. They gave Her to God, dedicated Her to the Lord, as though they separated Her from themselves, in order that She belong entirely to God alone.

 What Joachim and Anna have done, offering to God the fruit of their prayers, far exceeds any spiritual labors that we could set up as an example. But let us ponder the following: often we find ourselves in a situation similar to these people – Joachim and Anna, – when misfortune befalls us, when we are in need, when we are ready to promise the Lord everything, say all kinds of words of love, just so He would help us, would deliver us from such a state. And then sorrow passes, need passes. But when the time comes to fulfill our promise, we begin to vacillate. We begin to delay the fulfillment of our own words: “I will definitely do this, Lord, only I pray Thee, do such-and-such for me, what I ask of Thee…”. And for this reason our life turns out to be barren. It is barren not in terms of childlessness (although that may also be possible), but in a deeper and more significant sense. 

 Thinking about this, we should pray today to the Lord and the Mother of God that we may be granted the grace of understanding that we have a true life, that we may be aware that the event which the Church celebrates today is the entry of the holy 3-year-old maiden into the Holy of Holies and Her sanctification by the grace of God for Her future encompassing of God the Word. And all of this for the fulfillment of the sacrament of God’s incarnation and for our salvation, which is already coming to pass. For it is not in vain that we sing: “Christ is born – glorify Him, Christ descends from heaven – meet ye Him.”

Remember that our salvation has actually come to pass already, and it is not only a remembrance. Over and over again we are given the Lent and the approach to the Nativity of Christ in order for our life to become truly more profound, truly deepen with the knowledge of the one unique mystery – that God has become man, that He is present in the life and destiny of each one of us. He always hears our every prayer, because there is no longer that curse which used to hang over every person, there is no longer that inescapable and ineffaceable stamp of evil which tainted mankind before Christ’s incarnation. The way to heaven is open to every person. We must only desire and want genuine truth, genuine beauty, and the light which had once shone for us, the light which the Lord sometimes gives back to us, and without which everything becomes extinguished.

 What can we bring to the Lord on this feast day? The parents of the Most-holy maiden Mary – Joachim and Anna – brought Him their own child, but what shall we give the Lord? Does the One to Whom belongs the entire earth and before Whom all the stars in heaven shine need the candles and the vigil lights which we offer to God? They are needed only to testify to the meaningfulness of our prayers and our standing before God. There are no other sacrifices which we can offer Him except one, of which He says: “Son, give Me thy heart,” because our heart is the only thing which does not yet fully belong to Him. He has given us His own heart and wishes us to give Him ours. He, Who loves us and gives all of Himself for us, is waiting for our love in return.

 Let us pray to God that we may learn this love. Every person understands what reciprocal love is, and how terrible is unrequited love. It is precisely love which each person needs, every human soul needs. And the Lord Himself needs us to love Him with all our heart, all our thoughts, all our strength, our entire life. And to love God means to keep His commandments, as He Himself has said. Only when we keep His commandments can we learn what this all means and of what kind of love Christ is speaking. Only then can we learn this love and be worthy of the Lord, be able to stand up for Christ’s honor in this world where childhood, purity, and sanctity are being defiled. And this we can accomplish only when we go to church and receive God’s grace there, which is always given as long as we are turned towards the Lord.

 Let us entreat the Lord for this incorruptible wealth, which He bountifully grants to all of us by the prayers and intercession of the Holy Theotokos. Let us also entreat Him for the ability to respond to His immeasurable gifts with our love, our entire life, the offering of our children to Him. And most precious of all – the unity which we achieve through Him. Amen.   

Protopriest Alexander Shargunov

 

Entry of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple

 

In ancient times, the Jews had the custom of dedicating their children to the service of God in unique circumstances of family life. The dedicatees were usually brought to the temple, where they were blessed by the priests, who offered a sacrifice to God and afterwards took care of the children’s further upbringing until they attained their majority. All the children dedicated to God lived at the temple in special quarters, engaging in prayer, the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and in various activities appropriate to their gender and age.

 The holy righteous Joachim and Anna, having reached a venerable old age and remaining childless, entreated God to give them a child, whom they promised to dedicate to the service of God. The Lord heard their prayers, and a daughter was born to them, named Mary. When the Virgin Mary reached the age of three, Her parents hastened to fulfill their promise. Although the law itself did not require such haste, it was obvious that the young Maiden already sensed Her high calling, exhibiting a tendency towards great piety. Naturally it was difficult for the parents to part with their daughter, but they apparently divined that some kind of unique service awaited Her.  

Holy Tradition gives us a moving account of the entry of the Holy Theotokos into the temple, in commemoration of which today’s feast was established.

 On the appointed day all the relatives of Joachim and Anna gathered in Jerusalem and there began a ceremonious yet at the same time modest procession of the Virgin into God’s tabernacle. In front of the Holy Virgin, Who was led by Her parents, came Her companions – girls in white attire, carrying lighted candles and singing hymns, and behind them came all the relatives and friends. A high staircase, consisting of 15 steps, led to the doors of the temple. After being placed on the first step, to everyone’s amazement the Virgin Mary began mounting the steps higher and higher, entirely on Her own and unsupported by anyone, until on the upper landing She was met by the priests, led by the high priest. All the people were even more amazed when the high priest Zacharias, father of St. John the Baptist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, led the Most-holy One into the Holy of Holies, where he himself could enter only once a year, on the feast of purification. Even the angels were amazed at how the Virgin entered the Holy of Holies.

 Soon afterwards Joachim and Anna reposed in the Lord, while the Holy Virgin, remaining at the temple in order to be brought up to serve the Lord, went from strength to strength, appearing as an angel in the flesh. Daily She came to the temple and prayed unimpededly in the Holy of Holies, conversing with the angels who brought Her heavenly food, while the food She received together with all the other children She gave away to the poor. Despite all this, She never put on airs, but humbly performed all the duties assigned to Her, living in total obedience to Her preceptors – the priests.

 At that time maidenhood was not in very high standing, and for this reason all the maidens who were brought up at the temple were usually given away in marriage when they attained their majority. The Most-holy Virgin, however, Who stood at the border between the Old and the New Testaments, was the first to indicate the importance of this virtue by giving a vow of chastity. The priests could not oppose such a strange decision on the part of their ward, but they did not know what to do with Her. After some thought, they got out of their difficulty by engaging Her to a certain elder, the righteous Joseph, who came from the royal ancestry of King David, but preferred to remain unknown. He lived in the small Galilean town of Nazareth and worked as a carpenter. After settling in with Her supposed husband, the Holy Virgin helped him with housekeeping and continued to engage in divine contemplation.

 We can draw many instructive lessons from the story of today’s feast, and it primarily draws our attention to the love which we should have for the Lord’s temple (church). For the Mother of God the temple of Jerusalem was the abode where She wished to remain day and night, in order to be in continuous prayerful communion with the Lord. One thing have I desired from the Lord, exclaims the holy prophet King David, – and that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to attend His holy temple (Psalm 27:4). For Her the temple was a school, a source of joy, spiritual nourishment, the path along which She rose above all creation and became more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. Seeing this, how can we not exclaim together with the psalm-writer: How desirable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord (Psalm 84:1-2). Therefore, a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psalm 84:10). And if our parents’ house beckons to us with its love and affection, and we find a safe haven under its roof, how should we not yearn towards the house of the Lord?!

 Let us follow the example of the Mother of God, brethren, and let us regard attendance of God’s church as our primary and necessary duty. Amen.

Protopriest Leonid Kolchev

 

 


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