“The most pure Temple of the Saviour,
the most precious chamber and Virgin;
sacred treasure of God’s glory,
today is being presented
in the house of the Lord.”
(Kontakion of the feast)
The festivals of the Most Holy Mother of God occupy first place in our Church calendar after the feasts of our Lord. The chief aim of the Marian feasts is to set before us the majesty, dignity and the holiness of the Most Pure Virgin Mary, and her role in the redemption of the human race, so that we may be inspired to venerate and imitate her. The greatest Marian feasts, such as her Nativity and Dormition, speak to us either of the very first moments of her existence on earth or of her departure into eternity. The only feast that has for its theme the childhood and youthful years of the Mother of God is the feast of the Presentation in the Temple, which we celebrate on the 21st of November. In our church services this feast has the name: “The Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Queen, Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary”. The purpose of this feast is to remove the veil of certain mysteries from the childhood and youthful years of the Blessed Mother, and to throw some light on the mystery of her parents, her training in the temple, and her preparation for the supreme dignity of being the Mother of God. In meditating on this feast, we shall draw our attention to three things: its history, its church service, and its spiritual significance for us.
History of the Feast
The Holy Gospel says nothing about the entrance of Our Lady into the temple. This feast, like the feasts of the Nativity and Dormition of the Mother of God, traces its origin to the tradition of the Church and apocryphal writings, especially the Proto-evangelium of James and the Pseudo-Evangelium of Matthew “Concerning the Nativity of the Most Pure Virgin Mary”. From these writings, we learn that the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, SS. Joachim and Anna, being childless, had made a promise that, if they were blessed with a child, they would offer that child up to the service of the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem. The Lord God heard their prayers and blessed them with a daughter. When the little one was three years old, her parents brought her to the temple and placed her under the care of the high priest Zachary, the father of St. John the Baptist. Here the Most Holy Mother of God spent many years until, as a mature maiden, she was betrothed to St. Joseph. The feast of the Entrance (Presentation) is one of the twelve great feast days, having a one day pre-feast and a four day post-feast. Allusions are made to this feast in the fifth century; however, it took several hundred years before it was universally observed in the East. From the sermons of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Germanus (715-730) and Tarasius (784-806), commemorating this feast, it can be inferred that the feast of the Entrance was established in the eighth century. The Sinai Gospel of the eighth century, which Emperor Theodosius III (715-717) donated to the Sinai monastery, mentions the feast of the Entrance among the twelve feasts. This feast is found in the Greek menaions of the ninth century; it finally became a universally recognized and celebrated feast in that century. The Sinai Canonarium of the ninth-tenth century gives the feast under the title of the “Feast of the Most Holy Mother of God, when She was brought to the Temple at the Age of Three.” The Typicon of the Great Church of Constantinople (9-10 c), though it does not have either the Epistle or the Gospel for that feast, has a note under the 21st of November stating: “The Synaxis of the Holy Mother of God, when She was presented to the Temple of the Lord at the Age of Three”. The Evergetes Typicon of the eleventh century has the service of the Presentation with a pre- and post-feast. The service for this feast was composed by Gregory of Nicomedia (9c), Basil Pagariot, and Sergius Hagiorite. In the West, the feast of the Entrance took root somewhat later, at the end of the fourteenth century; however, in the middle of the fifteenth century, it spread throughout all Europe. The West celebrates this feast on the same day that the Eastern Church celebrates it, that is, on the 21st of November. In the Middle Ages the Feast of the Entrance was a favorite theme in iconography.
Spirit of the Service of the Feast
The service of this feast celebrates the event of the Entrance into the Temple with joyful and glad melodies; it praises the dignity of the Mother of God and extols the great sacrifice of her parents. The songs and hymns of this day are very rich in poetic expression, allegory and allusion. This profound dogmatic poetry sings the praises of the Divine Maternity, Virginity, Holiness and Intercession of the Most Pure Virgin Mary in very beautiful analogies and symbols. Mary is most frequently extolled as the Temple of God, an allusion to the temple to which she was brought by her parents. Here we have some expressions from the sticheras and the canon of the feast;
“You are the temple of God”, “the Divine Temple”, “the Sanctified Temple”
“the Temple which is to contain the Son of God’, “the Temple and Altar of the King of all”, “the living Temple of the holy glory of Christ our God” “the most holy Temple of our holy God”‘ , “the God-containing Temple” “the Temple and Palace”, “the Temple and Palace and living Heaven’ In a special manner her Virginity, Immaculate Purity and Divine Motherhood are also glorified. Mary is “a golden dove”, “a Palace filled with glory” “the holy altar”, “Virgin
immaculate”, “the Virgin pure” , “God-containing palace”, “Divine Virgin Mother of the Creator”
“Immaculate Offering”‘, “God-pleasing sacrifice”, “Vessel most holy”, “Mother
of the Word of life’ “Undefiled Ark of God the Creator” “the Maiden of God, the King of all’, “living tabernacle that contains the uncontainable Word”, “the one and only blessed among women”, “the divine altar, palace, bed and bright dwelling-place of the King of all”, “Virgin one and only im-
maculate”, “Pure ever-Virgin”, “living chamber of God “, “holy tabernacle, golden thurible, candlestick and table’, “the immaculate Ewe (She-Lamb)”.
The Most Holy Mother of God when entering the Temple, though she was merely a child, was, nevertheless, mature in spirit: “May the Divine Maiden, three years old physically, says the third Ode of the canon, “but spiritually older, wider than the heavens, and higher than the Heavenly Powers, be glorified with hymns.” She is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and the glory of the New Testament: “You are the object of the preaching of the prophets, the glory of the Apostles, praise of the Martyrs, and the renewal of all peo-ple, Virgin Mother of God. Through You we have been recon-ciled. Therefore, we celebrate your entrance into the Temple of the Lord, and together with all the Angels we cry out to you, Most Pure One, singing: Rejoice, through your prayers we shall be saved.” (Stichera of Vespers)
The temple of the Lord, the angels and men rejoice at Mary’s entrance into the temple: “Today the God-containing temple, the Mother of God, is being brought into the Temple and Zachary receives her. Today the holy of holies rejoices, and the choir of angels mystically exult. Today celebrating with them, we cry with Gabriel: Rejoice, Full of grace, the Lord is with you, possessor of great mercy.” (Stichera of Vespers)
On the occasion of this extraordinary feast of the Mother of God, holy Church calls upon all the faithful to take part in the festal joy: “Come all you faithful,” we sing in the sticheras of the Lytiya,
“let us extol the one and only immaculate One, preached by the prophets and presented in the Temple, chosen before all ages as the Mother, who now has become the Mother of God. O Lord, through Her prayers, grant us Your peace and great mercy.”
The Spiritual Significance of the Feast
What does the feast of the Entrance convey to us? What spiritual lesson does it offer us? First of all, it speaks to us of the joyful sacrifice of Joachim and Anna. They themselves bring their daughter to the Temple and offer her to the service of God. In the canon of Matins of this feast in the eighth Ode we read: “Anna, when bringing the Most Pure Temple (that is Mary) into the house of God, exclaimed to the priest: Today, receive the child given to me by God, take her into the Temple of your Creator and joyfully sing to Him: all you bless the works of the Lord.'”
But not only do the parents joyfully bring their child to offer her to the service of God; Mary also gladly obeys the voice of God and of her parents. Like Joachim and Anna, Mary too is a very beautiful example for us of joyful sacrifice and service to God.
Perhaps today, more than ever before, the entire Church of Christ, our Church included, is suffering from a great dearth of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The spirit of materialism and secularism is invading our families more and more, and we have fewer and fewer youths willing to sacrifice and dedicate themselves to the service of God, their Church and their nation. There are fewer and fewer parents among our people who, like St. Anna, are ready to say to our Church: “Receive the child given to me by God.”
A sign of deep piety of a nation is not only its magnificent and numerous churches and monasteries but, above all, its numerous vocations – its priests, missionaries, monks and nuns. The most beautiful churches and gilded altars will be of no help to us if we do not have priests to offer the Unbloody Sacrifice, administer the Holy Sacraments, and preach the word of God in those churches. The Servant of God Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky says: “You must understand that the nation also needs zealous and holy priests to bring salva-tion.” The lack of religious vocations among a people must lead to a gradual dying of the Church and of the spiritual life of its faithful, for the religious state is the heart and soul of the Church.
Where are we to look for the solution to such a burning problem? Where are religious vocations nurtured? The best garden where vocations to the priesthood or religious state grow and mature is a good Christian home. “A good Christian home,” says the German Cardinal M. Faulhaber, “is the first spiritual seminary.” Holy Church frequently calls the home the cradle of vocations. Statistics show that fifty percent of the religious vocations arise between the ages of six and fourteen, that is, during that time of life when the child is still under the full influence of its parents.
The spirit of sacrifice in the family in relation to God and one’s Church is a very important factor in fostering vocations. Without the spirit of sacrifice, there is no pursuit of ideals, for sacrifice is the language of love. Consequently, parents should prepare their children from the very cradle for sacrifice and dedication.
Unfortunately, however, there are few such Christian parents today who strive to cultivate the spirit of sacrifice and the ideal of a religious vocation in the home. On the contrary, among our faithful there are many parents who suppress the first signs of a vocation in the hearts of their children.
To a very great degree, the future of our Church and nation depends upon how our Ukrainian parents educate their children. We need parents who, following the example of SS.Joachim and Anna, would gladly offer their children as a “burnt” offering to God, their Church and their nation. We need youth with ideals, who like the model of the Most Pure Virgin Mary, would gladly follow the voice of God and dedicate themselves to the service of God, the Church and the nation. Only then will we be able to look forward to a brighter and happier future for our Church and our nation.
Katrij J, A byzantine rite. Liturgical year, Detroit-New York 1983, 261-267