Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple
Today we celebrate the entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple.
The righteous parents of the Holy Virgin, Joachim and Anna, had been childless throughout their marriage. They made a vow to God that, should He bless them with a child, they would dedicate that child to the service of God. And, indeed, according to the grace and will of God, at the appropriate time, Anna found herself with-child and gave birth to a daughter whom they named Mary.
When the child was three years old, Joachim and Anna, brought her to the Temple in order to fulfill their vow of dedicating her in service to God. The young Mary was placed on the bottom step leading up to the Temple, and in a manner beyond her years, she confidently ascended the fifteen steps leading up to the Temple and presented herself to the High Priest. The High Priest, Zechariah, inspired by the grace of God, led her directly into the Holy of Holies – a place where only the High Priest could enter, and then, only once a year. Needless to say, all those who witnessed this were astonished!
What a miracle we witness today! A young maiden enters into the Holy of Holies! The priests and the people are astonished, and even the angels in heaven are in awe!
What is prefigured here?... She, who enters into the Temple of the Most High God will become the Temple of the Most High God. She, who enters into the Holy of Holies, will become the Holy of Holies. Today we celebrate the entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, anticipating the fact that she herself will become the very Temple of God.
What an amazing thing! Is it any wonder that we praise her with song chanting that she is ‘more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim’? This pure maiden was chosen by God and grew up within the Temple… continuing to live in purity and close communion with God. When she reached the age of puberty, she could no longer live within the Temple and was therefore given to the care of her aged relative Joseph, who betrothed her and took her under his guardianship. When the fullness of time had come, Mary was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who spoke to her the good tidings: ‘Rejoice, thou full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women.’
The Virgin Mary had lived an exceptional life of prayer and grace and humility. It was this condition of the house of her soul which made a ready accommodation for the ‘Holy Spirit to come upon her, and the power of the Most High to overshadow her’… for the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to become incarnate within her womb.
With what exalted praise do we honor her! With what clear understanding do we glorify the magnitude of the miracle which takes place as Christ enters under the roof of her body – thus making it a Temple of the Most High God!
And now, brothers and sisters in Christ, contemplating the glorious events of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, the purity of the Holy Virgin, and the miracle of God’s entry into the Temple of the body of the Mother of God… let us think about what this means for us.
Do we realize that we are honored to be called into the Temple of the Most High? As we prepared ourselves this morning to come to Christ’s Holy Church, did we understand where we were going and what would be taking place here? The Orthodox Christian Church is the direct inheritance of the Temple of the Most High… behind the icon screen stands the Holy of Holies, the Altar of God where the Bloodless Sacrifice is performed and God Himself descends upon mere bread and wine…changing them into His Body and Blood. Do we understand this? Do we remove all obstacles to be here for this miraculous event? Do we enter into this Holy Temple with the appropriate fear and love to stand before our Lord and Father?
And what’s more… do we understand that, if we partake of Holy Communion, Christ Himself is entering into our body – as He did with the Most Pure Virgin Mary – making our bodies the Temple of the Most High God? Are we careful to sweep the dirt from the Temple of our body to make a ready place for God to enter?
As the Pre-communion prayer of St John Chrysostom states: ‘O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy or sufficient that Thou shouldest come under the roof of the house of my soul, for all is desolate and fallen, and Thou hast not with me a place fit to lay Thy head. But as from the highest heaven, Thou didst humble Thyself for our sake, so now conform Thyself to my humility. And as Thou didst consent to lie in a cave and in a manger of dumb beasts, so also consent to lie in the manger of my unspiritual soul and to enter into my defiled body.’
Just as God condescended to enter into this world in humility, in poverty, in obscurity, in the lowliest of ways… God condescends to enter into the house of our soul. He stands at the door of our hearts and He knocks.
Let us answer Him… let us never leave Him standing outside. Let us attend to preparing a place for Him. Even though the house of our soul and body may be poor, may still be dirty, may be unworthy of such an Honored Guest… He knocks and He desires to come and be with us. What better thing can we do than to attend with all diligence to assuring that we do everything in our power to make the Temple of our soul and body a place where He may lay His head, a place where He may find rest, a place where He may be honored.
Through the prayers of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos, who entered into the Temple that she might prepare the Temple of her soul to receive our God Most High, may we take her as our example in preparing the place of our soul and body to receive the grace and love of Christ our Lord.