Friday, November 21, 2008

Nourished in the Atmosphere of the Temple...

Dear Parish Faithful,

Today, November 21, is the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, one of the twelve major feast days of our liturgical year. Though lacking a biblical source, the Church's Tradition has accepted the account found in the 2nd c. work known as the Protoevangelion of James. This is the same source that has given us some details about the Nativity of the Theotokos. In this account, we are told that Joachim and Anna brought their daughter, Mary, to the Temple as a three year old child. This was in fulfillment of a promise the aged couple had made to God: to offer their child to the Lord in thanksgiving for His gift to them of ending Anna's barrenness with a child. In a joyous procession in which young maidens went before her with lit torches, Joachim and Anna bring Mary to the Temple to be received there by the High Priest Zacharias, future father of St. John the Baptist. Zacharias, in turn, brought her into the very Holy of Holies, where she would remain until she was twelve years old, fed there miraculously by an angel.

In his explanation of this Feast, Archbishop Kallistos Ware wrote the following:

As with the feast of the birth of the Theotokos, what matters is not the historical exactness of the story but its inner meaning. This account of Mary's Entry into the temple and of her dwelling there signifies her total dedication to God, in readiness for her future vocation as Mother of the Incarnate Lord. At the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her at the word of the angel and she conceived the Savior; but the Spirit had also dwelt within her from infancy, preparing her in body and soul to be a fitting tabernacle for the Deity - a living Temple, a personal Holy of Holies. Such is basically the spiritual meaning of the feast. Its chief theme is this indwelling grace of the Spirit, present and active within her from her earliest moments. As one of the texts for the day expresses it, speaking not of the Annunciation but of her Entry into the temple: "All the powers of heaven stood amazed, seeing the Holy Spirit dwell in you" (Great Vespers, Theotokion before the Entrance).

The Feast also anticipates the Nativity of Christ, because it comes during the Nativity Fast, and we are able to contemplate the chosen vessel of God who will offer to the Lord His human nature, thus making His dwelling among us possible.

The future Mother of God was nourished in the atmosphere of the temple. The temple was pervaded by a sense of holiness, for it was the dwelling place of God. It was sacred space set aside for that very purpose. We learn from this Feast that Christian parents offer their children to God when they bring them to the church, from the Forty Day Prayers leading up to Baptism and Chrismation and the reception of the Eucharist. An essential part of this "offering" is the continued practice of bringing our children to church - the temple - with regularity. It is in the setting and atmosphere of the church that our children learn how to pray and to worship the living God. They are able to thrive in a community setting with fellow Christians - young and old alike - and learn to become integral members of a parish family. They form friendships as they grow together in Christ. It is only in the church that our children can receive Holy Communion and be united to Christ. When they come from the earliest age with regularity, they get to know their priest and to trust him, so that they are not frightened by him on an occasional visit! Children learn about right and wrong by confessing their sins from an early age. The warmth of the church attracts children - the candles, incense, vestments, icons and singing that appeals to their sensory perception of reality. All parents are like Joachim and Anna when they lead their children to the temple of God as an offering of thanksgiving to the Lord who has blessed us with them. How empty our lives would be without the Church!

This Feast reveals to us the place of the "temple" in our lives as believers in Christ. If you notice, we commemorate Joachim and Anna at the end of every service as the "ancestors of God." This daily commemoration is a reminder of their "everyday" piety and righteousness before God; of the sacredness of the sacramental bond between husband and wife and the role of intimacy and love within that bond; and of their sense of responsibility before God to offer their children in service to God. All of that is manifested whenever we bring our children to church with joy and gladness.

Fr. Steven

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