Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
"Today let Heaven above greatly rejoice ..."
I will assume that today began and will continue as a normal weekday for just about everyone who reads this email communication. In addition to our responsibilities, tasks, appointments and over-all agendas, that may also imply the tedium associated with daily life. Another day will come and go, never to be repeated again in the unceasing flow of time ...
However, today (November 21) also happens to be one of the Twelve Great Feast Days of the Church's liturgical year: The Entrance of the Theotokos Into the Temple. For those who came to the service yesterday evening, that may be more apparent; but if we "keep time" with our Church calendar, as well as with our regular calendars, we may not be "caught off guard" by the coming of the Feast.
The festal cycle of the Church sanctifies time. By this we mean that the tedious flow of time is imbued with sacred content as we celebrate the events of the past now made present through liturgical worship. Notice how often we hear the word "today" in the hymns of the Feast chanted at Vespers:
Today let us, the faithful dance for joy...
Today the living Temple of the holy glory of Christ our God, she who alone among women is pure and blessed ...
Today the Theotokos, the Temple that is to hold God is led into the temple of the Lord...
Again, we do not merely commemorate the past, but we make the past present. We actualize the event being celebrated so that we are also participating in it. We, today, rejoice as we greet the Mother of God as she enters the temple "in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all."
Can all - or any - of this possibly change the "tone" of how we live this day? Is it at all possible that an awareness of this joyous Feast can bring some illumination or sense of divine grace into the seemingly unchanging flow of daily life? Are we able to envision our lives as belonging to a greater whole: the life of the Church that is moving toward the final revelation of God's Kingdom in all of its fullness? Do such questions even make any sense as we are scrambling to just get through the day intact and in one piece, hopefully avoiding any serious mishaps or calamities? If not, can be at least acknowledge that "something" essential is missing from our lives?
I believe that there a few things that we could do on a practical level that will bring the life of the Church, and its particular rhythms into our domestic lives. As we know, each particular Feast has a main hymn called the troparion. This troparion captures the over-all meaning and theological content of the Feast in a somewhat poetic fashion. As the years go by, and as we celebrate the Feasts annually, you may notice that you have memorized these troparia, or at least recognize them when they are sung in church. For the Entrance of the Theotokos Into the Temple, the festal troparion is the following:
Today is the prelude of the good will of God / of the preaching of the salvation of mankind / The Virgin appears in the temple of God / in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all / Let us rejoice and sing to her: / Rejoice, O Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation!
A great Feast Day of the Church is never a one-day affair. There is the "afterfeast" and then, finally, the "leavetaking" of the Feast. So this particular Feast extends from today, November 21, until Saturday, November 25. A good practice, therefore, would be to include the troparion of the Feast in our daily prayer until the leavetaking. That can be very effective when parents pray together with their children before bedtime, as an example.
Perhaps even more importantly within a family meal setting, would be to sing or simply say or chant the troparion together before sitting down to share that meal together. The troparion would replace the usual prayer that we use, presumably the Lord's Prayer. All of this can be especially effective with children as it will introduce them to the rhythm of Church life and its commemoration of the great events in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
Do you have any Orthodox literature in the home that would narrate and then perhaps explain the events and their meaning of the Great Feast Days? Reading this together as a family can also be very effective. A short Church School session need not be the only time that our children are introduced to the life of the Church. The home, as we recall, has been called a "little church" by none other than St. John Chrysostom. Orthodox Christianity is meant to be a way of life, as expressed here by Fr. Pavel Florensky:
The Orthodox taste, the Orthodox temper, is felt but is not subject to arithmetical calculation. Orthodoxy is shown, not proved. That is why there is only one way to understand Orthodoxy: through direct experience ... to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once into the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way. There is no other way. (The Pillar and Ground of the Truth)
As this Feast Day falls during the Nativity Fast, the Church calendar tells us that "fish, wine and oil" are allowed today.
NOTE: Special articles and resources on the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos and all the Great Feasts are available on our parish website.