Fr Thomas Hopko: Why Celebrate the Entrance of Mary into the Temple?

Feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple

Entrance_Theotokos_Square_1.jpegDURING THE first days of the Christmas fast the Church celebrates the feast of the entrance of the child Mary into the Jerusalem temple. Called in the Church The Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, this festival, which is not among the biblically recorded events, is one of the twelve major feasts of the Orthodox Church year. Its purpose is not so much to commemorate an historical happening as to celebrate a dogmatic mystery of the Christian faith, namely, that every human being is made to be a living temple of God.

The festal event is that the three-year-old Mary, in fulfillment of a promise made at her conception by her parents, Joachim and Anna, is offered by them to God in the temple at Jerusalem. The young child is hymned with lines taken from Psalm 45, mystically interpreted as prophetic of her vocation to be the mother of the Messiah.

Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear;
Forget your people and your father’s house;
And the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him;
The people of Tyre will sue your favor with gifts,
The richest of the people with all kinds of wealth.
The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
In many-colored robes she is led to the king,
With her virgin companions, her escort, in her train.
With joy and gladness they are led along
As they enter the palace of the king.
Instead of your fathers shall be your sons;
You will make them princes in all the earth.
I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;
Therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever.

The spiritual story tells how, coming into the temple, the child Mary is led into the Holy of Holies by the priest Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, there to be nourished by angels in preparation for her virginal conception of the Son of God. In entering the Holy Place she brings to an end the “shadow” of the earthly, physical temple of God in order to commence the “reality” of the human, spiritual temple of His dwelling, which she herself is, and which, through her, all human beings become in Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church.

Today, let us the faithful dance for joy,
Singing to the Lord with psalms and hymns, Venerating His consecrated tabernacle,
The living Ark which contains the Word which cannot be contained.
For she, a young child in the flesh
Is offered in wondrous fashion to the Lord,
And Zacharias the priest receives her with rejoicing
As the dwelling place of God.

Today the living temple of the holy glory of Christ our God,
She who alone among women is blessed and pure,
Is offered in the temple of the Law,
That she may make her dwelling in the Holy Place.
Joachim and Anna rejoice with her in spirit
And choirs of virgins sing to the Lord,
Chanting psalms and honoring His mother. 

Led by the Holy Spirit,
The holy and immaculate maiden is taken to dwell in the holy temple.
She who is in truth the most holy temple of our holy God
Is nourished by the angels.
He has sanctified all things by her entry
And has made godlike the fallen nature of mortal man.

Today let us, the assembly of the faithful, triumph in spirit
And praise with reverence the child of God, the Virgin and Theotokos,
As she is offered in the temple of the Lord,
"She who was forechosen from all generations
To be the dwelling place of Christ,
The Master and God of all.
O virgins bearing lamps, go before her,
Honoring the majestic advance of the ever Virgin.
O mothers, set aside every sorrow to follow them in gladness,
Singing the praises of her who became the Mother of God
And mediator of joy for the world.
Let us all cry to her joyfully with the angels:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace who ever intercedes for our souls!”

The Feast of the entrance of the Theotokos into the temple is called in the main hymn of the feast “the prelude of the good will of God” announced by the angels to the world at the birth of Christ. It is the first celebration of the salvation which comes to the world in Jesus, of which Mary herself is the first and foremost recipient.

~Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha

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