This coming Monday, November 21st, we will celebrate one of the Twelve Major Feasts of the Orthodox Church, The Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Temple. In this feast we remember the promises made by Joachim and Anna that, if blessed with a child, they would dedicate that child to the service of God in His Holy Temple. Subsequently, we celebrate the beginning of the fulfillment of that toward which all Old Testament Temple worship symbolically pointed: the Theotokos taking her place in the Holy of Holies as the one who will become the true living Temple of God through the miraculous conception of Christ in her womb.
This feast is placed for us at the beginning of the Nativity fast, and as the Troparion for the feast declares: "Today is the prelude of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind." So this feast serves for us as a precursor to the Nativity, a prelude to that angelic herald of the Birth of the Savior: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, good will toward men!” This is the opening notes to the beautiful song of salvation we will celebrate in full in a little over a month’s time.
The late Fr. Thomas Hopko noted in a talk he gave on this feast day that: "What is being said here and what is being contemplated in the person of Mary as the central character in the story is that human beings are created by God and redeemed by God in Christ and sanctified by God through Christ by the Holy Spirit to become living temples of God himself." This feast provides us with an opportunity not only to reflect upon the unique honor God has placed upon His Mother and the role her obedience and godliness has played in our salvation, but also to reflect upon how we can very closely mirror this "unique" calling of Mary in our own lives. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?" We are all called to become holy through the indwelling of God in us, not only in a spiritual manner, but also physically, materially, through our participation in the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist in which we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, that same Flesh and Blood which was given form in the womb of the Mother of our Lord.
The Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple often receives little attention despite being one of the Twelve Major Feasts; however, this feast day provides us with many wonderful opportunities for growth as Christians. It helps in our understanding of God's plan of salvation and how the archetypes of the Old Testament are so beautifully fulfilled in the miraculous events of the New. The feast is provided not just for help in our understanding. It is also inspiration for our spiritual growth, which ultimately guides us toward union with God.
St. Gregory Palamas exhorts us in the end of his Homily on this great feast:
"Now, brethren, let us remove ourselves from earthly to celestial things. Let us change our path from the flesh to the spirit. Let us change our desire from temporal things to those that endure. Let us scorn fleshly delights, which serve as allurements for the soul and soon pass away. Let us desire spiritual gifts, which remain undiminished. Let us turn our reason and our attention from earthly concerns and raise them to the inaccessible places of Heaven, to the Holy of Holies, where the Mother of God now resides.
Therefore, in such manner our songs and prayers to Her will gain entry, and thus through her mediation, we shall be heirs of the everlasting blessings to come, through the grace and love for mankind of Him Who was born of Her for our sake, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, honor and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father and His Coeternal and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."
- Reader Philip