Entry of the Theotokos in the Temple
This is one of the 12 major feasts in the life of the Orthodox Church. We celebrate this every year on Nov. 21.
Below are some notes from a previous year's Sunday School. Our original class series was focused on the Old Testament Liturgical life, but we took a pause to cover this feast because it landed on a Sunday that year.
In the midst of our discussion of the temple and the sacrificial system of Israel, the significance of this feast became more apparent.
Based on the Scriptural readings and the hymns used during the feast, several points can be made.
1. She becomes the Temple of God. She enters the Temple and supersedes it to become herself the living temple of God.
The most pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Chamber and Virgin, the Sacred Treasure of the Glory of God, is presented today to the house of the Lord. She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, which the angels of God do praise. Truly this woman is the Abode of Heaven! (Kontakion)Each one of the OT readings all end with exactly the same line, "for the glory of the Lord filled the house (tabernacle) of the Lord God Almighty." (Exodus 40:35; 3 Kingdoms [1 Kings] 8:11; Ezekiel 44:4) The NT reading from Hebrews 9:1-7 paints a picture of the tabernacle, the dwelling place of God, of which Mary was to fulfill for all mankind.
Other related hymns from the feast:
Let us believers exchange glad tidings, singing to the Lord with psalms and songs of praise, honoring His holy tabernacle, the living ark who contained the uncontainable Word; for in a supernatural manner is she offered to God as a babe. And Zachariah the great High Priest receiveth her rejoicing since she is God's abode. . . .
Today the living temple of holy glory, the glory of Christ our God, who alone is blessed and undefiled is presented in the Mosaic Temple, to live in its holy precincts. Wherefore, Joachim and Anne rejoice now with her in spirit, and the ranks of virgins praise the Lord with songs honoring his Mother. . . .
Apolytikion (Fourth Tone)Today is the prelude of God's pleasure and the proclamation of man's salvation. The Virgin is clearly made manifest in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. Let us also cry out to her with mighty voice, "Hail, fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation."
2. She becomes the personification of the Temple and Israel. What was Israel’s purpose? To bring salvation to mankind. She is not the Savior, but the vessel whereby the Savior came to the world fulfilling Israel's mission.
Shine! Shine! O New Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shone upon you! Exult and be glad O Zion! Be radiant 0 Pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection of your son! (Orthodox Paschal Hymn)
3. She is a Holy Offering to the Lord.
For in a supernatural manner is she offered to God as a babe. And Zachariah the great High Priest receiveth her rejoicing since she is God's abode. . .
Today the Virgin is the foreshadowing of the pleasure of God, and the beginning of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. Thou hast appeared in the Temple of God openly and hast gone before, preaching Christ to all. Let us shout with one thrilling voice, saying, Rejoice, O thou who art the fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation. . . .
Today the all-blameless Virgin is presented in the Temple for the abode of God, the King of all, the Nourisher of all our souls. Today the all-pure holiness doth enter into the Holy of Holies, as a three-year heifer. Wherefore, let us like the angel, hail her, saying, Rejoice, O thou who alone are blessed among women. . .
The feast demonstrates the human element in our salvation. Mary is man’s offering to God; Mary is mankind’s “Let it be” to God. Because of this Mary is the model of salvation for all men. God comes to man with the offer of salvation and we must respond with our own "Let it be".
What shall we offer you, O Christ, who for our sake has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by you offers you thanks. The angels offer you a hymn; the heavens a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer you a virgin mother. (Nativity Vespers)
4. Announces the purpose of man. We should be the temple of God.
The feast inaugurates the New Testament in which are fulfilled the prophecies of old that "the dwelling of God is with man" and that the human person is the sole proper dwelling place of the Divine Presence. (Ezekiel 37:27; John 14:15-23; Acts 7:47; II Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 2:18-22; 1 Peter 2:4; Revelation 22:1-4)
... We are the temple of the living God, as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (II Corinthians 6: 11; Isaiah 52:1 1)
Mary is the prototypical Christian, and our example of surrender to God, imaging for us what we are to be as the temple of God, saying "Yes" to God in imitation, bearing Christ in our hearts, bringing to salvation to those around us.