Entry of the Mother of God
The Church celebrates today the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Temple.
The righteous forebears of God, Joachim and Anna, at that time advanced in years, had made an oath to God: if he removed from them the seeming curse of barrenness, they would devote the child to the service of God. Thus, when the Blessed Virgin had reached the age of three, the time had come for her righteous parents to fulfil their vow. They brought the little child Mary to the temple of God, where the high priest, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought her into the sanctuary — the place where he alone was able to enter, and only once a year.
So what led the high priest to do something so unthinkable? He did this because he, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, was able to see what is described in the kontakion-hymn of today’s feast, namely that the Virgin Mary would become “the most pure temple of the Saviour”. Today, then, is a day of replacement and fulfilment. When our Lady entered the temple — and not just the temple but the sanctuary itself — the Virgin — who would later bear God in her womb — shows us how she is the true and most pure temple of the Saviour. The moment the little girl entered the sanctuary, the type is replaced by the antitype, the shadows disperse to give way to the light, the symbol gives way to the reality, and the purpose of the old is fulfilled in the new.
As you probably know, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was in the time of the Old Testament the centre of the biblical religion, the centre of true worship. There, in the holy of holies, was the presence of God on earth, and three times a day, the Jews turned to face the temple at the hours of prayer, and only there would they bring their offerings and sacrifices.
This is what a Christian’s relationship to the blessed virgin Mary should be like. The Virgin, as the temple of God, stands at the centre of Christian faith and worship in the sense that, in her person, all the truths concerning Christ are expressed, and she is the safeguard and guarantor of all Orthodox dogmas regarding Christ.
The most important feature of the Jewish temple was the Ark of the covenant. Inside the ark, as we heard last night during the prophecies of Vespers, were the two stone tablets bearing the 10 commandments; words of God written by God and given to Moses. When we refer to the Virgin as the “temple of the Lord”, then, we confess that Jesus Christ is the pre-eternal Word of God, the same God who spoke to Moses, and how the one who gave the law to mankind also fulfilled it on our behalf.
The Ark also contained some of the manna, the mystical food that God has given to the Israelites during their wandering in the desert. The word ‘manna’ is a question…it means “what’s this?”, and it is this question Jesus is answering when he says, “I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. Whoever shall eat of this bread will live forever”. Thus, when we refer to the blessed virgin as the “temple of God”, we are confessing that Jesus Christ is the same God who led and sustained the Israelites in the wilderness, and how Christ is the “bread of God…which came down from heaven and gives life to the world”.
As we already mentioned, the Jews would bring their sacrifices to the temple, and in particular they would bring the paschal lambs sacrificed at Passover. Thus, when we refer to the blessed Virgin as the “temple of God”, we are confessing Christ to be the unblemished lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world, for the life and salvation of the world”. The list of possible examples is endless.
As the temple of God, the Virgin Mary is a living Symbol of faith, she is the one that explains and interprets for us all the mysteries concerning Christ. Christ is the door, as he says in the Gospels, but the Virgin is the key by which we open it.
Fr Kristian Akselberg