|12 - Forefeast Theotokos Entry into Temple, Nov 20, 2016 (with audio)|
For audio, click here
Today, we make ready to celebrate the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple. Born of barren Joachim and Anna as a gift from God in response to their prayer and fasting, the Most Blessed Virgin was brought by them to the Temple when she was but three years old. St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica in the 14th C., gave a homily on her entrance into the Temple and how she spent her days in the Holy of Holies (Hom 53). He describes things in such detail that one could presume he had a vivid imagination; except we know that the Theotokos appeared to him numerous times. I believe St Gregory is describing what the Theotokos herself revealed to him.
“Nowhere on earth is more sacred than the Holy of Holies,” he says (53.31). This was where God dwelt. But, the Holy Virgin is the true and living tabernacle, the true Throne who would hold God. It was for her sake that Moses erected the other tabernacle – the moving Temple of the Exodus – and prepared the inmost sanctuary in it (53.20). But, the Panagia was also the “unchanging shrine” of all God’s graces (53.13). The Psalmist speaks of her when he says: “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved” (Ps 46:5 LXX at 53.37). From this, we see that she is also the real immovable Temple that the Temple of Solomon, made of stone, prefigured.
Several times, the Glory of the LORD “overshadowed” the moving and the immovable Temples; but there was no union of God and man in those overshadowings. The Holy Spirit overshadowed the Holy Virgin (Lk 1:35) just as He did the OT temples, but this was the overshadowing to which the others pointed. Within thisovershadowing, the Power of the Most High did not converse with the true, living Temple through a whirlwind or a cloud, as He did with Job, nor through darkness and fire as He did with Moses on Mt Sinai, not with a gentle breeze as He did with Elijah, but in His Very Person, He directly overshadowed her womb without any disguise. There was nothing between the one overshadowing and the one overshadowed, says St Gregory; neither air nor anything perceptible or beyond our perception. This was union, and from this union the WORD of God took shape in the flesh as Son of God and Son of Man, fashioned from both the Power of the Most High and this Most Holy Lady’s virginal womb (53.45).
It is the true doctrine of Christ that reveals the sublime mystery of the Holy Virgin. The theological understanding of the Theotokos is an essential doctrine of Orthodox Christology. If Christ is God the Son, then the Virgin in whose womb He was conceived and who gave Him birth as Son of Man is truly Theotokos, the true, living Temple in whom God “became flesh and pitched His tent among us” (Jn 1:14).
From a true confession of Christ as the Son of God incarnate, St Gregory gives expression to the Faith of the Church regarding the Theotokos. Because God became flesh in her womb, it follows that she alone forms the boundary between created and uncreated nature; and that no one can come to God except through her and the mediator born of her. None of God’s gifts can be bestowed on angels or men except through her (53.37). As many as will share in God (i.e., become “partakers of the divine nature,” cf. II Pt 1:4) will do so through her. As many as will know God will acknowledge her as the one who contained Him who cannot be contained. And, as many as will extol God will extol her, too, after Him (53.40) because the flesh in which He accomplished our salvation He received from her.
Following St Gregory, we acknowledge her as the reason for everything which preceded her – for the Incarnation is the reason for everything before her. We acknowledge her as the cause of eternal blessings, the delight of those in heaven, the adornment of the whole creation, the beginning, source and root of good things past telling, the summit and fulfillment of everything holy (ibid). Through her, everything in heaven above and on earth below has been opened to us (53.42); for, through her, God was made flesh that He might destroy death and deliver us from the power of the devil (Heb 2:15).
The Christian Faith is the tender love of the Mother for her Son, and of the Son for His Mother (53.38). To deny, ignore or diminish the Theotokos is to set up in place of the true Christian Faith a dry moralism or a vacuous belief system grounded in the conceit of self-righteous assertion and not in the love of God and His Mother that heals the soul and the heart. Through our most Beloved Lady Theotokos, we have received into our bodies the WORD of God - not in theory, but concretely as our food and drink. The Body of Christ that He took from the Holy Virgin and by which He destroyed death by death has become united with our body and so we have been united not only to the LORD but also to His Holy Mother and taken up into the healing tenderness of the love of Christ and His Mother.
Using as her guide holy stillness(hesychia), the Blessed Virgin was engaged in what St Gregory calls “true activity” (53.52), building not barns for earthly riches (Lk 12:16ff.) but her soul into a holy dwelling place for Christ, the treasure of God (2 Cor 4:7). Removed from the world, she led an unencumbered life, living for God alone, making God her delight and continually waiting on Him (53:47). Every Sabbath she listened to Moses and the prophets read in the Temple services and saw how man was estranged from the Creator to become more like the devil and less like God who created him (53.48). And so, she turned her whole mind to God with the aim of finding a remedy for our destruction and uncheckable rush to hell. Interceding for mankind, she took it upon herself to represent us that He might remove the curse from us (53.48). She struggled with the devil in the Sanctuary for many years in respect of all the pleasures invented by the powers of darkness as bait to catch souls and triumphed over him. In all of this, she invented and put into practice the “prayer of the heart”, and handed it down in the Church to those who came after her (53.49).
Dear faithful, having received the Body of Christ, we have received the true Temple of God into our body. We have received Christ and His Holy Mother. Can you see, then that the activity inherent to the Christian Faith is the true activity of the Theotokos: building our body and our soul into a temple through the ascetic activity of the prayer of the heart?
We are in the world; we are not monastics, and we have worldly obligations. But even so, the unseen activity of our soul that gives fiber to our life in the world should be unceasing prayer in our heart. Our home should be a Temple in which we, the temples of God, dwell as did the Theotokos in her home, the Temple. It should be a place unencumbered by the world, where we live for God alone. I.e., the atmosphere in our home should be such that it fosters inner stillness, mutual respect and kindness. What if we turned off the TV, put down the smart phones, and came away from the computer to be together as a family, engaged in activities akin to the true activity of inner stillness? As examples, I offer such activities as arts and craft projects, assigning household chores and, after they’re finished, sit around the fire with a cup of hot cider or tea and read a good story together – even lives of the saints, hymns of the Church, Gospel stories, and talk about what you read. Play board games together, put puzzles together, go on nature walks, watch the sun set and the moon rise after a later afternoon skate on the ice.
If you are single, cultivate inner stillness and reflect on your life. Recount God’s blessings; then, turning deeper within yourself, placing yourself in God’s presence, ask the Holy Spirit to show you habits of mind and behavior that separate you from God and from your own heart. These ideas mean only to illustrate how we can redeem the time and commend ourselves in practical ways to Christ our God, to make the cave of our heart a pleasing dwelling place for God who comes to us through the Blessed Virgin Theotokos. Amen!