The Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple and Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (7/98)
A Meditation on the February 2 Feast Day
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the confidence of things not seen,” says the author of Hebrews (11:1) This feast of the Great Encounter is a celebration of centuries of confidence in things not yet realized but promised by God, salvation and complete union with God. This feast celebrates the fact that God keeps His promises! Not only does God keep His promises to a chosen people through a purified lineage and a virgin mother but also to particular individuals. God revealed His plan to a “prophetess”, Anna, who as an eighty-four year old widow never left the temple “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2: 37), and a “just” man, Simeon.
Scriptures apply the word “just” to a person who has faith and experience of God, and to God, the Son, the Holy and Just One (Acts 3: 14). Thus throughout the Bible certain persons are set apart and called just, righteous, or upright most particularly: Noah in Genesis 6:9; Lot, 2 Peter 2:7; Joseph, foster father of the Lord Jesus, Matthew 1:19; John the Baptist, Mark 6: 20; St. Simeon, Luke 2: 25; St. Joseph of Arimathea, Luke 23: 50; and Cornelius, Acts 10: 22. In three of his epistles St. Paul links faith with the just: “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1: 17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
Luke’s Gospel speaks of Simeon as a just man “waiting for the Consolation of Israel” and for his personal consolation: “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2: 25-26) In response to his meeting with the child Jesus and His most pure mother Mary are the words of Simeon’s Canticle which are sung at Vespers:
Now You shall dismiss your servant, in peace O Lord according to your word: for my eyes have seen your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.
One of the stichera of the feast projects Simeon’s haste to rest in peace:
Dismiss me now, O Master, that I may tell Adam how my eyes have seen the Eternal God made man without undergoing change, and bringing about the salvation of the world. (BDW, p. 629)
I find these words comforting acknowledgement of the community of saints who always rushes to encourage and support one another by prayer and deed. Anna, also, “gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2: 38).
This feast called “Hypapanty” (Hypapante), a Greek word meaning “meeting” is the first encounter of Jesus, our Savior, with His people. Christ comes into the midst of the temple, the gathering place of all the people of God and even of some Gentiles assembled to pray and to fulfill the laws of God handed down by Moses. Jesus, too, wishing to be like us in all things, save sin, that He might sanctify every aspect of human life, enters the Temple carried by His mother and accompanied by St. Joseph to make the customary offering of two turtledoves or pigeons (see Leviticus 12:2-5). Mary, the all pure Theotokos, submits to the rite of Purification as an act of obedience to the customary laws. Jesus submits to the laws of God and customs so that He might illumine all human life for He is the Sun of Justice as the Troparion of the feast declares:
Hail O Woman full of grace, Virgin and Mother of God: from you has risen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God, enlightening those who stand in darkness. You, too, just Elder Simeon, rejoice, for you carried in your arms the Redeemer of our souls, our Resurrection. (Byzantine Daily Worship, p. 627)
Simeon then prophesies “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against…” (Luke 2: 33), the fall of unbelievers and the rising of believers through the waters of baptism. Christians are people of the Resurrection and the Eastern Churches emphasize this continually by standing at the Liturgy on Sunday, which is a celebration of the Resurrection, and in the “risen” bread of the Holy Eucharist.
Yet Christ is also “a sign which shall be spoken against,” a sign of contradiction through the Cross. To die on a Cross, the shame of a social outcast or a criminal, was the way Our Savior brought about our salvation. In the opposing directions of the Cross, Christ gathers all peoples without discrimination “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 13: 34). Christ comes to save all, to bring us back into unity with God, without exclusion.
This feast is important today as a message of hope and a message of encouragement. In a society of instant products, faith in promises, confidence that God has a Plan and it is in progress is not easy. We need the messages of faith and hope shown in the feasts to remind ourselves that God is still in charge of the world no matter how much evil there is in it. We need the reminder that in the fullness of time God is acting. When we fail to celebrate the separate events of the journey to salvation we may miss the message. Let us therefore meet in the assembly of the Church to celebrate our unfailing hope in the promises of God: “I leave you not as orphans…We will come to him and make Our home with him…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I have said to you” (John 14: 18, 23, 26).