The Presentation of the Theotokos In the Temple

The Presentation of the Theotokos In the Temple November 20, 2008

presentationtemple

Troparion of the Mother of God   

Today is the prelude of God’s goodwill and the prophecy of the salvation of men. The Virgin appears openly in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. So let us cry to her with loud voices: Rejoice, thou who art the fulfillment of the Creator’s providence. 

Kontakion of the Mother of God   

The most pure Temple of the Saviour, the most precious bridal chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasury of the glories of God, today enters into the house of the Lord, bringing with her the grace that is the Divine Spirit. And the Angels of God sing of her: This is the heavenly tabernacle.

In the East, the Presentation of the Mother of God is an important, solemn feast day which takes place near the beginning of the St Philip’s Fast. Both the feast and the fast prepare the faithful for the Nativity of Christ. The first brings us to a proper spiritual attitude, ready to receive the blessings of the season; the second reminds us of the work of the Mother of God and how her life and actions prepared the way for the incarnation. With fasting and with joy, we are brought into a closer walk with God.   

According to tradition, when she was but three years old, her parents, St Joachim and Anna, took Mary to the Temple, to dedicate her to the service of God. When she was brought forward, something unusual happen: the chief priest did that which had never been done before. Inspired by God, he took Mary to the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple. From that time on, Mary was given over to the Temple, where she was given a domicile next to it, in which she was prepared for a life in service to God. 

The whole of Israel finds itself united as if one in Mary, the chosen one who is to bring forth the Messiah, Jesus, the God-Man. The history of Israel as “Daughter Zion,” is the history of the preparation for the incarnation; the chosen people were chosen, made separate, and purified by God for this very purpose. An appropriate understanding of Mary in the Church and salvation history is important because she is the bond between the Old and New Covenants; she represents the whole of Israel in her person, and she brings forth Israel’s fruit: Christ the savior to us all.[1] But this puts her in a rather unusual position, as theologians rightfully understand. Born in the Old Covenant, representing the purity of that Covenant, she becomes the first partaker of the New. While she represents Israel, she also represents the Church, the new, purified Israel. She is Mother of God, but she is also Daughter Zion. “Nowhere does she seem to be at home; except in her Son, who endures and overcomes the same tensions; or, ultimately, in a Church that should endure them but for the most part is reluctant.”[2] 

Through the Theotokos, the Word assumed flesh, and became man. Israel had been, “a kind of intermediary, at once signifying the past in the future and showing that future and past are joined. For it possessed the Promised Land as another, second Paradise in place of the original garden. It had the ark in the place of the Theotokos, and by means of these types it both declared and represented for us in images the return and inheritance which, by the renewal of the Holy Spirit, would come to pass for the saints in the world to come.[3] As the presence of God was to surround her in the conception of Christ, so she was to become the witness, in her very person, of the new and ever-lasting covenant.[4] 

It is for this reason why the symbolism of the feast, that the Theotokos was taken into the Holy of Holies, is important. For it represents the central place she has in the eternal covenant of Christ. At the center of human history is Jesus, and eternally united to Jesus is the Theotokos, whose flesh was used for the body of the God-man.  Her yes to God, her answer to the angel at the annunciation, is the answer of the elect; it is the type and foundation for all who are to say yes to God, to be saved by God. Her answer is the only universal answer, the one which ties and binds us all together in salvation history. And it is an answer which was prepared for by God in eternity, and by the work of the Holy Spirit in the formation and direction of her life. 

And yet we can also describe the Theotokos as the Temple of the Lord, because she personally bore God within her very womb. And in the entry into the Temple, the presence of the Lord, once with the Temple in Jerusalem, began to move and stir; the fulfillment of the Temple in Jerusalem was at hand. Indeed, as Bulgakov suggests, “The Virgin Herself is the Temple in the Temple, its true Holy of Holies, the living Divine Tabernacle.”[5] She was to be drawn to the center of the Temple in Jerusalem because she was, in her being, what the Holy of Holies itself represented. The inclination of the high priest (tradition says he was Zacharias) was right, pointing out his own place in the history of the prophets. For it is only with divine inspiration that the high priest would have dared do that which he would not have otherwise done. And it could only have been the prompting of the Holy Spirit, ever preparing the way for the incarnation, that Mary would not only go, but as she went, remain unmolested by the people watching in awe. 

Footnotes

[1]Nonetheless, in a certain respect Mariology ties the knot joining Old and New. Mariology cannot be found apart from its union with the prophetic theology of the bridal people of God. From the beginning, in Luke and John, the Marian  authors of the New Testament, Mariology is woven entirely out of the Old Testament’s faith,” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Daughter Zion. Trans. John M. McDermott, S.J. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983), 31.
[2] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama III: Dramatis Personae. Trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 319.
[3] St Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses. Vol. 1: The Church and the Last Things. Trans. Alexander Golitzin (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 101 [II.5].
[4]Moses writes that an Ark once carried manna and the golden jar.
What does he want us to look for here?
For nothing in Scripture is trivial, nothing unclear, but everything is direct.
The golden jar: Christ’s body;
the manner: the divine Word to which it was united.
Who is the Ark?

                 A Virgin gives birth, and after childbirth remains still a virgin.”

St Romanos. On the Life of Christ: Kontakia. trans. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1995), 18.
[5] Sergius Bulgakov, Churchly Joy. Trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2008), 16.

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  • Mark DeFrancisis

    From ‘The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe’:

    WILD air, world-mothering air,
    Nestling me everywhere,
    That each eyelash or hair
    Girdles; goes home betwixt
    The fleeciest, frailest-flixed 5
    Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
    With, riddles, and is rife
    In every least thing’s life;
    This needful, never spent,
    And nursing element; 10
    My more than meat and drink,
    My meal at every wink;
    This air, which, by life’s law,
    My lung must draw and draw
    Now but to breathe its praise, 15
    Minds me in many ways
    Of her who not only
    Gave God’s infinity
    Dwindled to infancy
    Welcome in womb and breast, 20
    Birth, milk, and all the rest
    But mothers each new grace
    That does now reach our race—
    Mary Immaculate,
    Merely a woman, yet 25
    Whose presence, power is
    Great as no goddess’s
    Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
    This one work has to do—
    Let all God’s glory through, 30
    God’s glory which would go
    Through her and from her flow
    Off, and no way but so.

    I say that we are wound
    With mercy round and round 35
    As if with air: the same
    Is Mary, more by name.
    She, wild web, wondrous robe,
    Mantles the guilty globe,
    Since God has let dispense 40
    Her prayers his providence:
    Nay, more than almoner,
    The sweet alms’ self is her
    And men are meant to share
    Her life as life does air….

  • I love the icon, Henry… did you find it online?

  • Chris,

    Yes, I found it online; when looking for icons for my posts, I use google image finder to start (unless I already have an icon — I own many; to be sure, some think too many).

    I hope people like the text; when doing this series, I’ve found some days are more difficult to write about, and I try to find something to bring out of it. Some days just are quite easy.

  • Mark

    That’s a great poem by Hopkins; and certainly relates to much of what I thought about when writing this, though I didn’t think of looking into his poems for this post. Now I know I should have!

  • This is a tremendous post! Beautifully written and presented. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely link to it. Stunning.

  • Viator

    Thank you — I am glad you enjoyed it (and will suggest others to read it); I try to make sure we get content like this on VN because I think it is important not to forget our spiritual center.