21 November 2018

She is the true Temple

Today is the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple; one of the great Feasts of the Blessed Virgin in the Orthodox Church. It commemorates the occasion on which the holy ancestors of God Joachim and Anna presented the three-year-old Mary at the Temple and devoted her to the service of God, though the date is fixed to the dedication of a Cathedral erected in Jerusalem in 543 at the behest of Emperor Justinian (and thus the observance has something of an imperial flavour to it).

According to the tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary was brought by her parents to the Temple to be consecrated to the Lord in the presence of the High Priest Zacharias; her parents made a solemn procession of young girls holding lamps before her as they made their way to the Temple. But on the way, the infant Mary was overcome with joy, not looking back at her parents but keeping her eyes fixed on the Temple – she broke into a run as they approached, past all of her attendants, and leapt into the arms of Zacharias, who received her with the same joy and gladness, giving her his blessing. Then Zacharias brought her into the Holy of Holies where even the High Priest was only permitted on the High Holy Day every year: to the wonder and amazement of all who beheld it, the grace of God descended upon the infant girl, who began to dance with joy on the steps of the altar – just as her ancestor David had danced with joy before the Ark in a garment of linen.

The Most Holy Theotokos could do, in the infant innocence which she would bear unblemished and immaculate even to adulthood, what not even David had dared to do. She came before God with a child’s vulnerability and singleness of heart. She did what was forbidden to everyone else, not as an act of disobedience or of self-display or of self-justification, but because she was simply caught up in the joy of being in the presence of God. One can see in this story precisely the kind of spiritual doyikayt that marked her out. She had no reflexive notion of being in Jerusalem, no ego in her gaze upon the Temple, only the sheer exuberant joy of being here, wholly in God’s presence. (I could with justice remark again on how this singleness of mind and lack of ego makes her not a Zionist, but that would be a big step down from the material point, which has to do with her personality itself.)

Furthermore, this she was allowed to do by the High Priest himself, because she, not the building of stones and mortar, was the true Temple. She, and not a building of stones and mortar, was to bear the Holy of Holies within her womb. She, and not a building of stones and mortar, to give flesh and a human nature to the Most High God, to place the finishing mark of God upon His creation in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the Orthodox Church, the Holy Theotokos is honoured and cherished the most highly for this. She is, to be sure, as we say and as we feel and as we know, the crown of all creation, the queen of all things intelligible, the one true earthly Temple fit to house all heavenly things. In the tale of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple which the Church bids us remember, we are reminded again both how truly human Mary was, and also how deeply hallowed in the humility and in the self-forgetting love which made her fit to be the true Temple.

It is only through the Ever-Blessed and Most Pure Mother of God, only through this self-forgetting love that she showed toward God in every aspect of her earthly life, that Christ appeared in the world. It is only through her that our fleshly nature could be saved. In her, rests all of creation’s hope, not least a sinner’s like mine.

Пресвятая Богородица, спаси нас!
Today is the preview of the good will of God,
Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the temple of God,
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice,
O Divine Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.