ONE MORE (mostly) UNKNOWN TREASURE
I’ve often commented that we priests often feel like salespeople, trying to convince our parishioners of the great deals that we have available to us in the great treasure that is Orthodox Christianity. Quite the opposite of sleazy used-car salespeople hocking lemons, the Clergy of the Church stand before their people inviting them to receive the most priceless gift anyone has ever been offered: the path that leads to the Kingdom of God, experienced both in this life and the next.
It is in this vein that I have encouraged our parishioners to attend tonight’s celebration of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. We remember that incredible moment when a three year-old girl climbed the stairs of the Temple of the Most High God in Jerusalem and was welcomed to live there, to be raised as close to God as was earthly possible. Though she did not know it then, this would prepare her for God’s invitation for her to become the mother of His Son, Who would offer us our salvation.
From one perspective, tonight’s service is just one more church service offered in the middle of a busy week, and for which the vast majority of Orthodox Christians will not rank high enough in their priorities on how to spend these few hours. That’s one perspective–even the majority one–in which we find ourselves. But there’s another view, and it’s quite the opposite.
The excerpt below is taken from a homily by Saint Gregory Palamas which was preached on this Feast over 600 years ago. It powerfully shows us just how important this Feast is in our salvation. My hope is that it inspires anyone who reads it to receive this priceless gift that we have tonight, if at all possible. If, by the time you read this, you have missed the service, realize that the same blessing holds true for each and every Divine Service. It is in the Divine Services that we are invited to delve into the depths of God’s truth, His peace and His love. Not a bad way to spend a few hours on a Wednesday night, if you ask me. “Cause, boy, do I have a deal for you.”
One More (mostly) Unknown Treasure
The choice of the future Mother of God, beginning with the very sons of Adam and proceeding through all the generations of time, through the Providence of God, passes to the Prophet-king David and the successors of his kingdom and lineage. When the chosen time had come, then from the house and posterity of David, Joachim and Anna are chosen by God. Though they were childless, they were by their virtuous life and good disposition the finest of all those descended from the line of David.And when in prayer they besought God to deliver them from their childlessness, and promised to dedicate their child to God from its infancy. By God Himself, the Mother of God was proclaimed and given to them as a child, so that from such virtuous parents the all-virtuous child would be raised.So in this manner, chastity joined with prayer came to fruition by producing the Mother of virginity, giving birth in the flesh to Him Who was born of God the Father before the ages.
Now, when Righteous Joachim and Anna saw that they had been granted their wish, and that the divine promise to them was realized in fact, then they on their part, as true lovers of God, hastened to fulfill their vow given to God as soon as the child had been weaned from milk. They have now led this truly sanctified child of God, now the Mother of God, this Virgin into the Temple of God. And She, being filled with Divine gifts even at such a tender age. She, rather than others, determined what was being done over Her. In Her manner She showed that She was not so much presented into the Temple, but that She Herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.
Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within Her, wished to set Her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent Her mystical food, with which She was strengthened in nature, while in body She was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during Her youth, so that through Her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in Her miraculous birthgiving.
So it is, and this is why She, from the beginning of time, was chosen from among the chosen. She Who is manifest as the Holy of Holies, Who has a body even purer than the spirits purified by virtue, is capable of receiving … the Hypostatic Word of the Unoriginate Father. Today the Ever-Virgin Mary, like a Treasure of God, is stored in the Holy of Holies, so that in due time, (as it later came to pass) She would serve for the enrichment of, and an ornament for, all the world. Therefore, Christ God also glorifies His Mother, both before birth, and also after birth.
We who understand the salvation begun for our sake through the Most Holy Virgin, give Her thanks and praise according to our ability. And truly, if the grateful woman (of whom the Gospel tells us), after hearing the saving words of the Lord, blessed and thanked His Mother, raising her voice above the din of the crowd and saying to Christ, ““Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps Thou hast sucked”” (Lk. 11:27), then we who have the words of eternal life written out for us, and not only the words, but also the miracles and the Passion, and the raising of our nature from death, and its ascent from earth to Heaven, and the promise of immortal life and unfailing salvation, then how shall we not unceasingly hymn and bless the Mother of the Author of our Salvation and the Giver of Life, celebrating Her conception and birth, and now Her Entry into the Holy of Holies?
Now, brethren, let us remove ourselves from earthly to celestial things. Let us change our path from the flesh to the spirit. Let us change our desire from temporal things to those that endure. Let us scorn fleshly delights, which serve as allurements for the soul and soon pass away. Let us desire spiritual gifts, which remain undiminished. Let us turn our reason and our attention from earthly concerns and raise them to the inaccessible places of Heaven, to the Holy of Holies, where the Mother of God now resides.
Therefore, in such manner our songs and prayers to Her will gain entry, and thus through her mediation, we shall be heirs of the everlasting blessings to come, through the grace and love for mankind of Him Who was born of Her for our sake, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, honor and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father and His Coeternal and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
The full text of this homily can be read by clicking here. Thanks to Fr. Dan Daly, who mentioned this homily in the talks he recently gave to the Clergy of the Midwest Diocese.