Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
DISMISSAL (APOLYTIKION) OF THE FEAST. FOURTH TONE
Today is the prelude of God's good will and the heralding of the salvation of mankind. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and she proclaimeth Christ unto all. To her, then, with a great voice let us cry aloud: Rejoice, O thou fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.
Today the All-blameless Virgin led into the temple, to be the habitation of God the King of all and Nourisher of all our life; today the exceedingly pure sanctuary is brought like a three-year old heifer into the Holy of Holies. Let us cry out to her like the Angel: Rejoice, thou who art Blessed among women. [Doxastikon of the Feast]
STICHERA OF THE FEAST. FIRST TONE
As they resplendently lead in the Ever-Virgin Maid, lamp-bearing virgins clearly show the future in spirit; for since she herself is the temple of God, to the temple of God the Lord the Theotokos is led from her tender youth with the glory of virginity.
The Theotokos, a holy promise's glorious fruit, is shown to all of mankind as exalted above all; and she doth fulfill what her parents had vowed, as in all godly piety she is escorted now into the house of God, the Divine Spirit preserving her.
Now let the gate of the temple of God be opened wide; for she who is the temple and throne of the King of all today is brought in glory by Joachim, who consecrateth her to the Lord, Who has Himself truly chosen her out of all to become His Mother in the flesh.
THE GREAT FEAST OF THE ENTRY OF THE MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS INTO THE TEMPLE
According to Holy Tradition, the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the temple took place in the following manner. The parents of the Ever-Virgin Mary, Sts. Joachim and Anna, praying for an end to their childlessness, vowed that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God.
When the Most Holy Virgin reached the age of three, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. They gathered together their relatives and acquaintances, and dressed the All-Pure Virgin in Her finest clothes. Singing sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands, virgins escorted her to the Temple (Ps. 44/45:14-15). There the High Priest and several priests met the handmaiden of God. In the Temple, fifteen high steps led to the sanctuary, which only the priests and High Priest could enter. (Because they recited a Psalm on each step, Psalms 119/120-133/134 are called "Psalms of Ascent.") The child Mary, so it seemed, could not make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly went up the remaining steps and ascended to the highest one. Then the High Priest, through inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest entered once a year to offer a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore, all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence.
After entrusting their child to the Heavenly Father, Joachim and Anna returned home. The All-Holy Virgin remained in the quarters for virgins near the Temple. According to the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1:28; St. Luke 2:37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters around the Temple, in which those who were dedicated to the service of God dwelt.
The earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos from Her infancy until She was taken up to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. "If anyone were to ask me," said Saint Jerome, "how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, I would answer that that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian.
But there are accounts in Church Traditions, that during the All-Pure Virgin's stay at the Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, diligently read the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with handicrafts, prayed constantly, and grew in love for God. From ancient times, the Church has celebrated the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Indications that the Feast was observed in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of Palestinian Christians, which say that the holy Empress Helen (May 21st) built a church in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in the 4th century, also mentions this Feast. In the 8th century Sts Germanos and Tarasius, Patriarchs of Constantinople, delivered sermons on the Feast of the Entry.
The Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple foretells God's blessing for the human race, the preaching of salvation, the promise of the Coming of Christ.
Saint Gregory Palamas wrote: "Now brethren, let us remove ourselves from earthly to celestial things. Let us change our path from the 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 spoon 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 Co-Eternal and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
(Source: Orthodox Church in America)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God