My beloved spiritual children 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.
THE MEETING OF CHRIST
(Source: The Feasts of the Lord: An introduction to the twelve feasts and Orthodox Christology by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos)
Forty days after His birth in the flesh, Christ was presented at the Temple in accordance with legal convention. And because there in the Temple He was received by persons moved by the Holy Spirit, and especially because Symeon took Him into his arms, this feast is also called a Meeting('Hypante" in Greek).
The Church appointed this great feast of the Lord and the Mother of God to be celebrated on the 2nd of February, because it is the fortieth day after the 25th of December, when the Nativity of Christ in the flesh is celebrated. In this way the year is divided by the turning points in the Divine economy and blesses them. At the same time it makes possible for man to be initiated into the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son and Lord (Word) of God.
The event of the presentation of Christ in the Temple on the fortieth day after His birth is described only in the Gospel of Saint Luke (Luke 2:22-29).
God Himself, that is to say the unincarnate Word of God, gave the commandment of purification of the fortieth day to Moses and it has been established for all the Israelites. This commandment was given to Moses even before the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, before they crossed the Red Sea.
The commandment is as follows: "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Sanctify to me the first-born, whatever open the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of animal; it is mine'" (Exodus 13: 1-2). This offering also referred to the first-born male animals, which had to be separated and offered to God. God's commandment was clear: "That you shall set apart to the Lord all the open the womb, that is, every firstling that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the Lord's" (Exodus 13, 12).
This offering was a sign of recognition of God's beneficence, and showed that they belong to Him. It is well known that the commandment to dedicate the first-born male child was given to the people of Israel, through Moses, directly after the killing of the first-born children of the Egyptians, when Pharaoh at once gave permission for the exodus, before they crossed the Red Sea. The explanation of this act is characteristic: "for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt" (Exodus 13, 9).
The bringing of the children to the Temple on the fortieth day was a feast of purification. The mother and child had to be cleansed of the results of the birth.
Certainly the birth of children is a blessing of God, but it must be realized that the manner in which man gives birth is a fruit and result of the fall, and the loss of God's grace. It is in this light that we should see the words: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51, 5). Eventually by dispensation God blessed this way in which man is born, but nevertheless it is a fruit of the fall. Parents as well as children should bear this in mind. The ceremony of purification should be interpreted in this theological framework.
When we reflect on these theological truths, we can see neither Christ nor the Panagia (All-Holy Mother of God) had need of purification. Conception without seed and birth without loss of virginity do not constitute impurity.
The commandment which God gave to Moses said: "If a woman has conceived and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days" (Leviticus 12, 2). This passage shows the purity of the Panagia at once, because the woman is unclean who is to give birth when she has been fertilized by a man. The Panagia, however, conceived by the Holy Spirit and not germinally, and therefore she was not unclean. This means that it did not apply in her case, but she went to the Temple in order to keep the law.
It is a moving scene when Christ as an Infant, as a Baby, is offered to the Temple. The Pre-Eternal God Who, as the Logos (Word) of God, has always been united with His Father and the Holy Spirit and simultaneously has directed the world, the entire universe, is presented to the Temple as an infant in the arms of His mother.
Although Christ was an Infant, at the same time He was "God before the ages", and therefore He was wiser than anyone else. We know that human nature in the womb of the Theotokos was deified by the union of Divine and human nature in the Person of the Logos (Word), and therefore Christ's soul was enriched with the fullness of wisdom and knowledge. Yet this wisdom was expressed in accordance with His age, because if it had been otherwise, He would have appeared to be a freak (St. John of Damaskos). Anyway, although Christ was an infant, nevertheless He was God, having all the fullness of Divinity bodily and all the human wisdom and knowledge by virtue of the Hypostatic union of His Divine and human natures.
By means of this infancy He cured Adam's "infantile mind." When god formed Adam in Paradise, Adam was an infant as to grace and sanctification. He did have an illuminated nous, but He had to be tested and attain deification (theosis). Since he was unshaped and an infant in spirit, because he had an infantile mind, he was easily deceived by the evil demon, who awakened him to sin and evil. Therefore Christ (second Adam), having the bodily age of an infant, cured not only Adam's infantile mind, but also his human nature and did what the first Adam failed to do. Thus, by the Incarnation of His Son, God the Father made the deification (theosis) of man more sure and effective. In Christ the devil could no longer deceive human nature, as he had done with ease in the first Adam.
The kenosis, or self-humbling, of the Son and Logos (Word) of God, as is also seen in the case of His offering to the Temple, exceeded even the Angels' understanding, for they too, were astonished at God's immense condescension. The prophet Habakkuk prophesies the Incarnation of the Logos (Word) of God: "God is coming from Teman, and the Holy One from Mt. Paran. His Majesty covers the heavens, and His glory fills the earth" (Habak. 3:3). The word for 'glory' means the Incarnation and the Divine kenosis (self-humbling) of the Logos (Word) of God. 'Covered the heavens' means that it covered, blanketed even the height of the Angels, since even the Angels were astonished on seeing the immense and inexpressible condescension of the Logos (Word) of God.
God had appointed that the offering of the first-born male should be accompanied by the offering of an unblemished lamb or a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons. In Leviticus it says: "she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtle-dove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting" (Leviticus 12, 6). St. Luke the Evangelist says that Christ's parents brought Him to the Temple "to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, 'a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons" (Luke 2:24).
Christ's parents did not offer a lamb as the law provided, because they were poor. The wealthy classes offered a year-old lamb, while the poorer classes offered a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons (Procopios). Christ was really was born into a poor family and grew-up as a poor man. In the end, Christ's poverty consisted not so much in the fact that He was born and lived in poverty, but rather that He became Incarnate and assumed human nature. As Saint Gregory the Theologian says, while He was rich, He became poor so that we might become rich with His Divinity.
The law provided that a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons be offered, because the turtle-doves signify the wisdom of the parents who were joined together according to the law of marriage, while the two young pigeons referred to the Panagia and Christ, because Christ was born of the Virgin and remained Virgin Himself to the end. Thus, while the former signified the honorable and blessed marriage, the latter symbolized the virginity of the Panagia and of Christ (St. Gregory Palamas).
The offering of the Lord which the law provided was a figure of Christ. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria points out, "the turtle-dove is very loquacious among sparrows of the field, but the dove is gentle and meek." This symbolized Christ, for Christ babbled like a pigeon to all the world and filled His own vineyard, that is, us who believe in Him, with His sweet voice, and like a dove He was meek to the utmost degree. Clearly then, this offering referred to the Incarnation of the Merciful God.
Apart from Saint Symeon the receiver of God, in the Temple there was also Anna, the Prophetess, who was granted to recognize God and to proclaim that He was her Redeemer. Anna was eighty-four years old and was widowed after having live with her husband for seven years (St. Luke 2:36-40).
Anna's characteristic feature was that she was in the Temple night and day and did not leave it. Thus, while St. Symeon was led to the Temple by the Holy Spirit, she remained there, and in the Holy Spirit she recognized God.
The Evangelist Luke calls her a Prophetess, because she had the Holy Spirit. Saint Cosmas the hymnographer says that Holy Anna "with reverence confessed." But there is a difference between a prophet and an interpreter, according to Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite. The Prophet announces what is going to happen some time later, while the interpreter explains the present or past, or else things that are about to happen in a short time. It appears that the Evangelist Luke uses the word 'prophet' in the sense of interpreter, since it was through the Holy Spirit that Anna recognized the coming of the Logos (Word) of God.
Moreover, prophecy in the New Testament also has the meaning of interpretation in the Holy Spirit of the deeper meaning of the law and more generally of Holy Scripture. Therefore in the language of Holy Scripture Prophets are theologians who discern spirits.
Anna's alternative to confession is thanksgiving and praise to God for sending the redemption of Israel. Her action combines thanksgiving and proclamation, because "she spoke of him" (St. Luke 2:38).
No sooner had Saint Symeon received Christ is his arms than he exclaimed: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou has prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel" (St. Luke 2:29-31). This is a magnificent expression, which the Church has taken over and placed at the end of the Vespers service, as well as in other services, such as the Thanksgiving after Holy Communion of the Holy Gifts.
Righteous Symeon blessed the Theotokos and Joseph, who followed these events with wonder and amazement. And he then turned to the Theotokos to make two remarkable prophecies to her.
The first referred to the Person of the Godman Christ. "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against" (St. Luke 2:34). This prophecy was realized during Christ's life-time, but it constitutes to be realized in the history of humanity and in the person life of every man.
The Godman Christ is the fall of those who do not believe in Him and the rising of those who do. Golgotha is an example, one thief believes and is saved, the other doubts and is condemned. This happens also in our inner life. Christ falls when we, the baptized, fall through prostitution, and He is raised through our prudence. Likewise is can be understood that Christ will suffer and fall in death, but also many will be raised through His own fall and His own death (Saint Theophylaktos).
Saint Symeon's second prophecy, which referred to the Panagia (All-Holy Mother of God), is as follows: "Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (St. Luke 2:35).
Apparently this prophecy refers to the pain and sorrow of the Theotokos about the Cross, when she saw her Son, who is the Son of God at the same time, suffering and enduring. Though the Panagia did not endure or suffer pain during the birth of Christ, precisely because she conceived Him without seed and gave birth without corruption, she had to suffer very much at the time of His departure.
This was the very sword that would pierce the soul of the Theotokos at Christ's death on the Cross and would reveal the thoughts of many men which were hidden in their hearts. From the pain which she felt they understood that this was His natural mother.
Saint Athanasios the Great says that the phrase "that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" means that the Cross of Christ, His Passion, would reveal all the inner dispositions of men, since Peter, out of warmth and zeal, would deny Him, the Disciples would desert Him, Pilate would express regret at night, the centurion would believe through a dream and Nicodemos would be occupied with matters of the funeral.
This prophecy does not refer only to the Incarnation and the crucifixion, but also to the whole life of the Church, which is the real Body of Christ. Some are saved, remaining in the Church, and others are condemned, denying its saving work. Also, since through Baptism we have received the grace of God in our heart and it never leaves us, but is simply concealed by the passions, therefore when we sin, we fall, and when we struggle and repent, we are raised up again.
Christ will be "for the fall and rising of many" also in the next life, since all will see Christ, but for some it will be Paradise and for others Hell.
This last clearly reveals that the feast of the Meeting of Christ is not simply a feast referring only to Christ the Lord and pointing to one of the stages of the Divine Economy, but it is also a feast of the person who lives by Christ.
The Meeting of Christ shows that Christ is the Life and Light of men and that man should aim to attain this personal light and personal life. The Church sings, by way of exhortation, "illuminate my soul and the light of my senses, that I may see Thee in purity; and I will proclaim that Thou art God." In order for anyone to proclaim God, he must see Him clearly. Only those who see God or at least accept the experience of those who see, can become teachers. But in order to see God one must previously be illuminated, shine in soul and bodily senses. Then the feast of the Meeting of Christ also becomes a feast of the meeting of every believer.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God