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 ('Hpapante', Gk. Θεία Υπαπαντή του Κυρίου) (February 2nd)
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 Spirit, and especially because Symeon took Him into his arms, this feast is also called a Meeting ('Hypapante' 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 it possible for man to be initiated into the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son and Logos/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 2:22-39).
God Himself, that is to say the unincarnate Logos/Word of God, gave the Commandment of purification on the fortieth day to Moses and it had 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 all the first-born, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man 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 that 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).
In another book of the Old Testament, Leviticus, we see that God gives more details about the ceremony of consecration and thanksgiving. The woman who bears a male child is to circumcise him on the eighth day and offer him to the temple on the fortieth day. And with the offering of the child "she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtle-dove for a burnt offering" (Leviticus 12:1-6).
Since the Logos/Word of God Himself gave the law to Moses, when he assumed human flesh He had to keep the law, so as not to be a law-breaker, Saint Cyril of Alexandria says that when anyone sees Christ keeping the law, he should not be shocked, nor should he regard as a servant Him Who is free, but he should have a better understanding of "the depth of the economy". This keeping of the law of the offering in the Temple is part of the mystery of the divine kenosis of the Son and Logos/Word of God.
Likewise, according to Saint Gregory Palamas, Christ had no need of purification, but since ritual purification was legislated in the Old Testament for both the parents and the children, He did it in order to obey the law which He Himself had given. Christ had no need of ritual purification, because He was conceived without seed and given birth without loss of virginity. "There was certainly no need for purification, but it was an act of obedience." This obedience had the meaning of the new Adam, in contrast to the disobedience of the old Adam. And if the disobedience of the first Adam resulted in the fall and corruption, the obedience of the new Adam, Christ, brought disobedient human nature back to God and cured man of responsibility for the disobedience.
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; it is the so-called coats of skin, which Adam wore after 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 50:5). 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 that 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 born a male child, then she shall by 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.
God's Commandment was clear: "Sanctify to me all the first-born whatever opens the womb" (Exodus 13:2). This Commandment is at the same time a prophecy, which refers to the Incarnation of the Son and Logos/Word of God. It does not relate absolutely to every first-born male child, for no man, not even the first-born, opens his mother's womb. In his homily on this subject, Saint Athanasius the Great says that the infants do not open their mothers' wombs, "but the man's coming together with the woman". The womb opens at the coming together of the couple and the conception of the child. But Christ opened His mother without destroying her virginity, since He left her closed again, "When nothing had knocked from outside, this infant opened from within".
After mentioning what was done in the Old Testament was a type of the Nativity of Christ, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite says that Christ alone opened the virgin's womb "in a way worthy of God and beyond comprehension, for, having opened her in being born, He left her closed again, just as she was before the conception and birth."
Christ is the first-born and is characterized as such in Holy Scripture. This characterization certainly does not mean that there is also a second-born and a third-born, but that He was born first, regardless of whether there was a second or third. The term 'first-born' must be associated with the 'only-begotten', as Christ is also characterized in Holy Scripture.
The term 'first-born' also refers to the two births of Christ, that is today, to the pre-eternal birth from a virgin father, without a mother, and the birth in time from a virgin mother, without a father (Saint Gregory Palamas).
Christ is called first-born in three ways. First, because He was born of the Father before all ages. The Apostle Paul says: "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born over all creation" (Col. 1:15). And as we saw before, the "first-born" is identified with the "only-begotten". Secondly, He is called first-born in His human birth, and regardless of whether another was born of the Panagia. "And she brought forth her first-born son" (St. Luke 2:7). And thirdly, He is called first-born from the dead because He was the first to rise from the dead, thus making it possible for everyone to be raised at the appropriate time. The Resurrection is also characterized as a "birth", because resurrection is regarded as a birth. The Apostle Paul says: "he is the beginning and the first-born from among the dead" (Col. 1:18). The first meaning of the first-born is connected with the birth according to nature of the Son of God, that is to say, the term refers to theology, and the other two are connected with the incarnation of the Logos/Word and refer to the economy.
According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Christ became first-born in three ways in order to give life to our own human nature. Of course He is not referring to His birth from the Father before all ages. Just as our own human nature is given life by three births, that from our mother, that from baptism and that from the dead, which we hope will happen in the future, so too Christ became the first-born for us in three ways, so that our own human nature would be given life and deified (theosis). For the birth of the body still has to be followed by the spiritual birth. (Source: The Feast of the Lord: An Introduction to the twelve feasts and Orthodox Christology by His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos HIEROTHEOS)
(To be continued)
Divine Services on Tuesday, Feb. 2nd:
Orthros (Matins) at 9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.
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.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry)
The sinner and unworthy servant of God