The Feast of the Hypapante (the Meeting of Christ) or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Part II)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


By Metropolitan of Nafpaktos HIEROTHEOS

Christ is called first-born in three ways. First, because He was born of the Father before all ages. The holy Apostle Paul says: "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born over all creation" (Col. 1:15). 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 holy 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 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.

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 and all the human wisdom and knowledge by virtue of the hypostatic union of His Divine and human natures.

God has 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 o a turtle-dove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting" (Lev. 12:6). Saint 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" (St. 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 turtledoves or two young pigeons (Procopius). Christ 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 turtledoves or two young pigeons be offered, because the turtledoves, 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 (Saint 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 symbolizes Christ, for Christ babbled like a pigeon to all the world and filled His own vineyard, that is, us who believes 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. (Source: The Feasts of the Lord. An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts and Orthodox Christology)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George