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Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple

The sec­ond great feast of the Theotokos is the cel­e­bra­tion of her entrance as a child into the Jerusalem Tem­ple which is com­mem­o­rat­ed on the twen­ty-first of Novem­ber. Like the feast of her nativ­i­ty, this feast of Mary is with­out direct bib­li­cal and his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence. But like the nativ­i­ty, it is a feast filled with impor­tant spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance for the Chris­t­ian believer.

The texts of the ser­vice tells how Mary was brought as a small child to the tem­ple by her par­ents in order to be raised there among the vir­gins con­se­crat­ed to the ser­vice of the Lord until the time of their betrothal in mar­riage. Accord­ing to Church tra­di­tion, Mary was solemn­ly received by the tem­ple com­mu­ni­ty which was head­ed by the priest Zacharias, the father of John the Bap­tist. She was led to the holy place to be “nour­ished” there by the angels in order to become her­self the “holy of holies” of God, the liv­ing sanc­tu­ary and tem­ple of the Divine child who was to be born in her.

There is no doubt that the vers­es of the Old Tes­ta­men­tal Psalm 45, used exten­sive­ly in the ser­vices of the feast, pro­vid­ed a great inspi­ra­tion for the cel­e­bra­tion of Mary’s con­se­cra­tion to the ser­vice of God in the Jerusalem Temple.

Hear, O Daugh­ter, ‘and con­sid­er and incline your ear; for­get your peo­ple and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beau­ty. Since he is your Lord, bow to him…

The princess is decked in her cham­ber with gold-woven robes, in many-col­ored robes she is led to her king, with her vir­gin com­pan­ions, her escort, in her train.

With joy and glad­ness they are led along, as they enter the palace of the king.

Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be cel­e­brat­ed in all gen­er­a­tions, there­fore, the peo­ples will praise you for­ev­er and ever. (Psalm 45:10–17)

The Ortho­dox Church under­stands these words of the psalm to be a prophe­cy direct­ly relat­ed to Mary the Theotokos. Accord­ing to the Gospel of Saint Luke which is read at the Vig­il of each of her feasts, Mary her­self speaks the fol­low­ing words:

My soul mag­ni­fies the Lord and my Spir­it rejoic­es in God my Sav­iour, for he has regard­ed the low estate of his hand­maid­en. For behold, hence-forth all gen­er­a­tions shall call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is his name. And his mer­cy is on those who fear him from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. (Luke 1:47–50)

The main theme of the feast of Mary’s entrance to the Tem­ple, repeat­ed many times in the litur­gi­cal ser­vices, is the fact that she enters the Tem­ple to become her­self the liv­ing tem­ple of God, thus inau­gu­rat­ing the New Tes­ta­ment in which are ful­filled the prophe­cies of old that “the dwelling of God is with man” and that the human per­son is the sole prop­er dwelling place of the Divine Pres­ence. (Ezekiel 37:27; John 14:15–23; Acts 7:47; II Corinthi­ans 6:11; Eph­esians 2:18–22; 1 Peter 2:4; Rev­e­la­tion 22:1–4)

Today is the pre­view of the good will of God, of the preach­ing of the sal­va­tion of mankind. The Vir­gin appears in the tem­ple of God, in antic­i­pa­tion pro­claim­ing Christ to all. Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice, O Divine Ful­fill­ment of the Creator’s dis­pen­sa­tion. (Tropar­i­on)

The most pure Tem­ple of the Sav­iour, the pre­cious Cham­ber and Vir­gin, the Sacred Trea­sure of the Glo­ry of God, is pre­sent­ed today to the house of the Lord. She brings with her the grace of the Spir­it, which the angels of God do praise. Tru­ly this woman is the Abode of Heav­en! (Kon­takion)

The for­ti­eth chap­ter of Exo­dus about the build­ing of the taber­na­cle is read at Ves­pers, togeth­er with pas­sages from the First Book of Kings and the Prophe­cy of Ezekiel. Each one of these read­ings all end with exact­ly the same line, “for the glo­ry of the Lord filled the house (taber­na­cle) of the Lord God Almighty.” (Exo­dus 40:35; I Kings 8:11; Ezekiel 44:4)

Once again on this feast, the Old Tes­ta­ment read­ings are inter­pret­ed as sym­bols of the Moth­er of God. This “glo­ry of the Lord” is referred to the Moth­er of Christ and it “fills” her and all peo­ple after her who “hear the word of God and keep it” as the Gospel of the fes­tal litur­gy pro­claims. (Luke 11:37–28) The epis­tle read­ing at the Divine Litur­gy also pro­claims this very same theme. (Hebrews 9:1–7)

Thus, the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Tem­ple is the feast which cel­e­brates the end of the phys­i­cal tem­ple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. When the child Mary enters the tem­ple, the time of the tem­ple comes to an end and the “pre­view of the good will of God” is shown forth. On this feast we cel­e­brate-in the per­son of Christ’s moth­er-that we too are the house and taber­na­cle of the Lord.

… We are the tem­ple of the liv­ing God, as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my peo­ple.” (II Corinthi­ans 6: 11; Isa­iah 52:1 1)