Entry of the Most-Holy Theotokos into the Temple



Celebrated on the 21st Day of the Month November


The Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God happened, according to the preserved accounts of Holy Tradition, in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, Righteous Joakim and Anna, in praying for a solution to their childlessness, gave a vow that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God.

When the Most Holy Virgin reached three years of age, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. Having gathered together their kinsfolk and acquaintances, and having dressed the All-Pure Mary in Her finest clothes, and with the singing of sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands they carried Her to the Jerusalem Temple. There the high-priest with a throng of priests met the maiden of God. In the Temple, the stairway led up fifteen high steps. The Child Mary, so it seemed, could not Herself make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly made it up over the remaining steps and ascended to the highest. Then the high-priest through an inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, and herein of all people it was only the high-priest that entered one time a year with a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence.

Righteous Joakim and Anna, having entrusted their Child to the will of the Heavenly Father, returned home. The Most Blessed Mary remained in the domicile for girls, situated near the Temple. Round about the Temple, through the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1: 28; Lk. 2: 37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters, in which dwelt those dedicated to the service of God. The earthly life of the Most Holy Mother of God from the time of Her infancy to the time of Her ascent to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. “If anyone were to ask me, — said Blessed Jerome, — how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, — I would answer: that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian”.

But in the Church tradition there were preserved accounts, that during the time of the stay of the All-Pure Virgin at the Jerusalem Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, read diligently the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with handcrafts, prayed constantly and grew in love for God. In remembrance of the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Jerusalem Temple, Holy Church from ancient times established a solemn feastday. The decretals for the making of the feast in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of the Palestinian Christians, where mention is made that the holy Empress Helen built a church in honor of the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God.  In the IV Century there is mention of this feast by Sainted Gregory of Nyssa. In the VIII Century Saints Germanos and Tarasios, Constantinople Patriarchs, delivered sermons on the feastday of the Entry.

The feast of the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God — foretells the blessing of God for the human race, the preaching of salvation, the promise of the coming of Christ.

Translation by Fr. Stephen Janos from the Moscow Patriarchate texts, “Reference Book for Clergy-Servers”

Why fast before the Nativity?

For us Orthodox Christians, we begin the Nativity Fast (Advent) on November 15th.  Why do we fast? Also, from what foods do we normally fast from during the Nativity fast?

We fast before the Great Feast of the Nativity in order to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Our Lord’s birth. As in the case of Great Lent, the Nativity Fast is one of preparation, during which we focus on the coming of the Savior by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

By fasting, we “shift our focus” from ourselves to others, spending less time worrying about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and so on in order to use our time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. We learn through fasting that we can gain control over things which we sometimes allow to control us—and for many people, food is a controlling factor.
[We live in the only society in which an entire TV network is devoted to food!] While fasting from food, however, we are also challenged to fast from sin, from gossip, from jealousy, from anger, and from those other things which, while well within our control, we all too often allow to control us.

Just as we would refrain from eating a lot before going to an expensive restaurant for dinner—if we “ruin our appetite” we will enjoy the restaurant less—so too we fast before the Nativity in order to more fully feast and celebrate on the Nativity itself.

During the Nativity Fast, we are called upon to refrain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil. At the same time, we are challenged, within this framework, to fast to the best of our ability, and to do so consistently.
If we must modify the extent to which we fast within this framework, it is of course possible, but in every instance our fasting should be consistent and regular, for Christ does not see fasting as an option, but as a “must.”
In Matthew Christ says, “WHEN you fast, do not be like the hypocrites,” not “IF you fast” or “IF YOU CHOOSE to fast.”

Finally, it seems quite odd that in our society—a society in which people gladly and freely spend huge sums of money for diets, most of which recommend that one refrain from red meats and dairy products—fasting is not more widely embraced. How odd that a Jenny Craig consultant or diet guru or physician will tell us to refrain from eating meat or cheese or butter and we will gladly embrace—and pay large sums of money for—his or her advice, while when the Church offers the same advice [at “no cost”] we tend to balk, as if we were being asked to do the impossible. – from OCA.org


Guidelines for the Nativity Fast

What are you listening for?

A monk needed to go into the big city for an errand, accompanied by one of his acquaintances. In the midst of urban uproar the monk claimed to have heard a cricket, though his companion did not believe him. Crossing the road and looking carefully under a tree the monk found the cricket, to the astonishment of his companion.
– “You must have a supernatural hearing!”
– “No. My ears are not different from yours,” said the monk. “But everything depends on what you are used to listening to.”
– “No! I would not be able to hear a cricket in this noise!” said the companion.
– “It all depends on what is important to you,” reiterated the monk. “Let’s make a demonstration.” So the monk took out a few coins from his pocket and dropped them on the asphalt. And despite of the loud noise of the city, all the people around them turned their heads thinking the scattered coins could have fallen from their pockets.
– “Do you understand now? It all depends on what is important to people… If we watch or listen to the daily news on television, our ears become accustomed only to what is ugly and evil. We become fearful and helpless! Then we will say: “Life is hard, people are evil, we live in an insecure and ugly world, you cannot trust anyone or anything…”

And meanwhile the crickets sing, the leaves rustle, the waters flow.. and we do not hear them.

-Taken from Orthodox Gladness

Homily for Sunday of All Saints and the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles in the Orthodox Church. Fr. Philip LeMasters

There are many problems in our society and around the world that can easily distract us from what is most important in the Christian life. Even though they come to us easily, anger, judgment, worry, and fear about matters beyond our control cannot make us holy and usually only distract us from finding healing where we need it in our souls, relationships, and daily challenges. Christ calls us to play our role in saving the world by becoming living icons of His salvation that attract others to the life of the Kingdom of Heaven in stark contrast to the corrupt ways of the world. In other to do that, we ourselves must become holy. Otherwise, we will have nothing to offer the world that it does not already have.
Last Sunday was the feast of Pentecost, when we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. The Spirit has been poured out richly upon all in the Body of Christ, which shows that God wants to dwell in the hearts and souls of human beings, that He wants to make us partakers of the divine nature by grace.
Today is both the Sunday of All Saints and the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles. Now we remember all of those who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, who have been transformed by our Lord and His love, as well as the great pillars of the Church who first answered our Lord’s call to seek the first the Kingdom of God. The root meaning of the word “saint” is holy, and we are reminded today that the great cloud of witnesses includes both those whose names and stories are celebrated openly in the Church, as well as those whose holiness is not famous. For the Lord’s blessing is for all in every generation who respond to Him with obedience, faith, humility, and love, whether they are widely known or not.
Surely, most of our Lord’s most saints haven’t been officially given a title by the Church or had their images put on icons. But they are known by God and glorified in the Kingdom because in ways, perhaps known only to God, they entered into His holiness, they embraced His love and became beacons of light in our darkened world.
But what does that have to do with you and me, who probably can’t imagine ourselves as saints? Well, the good news of the gospel is that we are all called to become holy, yes, actually to become saints. No matter who we are, what mistakes we have made in our lives, no matter what our circumstances are, we are all able to find the healing and fulfillment that the saints have known. We too are able to enter into the holiness of God, to receive and be changed by His love. He wants nothing more than to make our lives shine with the glory of His Kingdom, right now and throughout all eternity. Of course, it’s a journey, a process for all of us to become holy. It takes repentance, humility, and a refusal to give up. Remember that Jesus Christ said that He will confess us to His Father in heaven if we confess Him before other people. But if we don’t, He won’t claim us before the Father. If we want to unite our lives to Christ, we must confess Him every day in word and deed in the small details of our lives.
Do we treat other people with the love, care, and the dignity that we would show to the Lord Himself? Do we speak to others in ways that are blessings to them, that help them experience peace and joy? Don’t think only of your friends or those whom you admire. What about people who don’t like you, who have wronged you in some way, whom you find it easy to judge, or whom you just don’t like? The real test is how we treat them. We confess our faith when we live our faith. If we don’t act or talk like Christians, we deny Christ. We give the impression that we want no part of Him, and thus turn away from Him and judge ourselves. That’s not the way of the saints, however, and it must not be our way of living if we want to share in His life and play our role in the salvation of the world.
Christ tells us that we have to take up our cross and follow Him, as did the Twelve Apostles. In order to understand this hard saying, we have to remember that our Lord went to the cross for us; He bore the consequences of all human sinfulness and corruption to the point of death, burial, and Hades so that He could conquer them and bring us into eternal life through His resurrection. That is the ultimate act of love. If we want to share in the new life that He has brought to the world, we have to keep all our blessings and relationships in perspective and not make idols of them. Instead, we must offer them to the Father even as the Son offered Himself up on the cross.
We have to bear the cross of sacrificing the idolatry even of our spouses, children, parents, and other loved ones. For like us, they are simply human beings and not God. And if we make false gods of them, we will cause them and us many problems by acting as though they are the center of the universe. We will bend them and ourselves all out of shape, putting more weight on them and us than anyone can bear. Instead, we must take up the cross of loving others in Christ, for He is the source and standard of all love worthy of the name. Out of love, the Father gave the Son for the salvation of the world and the Son offered Himself in free obedience. That is sacrifice beyond what we can understand. And if we share in that love, we must sacrifice the ultimately self-centered illusion that we will find or give other people true fulfillment and happiness apart from Him. And if we put ourselves, others, and even worthy causes before faithfulness to the Lord, we will end up confessing some false God rather than Jesus Christ. That’s not the way of the saints, and it must not be our way if we want to open our lives to His glory.
If we really love others in God, we will offer our relationships with them to the Lord as best we can; and by His mercy, these relationships will become holy. That’s what’s best for others and for us; it works both ways. For example, parents shouldn’t live through their children or use them to meet their own goals, but instead guide them to become their true selves to the glory of God. Neither should we indulge our kids as though they are little gods, but we must do everything possible to help them grow into the full stature of Christ, to be those who love God with every ounce of their being and their neighbors as themselves. We offer our children to the Lord by the example we set for them, how we treat them, how we speak to them, all toward the end that we and they will put God first in our lives.
The same is true of marriage. If we have an unrealistic romantic or financial or social ideal about marriage–and think that a spouse will meet all our needs and bring us complete fulfillment in life, we will miss the true calling of husband and wife to make their life together an icon, a living image of the Kingdom of God. Mutual forgiveness, patience, self-sacrifice, self-control, and steadfast commitment are the signs of a holy marriage. Faithful spouses pray for and with one another. Faithful parents do the same with their children. When families pray and worship and serve God together in His church, they make of their life together an offering to the Lord. They confess Jesus Christ to one another and the world. They open their lives to the holiness of God and follow in the way of the saints.
Yes, this kind of family life is a cross to bear in many respects; it’s not easy and we very often fall short of it. We all struggle to fulfill our calling to confess Jesus as Lord with integrity each day in all that we say and do. But we must continue fighting the good fight, for these are the crosses that will make us holy, which little by little will purify our souls and open our lives to the healing grace of God.
Fortunately, we don’t become holy simply by our own power; if that were the case, we would have no hope for we know how weak we are. Instead, we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit with the strength given us by the boundless love of Christ, Who conquered sin and death through His cross and empty tomb. Together with all the Twelve Apostles and all the saints, we will know His holiness and joy if we take up our cross, offer our lives to Him, and confess Him in what we say and do each day.
True discipleship is rarely dramatic, flamboyant, or popular and we will sometimes wonder if we are making any progress at all, but it’s the way that ordinary people like us will grow in holiness. We keep falling down and we keep getting up. But whatever else we do, we must not give up. For through prayer, fasting, and repentance, and seeking first the Kingdom of God, we grow bit by bit into the holiness shared by all the saints. That is how we will be saved and play our role in the salvation of the world.

On the Sunday of Pentecost Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 3, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Pentecost is a theophany, a revelation of God I think best compared to other famous theophanies like Moses on Mt. Sinai or the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Witnesses of these events try hard to describe them, but words fail, so there is a special type of dramatic, stylized language used in Holy Scripture using symbols.
Wind and divine fire are common because both are symbols of wild, uncontrollable power. In the great biblical theophanies we see God as He is, unbounded, wild, uncontrollable, and free. The experience leaves witnesses staggering and confused like the apostles and disciples who were accused on this day of being drunk.
Theophanies are sensory-overload events for God is greater than the senses. In them God is revealed as He is, not as we want or believe him to be. At such times what we think, our theologies, myths, legends, holy traditions become irrelevant. All of it burns away like the empty chaff that it is. Everything we hold dear melts away as what really is reveals itself and that includes our view of ourselves.
The great holocaust survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl described it like this. “What is to give light must endure burning.” If we are to become as Jesus says we are, “the light of the world,” then all that is false and all that is true in us must submit to the flame.
Of course, the spiritual life cannot always be a grand theophany. We could not possibly bear it. Pentecost is like a surge of 10,000 volts of electricity. We are not built to contain that much power for long. We run pretty well on 110 volts most of the time.
Therefore, it comes to us in stages, as we are able to handle it. That is the meaning of the verse, “God will not give us more than we can bear.” But the corollary of that statement is that God will also not give us less than we can bear.
Receiving the fullness of the Spirit is beyond us; it would be like pouring the seven oceans into a teacup. The teacup could not handle it. Neither could we. When the teacup breaks, it must be replaced by something larger. More space must be made for more tea. So as we become more and more empty more space becomes available for God. But since God is infinite, we must always be expanding and becoming empty. The heart must break to grow. The space we create by letting go will always prove inadequate for deification because God is infinite. Thus, the progress of deification never ends.
Jesus once told his disciples a strange thing. “Before now you have asked nothing in my name.” I have always wondered what that meant and have never been satisfied with the usual answers. But the psychologist John Sanford offers a great explanation.
Before we can ask anything “in the name of Jesus” we must give up our own name; our ego must be dissolved. Without that dissolution we are only able to pray in our own names because we will always be asking for what we want, desire, and expect even, perhaps especially, when we cloak ourselves in conspicuous piety. To pray “in the name of Jesus” implies that we have given up our own name for his. “It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.”
What comes after Jesus says these words is the Great Example of total dissolution: the Cross. Of the Cross we must all have our own personal experience. Dean Alan Jones suggests it comes in the form of three crises: the crisis of meaning where all we hold dear comes into question; the crisis of betrayal, of being untethered, forgotten, alone; and, finally, the crisis of utter emptiness, of dereliction, the Crucifixion. Through these stages the ego is dissolved and we begin to live as little “christs”.
As we grow we discover that our personality formations and ego structures are too small, inadequate to contain the growth in knowledge and enlightenment. The new wine bursts the old wine skins.
The coming of the Spirit points us to this essential work, to our hearts, where the truth about ourselves and God is revealed. It is here that the necessary work is done and why it was better that Jesus go away. If he had not ascended, then we would have been tempted to cling to him, as Mary Magdalene did in the Garden. It was not the Lord’s desire that we make an idol of him. That is to hold on to old inadequate ways of perceiving Him. Instead he ascended and sent the Holy Spirit so that we would not be tempted to cling to exterior forms that must pass away as they all do, but rather turn to the Christ who lives within the heart, where the Holy Trinity dwells. “Christ in you,” St. Paul exclaimed, “the hope of glory.”
In the coming of the Holy Spirit the prophecy of our Lord to the Samaritan Woman comes true, “There is a time coming when worshippers will no longer worship in Jerusalem or on this mountain, but rather in spirit and in truth.”
Here is a beautiful and cogent quote from the great psychologist Carl Jung. “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”
The fire of the Holy Spirit is a cleansing and purifying fire. To open our hearts to receive it is to accept the martyric death of the false self, a death to all that we have built and called “ourselves” or rather, a transformation so great that we must endure the periodic shedding of our egoic exoskeletons to make way for more and more of the Truth.
It is in the heart that Christ dwells and it is within that the Holy Spirit directs us.