The Temple. as we have seen in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, is a complex, mystical and theologically rich concept. It involves God, God’s Name, God’s presence, God and His creation, humanity, the incarnation and theosis. The notion of the Temple as a building, comes from God who is the architect of the archetypal Temple in Heaven and the author of its blueprint. The Temple as space and place where God dwells is mystically equivalent to Christ’s Body being Temple and the Church as Temple. It also is the case that in as much as Temple means dwelling place for God, Mary the Virgin Theotokos is also Temple and a model for each of us as to what it means to be fully human. And in turn, each of us who believes becomes a Temple of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 2:7, when God breathed His Holy Spirit into the dust of the earth, the soul – the living person – comes into existence. The soul and the Temple share much in common with the Temple also being living. Reducing the Temple to a building is equivalent to reducing a human to cells and organs which compose the body.
The hymns of the Orthodox Church are rich in theological imagery of the Temple. Obviously the Theotokos herself is frequently described as Temple and metaphorically compared to the Temple. Theologically Mary is what the Temple is intended to be by its architect, God Himself. God who designed the Temple choose Mary to be the Temple for the incarnate Son of God.
The temple also plays a significant role in the festal cycle of the Church’s liturgical year. Two of the Church’s Major Feasts mention the Temple in their names: The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (November 21) and the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (February 2).
We will briefly consider two hymns from each Feast. First from the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple:
“Today the Living Temple of the Holy Glory of Christ our God, she who alone among women is pure and blessed is offered in the Temple of the Law, that she may make her dwelling in the Sanctuary, Joachim and Anna rejoice with her in spirit, and choirs of virgins sing to the Lord, chanting Psalms and honoring His Mother.”
“The most pure Temple of the Savior; 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!”
In the above two hymns, Mary the Theotokos, is variously called the living, pure and preciousTemple and the abode of heaven. That last phrase is very intriguing. God is thought to dwell in heaven (whatever heaven may be). So both the Temple and the Virgin’s womb are poetically presented as heavens since God dwells in them. But the imagery recognizes a further claim: if God can be said to dwell in the Temple and in the Virgin’s womb, then the Temple and the Virgin both “contain” heaven! Of course immediately we are confronted with the other scriptural truth that God is not contained in a building. We see in these ideas a mystical theology which cannot be contained or limited by human rationality and doctrine. The search for a systematic theology is another effort to build a temple which contains/limits God. It is not possible. God reveals His Temple and reveals Himself as Temple. This in itself defies systematic rationalism.
Now we will consider two Vespers hymns from the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple:
“Let the Gate of Heaven be opened today, for the unoriginate Word of the Father has made a beginning in time without forsaking His divinity! As a babe forty days old, he is of his own will brought by the Virgin His Mother, as an offering in the Temple of the Law. The elder received Him in his arms, crying as a servant to his Master: Let me depart for my eyes have seen Your Salvation! Glory to You, Lord, for You have come into the world to save mankind!”
“The Ancient of Days, who gave Moses the Law on Sinai in former times, today appears as a child. As Maker of the Law, He fulfills the Law! He is brought into the Temple according to the Law, and given over to the elder. Simeon the Righteous receives Him. Beholding the fulfillment of the divine order now brought to pass, rejoicing aloud, he cries: My eyes have seen the mystery hidden from the ages made manifest in these latter days, the Light that disperses the foolishness of the faithless Gentiles, and the glory of the newly-chosen Israel! Therefore let Your servant depart from the bonds of this flesh to the life filled with wonder that knows no age or end, for You grant the world great mercy!”
The hymns and the Feast suggest to us that God prepared for Himself a Temple – a holy place/ space for God to be with and in the midst of His people. What is revealed in Christ is that God’s dwelling with and in His people was a far greater and richer theological reality than at first imagined by the people of God. The Temple prepared the people for the actual incarnation of God. The incarnate Word of God enters into the world and is in the midst of His people, revealing the people as Temple and demonstrating that Temple is not equivalent to or coterminous with a building. The Temple, as the sign of God’s presence, participates in the reality of God being present with His people.
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Hebrews 9:24)
“For great is the distance and many are the levels of knowledge through which the soul must pass before it reaches ‘the place of the miraculous tabernacle, the house of God itself, with the voice of exultation and thanksgiving, and the sound of feasting’ (Ps. 42:4. LXX).” (St. Maximos the Confessor, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 15491-98)
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