February 2 is the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple. It celebrates the events described in Luke 2:22-40 in which Mary and Joseph bring the 40 day-old infant Jesus to the Jerusalem Temple. This is one of the Twelve Major Feasts of the Orthodox Liturgical Year.
“As early as the middle of the fourth century, we find significant developments in Marian devotion in the East. For example, the Church of Jerusalem was already celebrating the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. While this remained fundamentally a Christological feast, it left ample room for a commemoration of the Blessed Virgin, especially in homilies commenting on Simeon’s words to Mary about the sword that would pierce her soul (cf. Luke 2:35). According to the testimony of Egeria, this feast was celebrated forty days after Epiphany; that is, on February 14th. “ (Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, pg. 97)
Looking at two festal Matins hymns from the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple we see the theological depth of the Feast.
THE ANCIENT OF DAYS, WHO GAVE MOSES THE LAW ON SINAI IN FORMER TIMES, TODAY APPEARS AS A CHILD. THE MAKER OF THE LAW, FULFILLS THE LAW!
Orthodox writers from antiquity often interpreted every anthropomorphic appearance of God to actually be the work of the pre-Incarnate Christ. Thus, above in the hymn the pre-Incarate Christ is said to have given the law to Moses, and now at this Feast is brought as an infant into the Temple.
Another interesting point is that while the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7 is thought to be a reference to God while in that same chapter, “the Son of Man” is thought to be a reference to Christ, Orthodox tradition has followed St. John’s thinking in the book of Revelation (1:) in which St. John describes the Son of Man in virtually identical terms as the Ancient of Days is described by the Prophet Daniel. The Son of Man is Christ is God. The Son of Man – God incarnate – brings his humanity to the Godhead, the Holy Trinity. Thus when the Son of Man (who is God) comes to the Ancient of Days (who is God) we realize the terms Son of Man and Ancient of Days are speaking of the same person. The hymn continues:
HE IS BROUGHT INTO THE TEMPLE ACCORDING TO THE LAW, AND GIVEN OVER TO THE ELDER, SIMEON THE RIGHTEOUS, WHO 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 “mystery hidden from the ages” includes the main tenets of Christian theology: that the One God is Trinitarian: there is One God in Three Persons. One of the persons of the Trinity – known variously as the Son of Man, the Son of God, God the Son, the Word of God - became incarnate in the Lord Jesus. Christ is the Word become flesh. The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple marvels at the mystery of this Incarnation. Christ who was known in the Old Testament as the Ancient of Days is the one who gave Moses the Law. Now as a 40 day old baby, the eternal Word of God made flesh, is brought into the Temple in obedience to the Law and to fulfill it. Now it becomes clear for what the purpose of the Law and the Temple were given to God’s people. The second hymn from the Feast reads:
IN DAYS OF OLD ON MOUNT SINAI, MOSES SAW THE BACK OF GOD AND WAS COUNTED WORTHY IN DARKNESS AND A STORM OF WIND TO HEAR FAINTLY THE DIVINE VOICE.
BUT NOW SIMEON HAS TAKEN GOD IN HIS ARMS, WHO FOR OUR SAKES TOOK FLESH WITHOUT CHANGE!
JOYFULLY HE HASTENS TO DEPART TO THE LIFE ETERNAL, AND THEREFORE HE CRIES ALOUD: LORD, NOW LET YOUR SERVANT DEPART IN PEACE!
The hymn reaffirms that all the encounters with God in the Old Testament were actually encounters with the pre-Incarnate Christ. These theophanies were all given to prepare the people of God for the Incarnation when they would finally encounter the Word of God made flesh. Moses was counted worthy to see darkly, in shadow, what was coming. Moses heard faintly the voice of God’s word. But now, in the Temple in Jerusalem, at the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, Simeon holds in his arms and sees clearly what Moses only caught a glimpse: God on earth.