In the Beginning: God Created His Temple

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“Time! Jews in Jesus’s day and Jews in our own day have a very special sense of time. Time is moving forward in a linear fashion, with a beginning, a middle, and an end—unlike some other visions of time, in which everything is cyclical, going around and around and constantly returning to the same point. The Jewish view of time is part of the Jewish view of God and creation: God has a purpose for his good creation, a purpose to be worked out in time. Indeed, the Jewish people think of themselves as living within the long story of how that purpose is to be worked out.

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           But already, in the opening of the Bible, there is another feature. When God made the world, he “rested” on the seventh day. This doesn’t just mean that God took a day off. It means that in the previous six days God was making a world—heaven and earth together—for his own use. Like someone building a home, God finished the job and then went in to take up residence, to enjoy what he had built. Creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in. And the seventh-day “rest” was therefore a sign pointing forward into successive ages of time, a forward-looking signpost that said that one day, when God’s purposes for creation were accomplished, there would be a moment of ultimate completion, a moment when the word would finally be done, and God, with his people, would take his rest, would enjoy what he had accomplished. –N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus, p. 136

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And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:25-32)

The Unveiling in the Temple

In the Old Testament, the idea of The Temple is a place where the invisible God might meet His people.   Many believe the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 is really God laying out the design for His Temple – which was supposed to be creation itself.  Humans however in wanting a life apart from God forced God to abandon His plans and to expel us out of Paradise, the intended Temple, and put us on earth where we could lives separated from God as we had chosen.

Temple

The Temple in Jerusalem was built based upon the original design which God revealed to Moses.  It was still designed to be the place where God met His people, however events on earth made it difficult for this to be realized.  God’s people were not always faithful, the Temple as an earthly building became a target for destruction.

In the Orthodox Church on February 2 we celebrate the Feast of the Meeting of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Temple.  At last the Temple became the place where humans encountered God.  So we read in Luke 2:25-40 –

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”  And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Simeon the Righteous meets God in stages: 1) He had been told he wouldn’t die until He saw the Lord’s Christ.  He was looking for someone but he didn’t know who or what he looked like.  2)  He is inspired by the Spirit to come to the temple – he whom he had been looking for was now present and could be seen.  3)  He sees Christ as a child.  He sees what the child, the Messiah, is to be and so is able to prophecy about Him.

St. Mark the Ascetic describes a similar three fold encounter with Christ our God:

While we are being strengthened in Christ Jesus and beginning to move forward in steadfast watchfulness.

He at first appears in our intellect like a torch which, carried in the hand of the intellect, guides us along the tracks of the mind;

then He appears like a full moon, circling the heart’s firmament;

then He appears to us like the sun, radiating justice, clearly revealing Himself in the full light of spiritual vision. (The Philokalia,  Kindle Loc. 5707-12)

Jesus, Moses and the Ancient of Days

Hymns from the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple offer wonderful insights into the mystery who is Jesus Christ.   The Feast commemorates the events described in  Luke 2:22-40.

The basic narrative is that Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, fulfilling Torah commandments, bring the 40 day old infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem.  There they are met by the Righteous Elder Simeon who when he sees Jesus prophesies that this indeed is God’s Messiah.

Simeon, receive Him Whom Moses once beheld in darkness,
granting the Law on Sinai,
now that He has become a Babe subject to the Law!
This is He Who spoke through the Law.
This is He, of Whom the Prophets spoke,
Who, for our sakes, has taken flesh and has saved man.
Let us worship Him!

The above hymn teaches the truth held by Orthodoxy that the encounters with God which Old Testament saints had were in fact encounters with the pre-incarnate Christ.  So Simeon recieves in his arm the infant Christ, but it is the same Christ, who as God gave Moses the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments.  Both Moses and Simeon receive in their arms the Word of God!  Moses receives the Law from the Word, and Simeon receives the Word as a baby.   He who gave the Torah to Moses, namely Christ, which defined righteous behavior in the temple, will enter the Temple as a baby subject to the Law!  This is the great mystery of the incarnation of God.  Christ spoke about His incarnation.

Moses Receives in his arms the Ten Commandments

They hymn playfully celebrates the mystery of the incarnation – Christ is He who spoke through the Law centuries before He was born.  Christ is the one of whom the prophets spoke.    The Old Testament is the history of a people being prepared for the coming of their Messiah.

Today Simeon takes in his arms the Lord of Glory,
Whom Moses saw of old in the darkness
when he received the Tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai.
This is He Who speaks through the Prophets
and Who is the Creator of the Law.
This is He Whom David announced;
He is fearful to all, yet great and abundant in mercy.

The above hymn presents Christ – a 40 day old baby in the Gospel who is also the Lord of Glory who Moses encountered when he received the Law on Mount Sinai.  Christ as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity speaks through the Torah and the prophets centuries before He is born, and these prophets are speaking of His birth which occurs centuries after they spoke or wrote.

13th Century Icon of Moses, the Theotokos and the Christ Child

The Ancient of Days, as a Child in the flesh,
is brought by His Mother, the Virgin, into the Holy Temple,
fulfilling the promise announced by His own Law.
Receiving Him, Simeon said:
“Now let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation, O Lord!”

7th Century Icon: Christ, the Ancient of Days

It is Christ who is identified as being the “Ancient of Days” from the prophecy of Daniel 7.  The mystery of the incarnation means Christ is both the Ancient of days as well as the one like the Son of Man who Daniel mentions.   The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord sees the prophesies being fulfilled in Christ who is the incarnate God.

May we all be enlightened by the Feast!

 

The Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (2016)

February 2nd on the Orthodox Church Calendar is the Feast of the Meeting of our Lord in the Temple.  The Feast commemorates the events described in Luke 2:22-40.

It is 40 days after the Nativity of Christ, and His parents, Mary and Joseph, bring the infant Jesus into the Jerusalem Temple in fulfillment of the Torah commandments concerning the birth of a son.  The Feast celebrates the fulfilling of the Torah concerning the Temple’s role in salvation and also celebrates Christ being THE High Priest of God forever.   Christ fulfills and supersedes both the Temple and the Levitical Priesthood in beginning the New Covenant.

Envisioning TempleWe can consider what the Temple is in Judaism and what it means that Jesus Christ both fulfills and supersedes the Temple.    Our understanding of the Temple comes from Adolfo Roitman’s book, ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE.

1]   The Temple in Jerusalem, like the Tabernacle in the Desert, was to be made according to a heavenly model which was revealed first to Moses and then to King David.

“As related in the Bible, the initiative for the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert came from on high: when Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, God commanded, ‘And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.  Exactly as I show you – the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings – so shall you make it’ (Exod 25:8-9).   [footnote – Note that underlying this account is the assumption that the desert Tabernacle was built according to a heavenly prototype.]” (p 49)

“Significantly, David, like Moses at Sinai (cf. Exod 25:9), was said to have received a ‘blueprint’ in God’s own hand (1 Chron 28:19). [footnote:  In antiquity people clearly believed that earthly temples were built on the basis of a transcendental, heavenly, prototype.]” (p 50)

The fact that the earthly Temple was meant to be built in the image of a heavenly prototype allows for a number of interesting comparisons.

A) The Temple in some way was thought to imitate Paradise, which was the image used by God to construct the world in the beginning.  God was building Himself a Temple when He created Paradise and earth – a place to reside within His creation.

B)  Christ is thought to be in some form the real Temple, of which the Jerusalem Temple and the desert Tabernacle were simply shadowy images.  When Christ appears in the Temple, the purpose of the Temple is fulfilled and it reveals the Christ who is the real dwelling place of God on earth.  What Solomon built was a temple based on a blueprint, but with the arrival of Christ, we have the real temple of God and no longer are in need of a blueprint.

C)  The Theotokos is also portrayed as the living Temple in as much as she is God’s dwelling place on earth.

D) Christians, the Church, are to be the living Temple, replacing the need for a building of stone and bricks.  Christians did not bemoan the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70AD, for they believed the true Temple was eternal and had already been raised up!

2]   The temple is all about holiness/separation:

“In sum, the anonymous architect intended to protect the House of God from any contact with impurity and to enhance its sanctity by means of the three concentric courts and the moat around them.  The source of sanctity, where God’s Presence would reside – the Temple – would stand in the center of the inner court, radiating its holiness to the whole of the Jewish people and the land of Israel, just as at the time of the Israelite’s wanderings in the desert.” (p 45)

The holiness of Israel comes from God.  The Temple is made holy by God’s presence there.  So too it is Christ, God incarnate, who brings holiness to the Temple, and makes the people of God Holy.

2nd Temple

“In the biblical account, the Tabernacle had three main roles.  To begin with, it provided a place for God to ‘dwell among the Israelites‘ (Exod 25:8; 29:45-46).  It was also a cultic space in which, for example, a  daily burnt-offering was sacrificed twice a day (ibid. 29:38-43)… Finally, it was in the Tabernacle – the ‘Tent of the Meeting‘ – that the Divine Presence revealed itself to Moses (ibid. 25:22; 30:6). ”  (p 50)

There is a very important connection between the Tent/ Tabernacle of the meeting and the meeting of the Lord in the Temple.   The Feast celebrates the fulfillment of all the Temple was intended to be.  When the Christ child, the incarnate God, enters the temple, the Divine Presence is in the Temple and the purpose of the Temple is fulfilled.

3]   The Temple is God’s dwelling place on earth.

“According to ancient beliefs, the main purpose of Solomon’s Temple was to provide an earthly dwelling place for God.  This is clearly demonstrated by the account in the first book of Kings of the Ark of the Covenant being brought into the Holy of Holies: ‘. . . the cloud had filled the House of the Lord and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service  because of the cloud, for the Presence of the Lord filled the House of the Lord’ (8:10-11). [footnote: However, this idea is deliberately revised in the present text of 1 Kings.  In Solomon’s prayer… the possibility that God could dwell in the Temple is emphatically rejected (8:27).  The text states that only God’s ‘name‘ dwells in the Temple (v. 29); the actual ‘abode‘ of the Almighty is in heaven (vv. 39, 43, etc.).  The conception of the Temple’s primary purpose therefore changes accordingly, and the focus is no longer on the sacrifices, but on the prayers that will be offered up (vv. 28ff).] (p 53)

We see in the above what is often true in the Holy Scriptures: there is often a tension between conflicting ideas about God.  This is no doubt intentional in the Scriptures to help prevent us from being overly literal in our reading of the text.  The Temple is the dwelling place for God and/or the Temple is the place where God’s Name dwells on earth.  God is both imminent and transcendent.  This truly is fulfilled in the incarnation in which Christ is both fully human and fully God.  Christ walks on earth and yet never ceases to reside with God in heaven.

Temple

4]     Christ the eschatological Temple.

“In the last part of the book of Ezekiel … (Ezekiel 38-39), the prophet describes the future restoration of the people of Israel to its land, including an eschatological vision of the Temple and its cult (chaps. 40-48).  The prophet’s guiding principle is the necessity for an entirely new Temple, free of any impurity and quite different from the unclean Temple that stood in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of 586 BCE (see Ezek 43:1-12; 434:6-8).    . . .  Ezekiel’s Temple no longer houses the Ark of the Covenant that occupied the heart of Solomon’s Temple; instead, the ‘Presence of the Lord’ fills the Temple (43:4-5).  This is God’s abode:  ‘. . . It said to me: O mortal, this is the place of My throne and the place for the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people Israel forever. …’ (Ezek 43:7).  The prophet’s eschatological Temple will thus resemble the Tabernacle in the wilderness, built in fulfillment of the Divine command, ‘And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them’ (Exod 25:80).” (pp 53, 55)

Ezekiel’s vision

We can note the literal fulfillment of what God says to Ezekiel that the Temple is “the place for the soles of My feet”.  In the Meeting of the Lord, God is present in the soles of the feet of the infant Jesus.  This is an unexpected literal fulfillment of what God promised!

It is not the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments which represent the Divine Presence in the Temple.  For now Christ, the incarnate God, dwells in the Temple.   Christ dwells in the Temple and is Himself the pure Temple of God.  So too the Virgin Mary is portrayed in the same way as the Pure Temple of God prophesied by Ezekiel.   Thus all that God promised and prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures come to fulfillment in Christ.

Christ teaching in the Temple

The Prophet Isaiah and the Righteous Simeon

In its long 2000 year history, the Orthodox Church made use of a written and oral  tradition to come to an understanding of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.  The written tradition includes the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures.  It became clear that, however the original authors/editors understood what they wrote, these texts were prophecies and promises of God which found their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  And it was clear that Christ Himself is the key to interpreting and understanding these scriptures.  Christ reveals the full meaning of the scriptures even to the original authors.  The texts were appropriated by a community of faith which continued to reflect on them and to follow the interpretations of these scriptures as revealed by the apostles and the writers of the New Testament.  Succeeding generations of Christians followed their methods in interpreting the scriptures, making ever more clear God’s revelation.  We encounter this interpretive tradition in the hymns and feasts of the Church.

So one hymn from the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple sees one of Isaiah’s prophecies  finding its fulfillment and meaning in the events of Luke 2 in which the 40 day old Jesus is brought to the temple by His parents.  First, here is the text from Luke 2:25-32 which describes part of the events which form the basis for the Feast in the Church:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law,  he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,  “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word;  for mine eyes have seen thy salvation  which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,  a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”

Simeon is identified as being righteous, something all Israel was supposed to be but in its long history few of its members had been called righteous by God.  Simeon is thus portrayed as being righteous in contrast to faithless Israel.  Simeon had been promised that he would not die until “he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  Not only does he see the Christ, he actually picks Christ up in his aged arms and claims to be seeing God’s salvation!   He sees God’s glory as he looks at the Christ.

One hymn of the Feast takes this image of Simeon the Righteous holding God’s salvation in his arms – holding Jesus Christ and looking into His face – and recalls the reaction of the Prophet Isaiah when Isaiah was allowed to see a vision of God.  Here is the text from Isaiah:

 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.”   (Isaiah 6:5-7)

 Isaiah merely sees God and is humbled in his heart, fearing that since he belongs to a people who are not righteous, that he will not be able to survive seeing the Holy God.  In Exodus 33:20, God told Moses that no one can see God’s face and live.  No wonder Isaiah fears for his life – he knows God’s word that he cannot look at God and live and yet he, Isaiah, has just looked at God!  

With all this in mind we realize how much more amazing is the New Testament’s description of the elder Simeon the Righteous  who not only sees the incarnate God, but holds Him in his arms!  The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is giving entirely new meaning to each and every Old Testament text.   Isaiah sees God in a vision and yet is saved from perishing by an angel taking a burning charcoal for the altar of God and touching Isaiah’s mouth with it.  The coal does not burn Isaiah but takes away his guilt and forgives his sin.    Though he is unrighteous and unworthy to see God, Isaiah is pardoned and this burning coal becomes the means of his healing and salvation.

The hymn of the Feast makes sense of the salvation of Isaiah saying Isaiah actually encounters the Messiah in the burning coal.  The coal prefigures Christ, the incarnate God.  The coal burning with the divine fire, does not burn Isaiah, just as in the incarnation God does not burn up Christ’s humanity but rather in Christ divinity is united to human nature and flesh.  This is the salvation of humankind.  Isaiah still does not see the reality clearly – he sees Christ but  under the form of a burning coal and so does not fully comprehend the mystery being revealed.

Isaiah’s vision of Christ
The hymn of the Feast portrays what happened to Isaiah as prefiguring what happens to Simeon and all humankind.   In the Isaiah event, it is not clear  what this burning coal is that it can save Isaiah.  In the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple, we are shown that the coal prefigures the incarnate God.  The fire of divinity united to the physical charcoal is a foreshadowing of the incarnation – in which God fully  unites Himself to humanity in Christ for the salvation of the entire human race.   So the festal hymn reads:

CHRIST APPEARED TO THE DIVINE ISAIAH

AS A BURNING EMBER.

NOW AS WITH TONGS

HE IS BROUGHT TO THE ELDER

BY THE HANDS OF THE THEOTOKOS

The New Testament reveals the Old, and the Old  finds its purpose and meaning in the New.  So we come to understand how each event in the Gospels fulfills the Old Testament prophecies.   We see how each Feast is an interpretation of the scriptures.  If we have the eyes to see, the eyes of faith, we see how Christ reveals and gives meaning  to the Old Testament.

TODAY SIMEON TAKES IN HIS ARMS THE LORD OF GLORY

WHOM MOSES SAW OF OLD IN THE DARKNESS

WHEN HE RECEIVED THE TABLES OF THE LAW ON MOUNT SINAI.

THIS IS HE WHO SPEAKS THROUGH THE PROPHETS;

HE IS THE CREATOR OF THE LAW!

THIS IS HE WHOM DAVID ANNOUNCED;

HE IS FEARFUL TO ALL, YET HAS GREAT AND ABUNDANT MERCY!

David with Wisdom & Prophecy
Next: St. Paul and the Prophet Isaiah

The Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (2015)

 

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.   (Luke 2:21-40)

On February 2 in the Orthodox Church we celebrate the Feast of the Meeting (or Presentation) of the Lord in the Temple.   In the Festal Menaion, we find a hymn for the feast written by Anatolios.

“The Ancient of Days, who in times past gave Moses the Law on Sinai, appears this day as a babe. As Maker of the Law He fulfills the Law, and according to the Law He is brought into the temple and given over to the Elder. Simeon the righteous receives Him, and beholding the fulfillment of the divine ordinance now brought to pass, rejoicing he cries aloud: My eyes have seen the mystery hidden from the ages, made manifest in these latter days, the Light that disperses the dark folly of the Gentiles without faith 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 neither age nor end, O You Who grant the world great mercy.”

(The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, Compiled and Edited by Johanna Manley, p 996)

In this hymn we see some of the theological understanding of this Major Feast of the Orthodox calendar year.  Jesus is identified as the Ancient of Days from Daniel’s prophecy.  Central to this Feast and to Orthodox theology is the fact that Jesus is the incarnate God.  Symeon is holding in his hands, God become a little child.  The incarnation is the salvation of the human race: the restoration of humanity, reconciliation with God and the reunion of divinity with humanity.  Symeon says he physically sees salvation – salvation is Jesus Christ, the incarnate God.  This Feast becomes a new way for us to celebrate the love and salvation of God.

May God bless all of us on this Feast day!

The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord (2014)

Like all Feasts of the Orthodox calendar year, the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (which commemorates the events detailed in Luke 2:22-40) offers us a great deal of theology to contemplate.  Here, we can look at a few hymns from the matins of the Feast to taste of the theological banquet set before us.

Orthodox festal hymns assume that the the encounters with God the Israelite saints had, as described in the Old Testament, were in reality encounters with the pre-Incarnate Christ.  So in this Feast when Simeon the Righteous Elder looks upon Christ, he is seeing directly what Moses saw only in darkness and shadow.

SIMEON, RECEIVE HIM WHOM MOSES ONCE BEHELD IN DARKNESS,
GRANTING THE LAW ON SINAI.
HE HAS NOW BECOME A BABE SUBJECT TO THE LAW,
YET THIS IS HE WHO SPOKE THROUGH THE LAW!
THIS IS HE WHOSE VOICE WAS HEARD IN THE PROPHETS!
FOR OUR SAKES HE HAS TAKEN FLESH AND SAVED MAN.
LET US WORSHIP HIM!

All of the Old Testament Saints and Prophets, at least in traditional Orthodox thinking, encountered Christ.   Christ spoke to the Israelites through Torah and through the Prophets.  His voice was heard in the prophets and it is His words which the prophets spoke.

The Prophets for their part are not only speaking about future and the Messiah who is to come.  They also are speaking what they have seen in Christ and heard from Him.  They are making the Word of God present in a pre-incarnational form.   So when we read them, if we only look for insight into the past or try to hear a voice from the past, we will fail to hear the voice of Christ or to see His revelation.   If we read them only to peer into the past, we will fail to see they were forward looking, seeing even into the Kingdom of God which is yet to come.

Christ both speaks through the Law and in the Law and can be heard in the Law.  The scriptures are a written recording of the Word of God, but their task is to reveal the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, to us.  We read the scriptures not just to hear rules and regulations, but to encounter the Word made flesh.  The Word becomes flesh for our salvation.

COME, LET US ALSO GO TO MEET CHRIST WITH DIVINE SONGS!
LET US RECEIVE HIM WHOSE SALVATION SIMEON SAW.
THIS IS HE WHOM DAVID ANNOUNCED;
THIS IS HE WHOSE WORDS THE PROPHETS SPOKE!
FOR OUR SAKES HE HAS TAKEN FLESH AND SPEAKS TO US IN THE LAW.
LET US WORSHIP HIM!

The reason to read the Old Testament, the Torah, the Prophets, the Wisdom and the Psalms is to hear Christ’s voice and to have Christ revealed to us.   All the saints of the Old Testament were speaking and writing about Him.  He was speaking to us through them.  For us Christians today, the study of the Old Testament is not so much to learn history (and certainly not to learn science) but to see Christ.  Obviously in the New Testament we have even a more clear vision of Him.  He was however being revealed all along to God’s people.

TODAY SIMEON TAKES IN HIS ARMS THE LORD OF GLORY
WHOM MOSES SAW OF OLD IN THE DARKNESS
WHEN HE RECEIVED THE TABLES OF THE LAW ON MOUNT SINAI.
THIS IS HE WHO SPEAKS THROUGH THE PROPHETS;
HE IS THE CREATOR OF THE LAW!
THIS IS HE WHOM DAVID ANNOUNCED;
HE IS FEARFUL TO ALL, YET GREAT AND ABUNDANT IN MERCY!

So the Feast teaches us what the significance of the Old Testament is and how to read it.  Christ has come, and we can now also see Him in the Old Testament lessons and hear His voice and recognize the love, wisdom, word and power of God.

Finally, in this Feast we also encounter a beautiful image of the complete synergy between God and humanity.  A synergy God intended from the beginning but which was broken through sin.  For in the Virgin Theotokos, Mary, God’s Word is fully revealed, and Mary offers back to God the Father in holiness what she has received from Him.

OPEN WIDE, GATES OF HEAVEN! FOR IN THE TEMPLE CHRIST IS OFFERED AS A BABE TO GOD THE FATHER BY THE VIRGIN MOTHER.

Mary makes the offering in the Jerusalem Temple of her son, Christ the Lord.  Finally God receives from humanity a pure offering, holy and divine, a sacrifice of thanksgiving acceptable to Him.  God receives creation fully in communion with Him.

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD), according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, says the human was to be “… the ‘bond’ and ‘bridge’ of God’s creation.  Uniting earth and heaven, making earth heavenly and heaven earthly, we reveal the spirit-bearing potentialities of all material things, and we disclose and render manifest the divine presence at the heart of all creation.” (TOWARD AN ECOLOGY OF TRANSFIGURATION, p 98).    This is what the Virgin Theotokos does in receiving the incarnate Word of God into her womb.  The image of the Theotokos as bridge and bond is most obvious when in the Temple she lifts the Son of God up as an offering to the God the Father.

Abraham and Simeon

The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple commemorates the events recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke 2:22-40.

Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”),  and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple.

And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons  (d. 202AD) compared Father Abraham of the Old Testament with Simeon the Elder who held the infant Christ child in his arms.  St. Irenaeus says correctly that both Abraham and Simeon knew God only through the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ.   Abraham was told of the coming of the Christ, whom he longed to see, and Simeon actually gets to see the One whom Abraham knew about in prophecy.  St. Irenaeus writes: 

Therefore Abraham also, knowing the Father through the Word, who made heaven and earth, confessed Him to be God; and having learned, by an announcement [made to him], that the Son of God would be a man among men, by whose advent his seed should be as the stars of heaven, he desired to see that day, so that he might himself also embrace Christ; and, seeing it through the spirit of prophecy, he rejoiced.

Wherefore Simeon also, one of his descendants, carried fully out the rejoicing of the patriarch, and said: ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light for the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of the people Israel.'”   (Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle 5406-11)

Blessing of Candles

On the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (Luke 2:22-40), it is customary to bless candles.  Thus this Feast is sometimes known as Candlemas.  Fr. John McGuckin writes:

“When Christians pray, from time immemorial they have lit candles. The candle is a sign of the fire of the Holy Spirit. Their cheerful radiance (especially if at the time of prayer one dims the lights a little) becomes a little sacrament of the resurrection grace of Christ. The flame also serves to remind us of how pure and heartfelt our prayer is meant to be, even if, at times, we are praying in a doldrum and may hardly feel any grace at all. The candle reminds us that Christ and his Holy Spirit pray in and through us, unfailingly. They see the heart’s intent and always draw close in time of prayer. Their prayer (in us, through us, over us) is never dim, always luminous.”

(Prayer Book of the Early Christians, Kindle Loc. 97-102)

Before reading the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy, the celebrant prays that God will illumine our hearts with the pure light of His divine knowledge so that we can understand His Gospel message.   Hieromonk Gregorious in his commentary on the Liturgy says concerning the use of candles in the Orthodox Church:

“We asked Christ to enlighten us with the light of divine knowledge because He is the illumination of our souls and bodies.  This Light of Christ is symbolized by the light of the candles and lamps which we light at the Divine Liturgy and other services. . . .

 St Nikodimus of the Holy Mountain explains why we have lights in church:

 ‘First, to the glory of God, the true Light who enlightens every man [cf. John 1:9].  Secondly, to banish the darkness of night and give consolation…    Thirdly, as a sign of joy and delight…    Fourthly, in honour of the martyrs and saints…    Fifthly, to suggest the light of our good works.   And sixthly,  for the forgiveness of our sins.’

St Symeon the New Theologian writes in this connection: ‘The candles which you light reveal to you the intelligible light.  Just as the church, that house of great beauty, is full of light from many candles, so the house of your soul, which is more precious than that church, should be illumined and full of light in a noetic sense – that is to say, that within you all the spiritual virtues should burn with divine fire… The multitude of burning lamps signify the illumined thoughts which should shine within you like lamps, so that there should be no dark thought in the house of your soul, but that all should be aflame and shining with the light of the Holy spirit.'”

(THE DIVINE LITURGY: A COMMENTARY, pp 161-162)

In the book of Revelation, St. John gives us this wonderful image of Christ, both Lamb and Lamp of God.  As Lamp He bears the divine light which is the glory of God:

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:23)

On this Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, we bless candles and contemplate the role of light in the world and in our lives – a light that comes from God and is a way we experience and encounter our Creator.

A Prayer for the blessing of candles:

O Lord Jesus Christ, the True Light, Who enlightens everyone born in this world, pour out Your blessing on these candles and sanctify them by the light of Your Grace.  Grant also, O Merciful One, that as these lights, kindled with a visible flame, scatter the darkness of night, so may our hearts by an invisible fire – that is, enlightened by the glowing of the Holy Spirit – avoid the blindness caused by every sin.  May we see with the cleansed eye of our soul those things that are pleasing to You and necessary for our salvation.  Having overcome the darkness of this world, grant us to attain to the light that never fades: For You are our Savior, and to You we send up glory, with Your unoriginate Father, and Your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.   Amen.