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.

The Church is God’s Tent of Witness

The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple which is celebrated on February 2 commemorates the Gospel events described in St. Luke 2:22-40.  It is the first time that God, incarnate, enters into His Temple.

The mystery unveiled is that God enters the temple as a 40 day old child.  In early Christian thinking Christ not only fulfills the precepts of the Torah, but reveals the purpose of all of the 613 laws composing Torah.  All of those who brought their first-born male child to the Jerusalem Temple with an offering were prefiguring the fulfillment of the Law.  One might say they were doing it all in imitation of the the real fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ.  The purpose of this law of bringing the first-born male child and an offering to the Temple was to make possible the fulfillment of the Law when God enters the Temple as a 40 day old infant.

The Temple itself was a copy of the real Temple, which God revealed to Moses as mentioned in Exodus 25:9, 40 and 26:30.  It was also a prefiguring of the real Temple which was to be further revealed with the coming of Christ, a Temple not made by hands.

Fr. Gus George Christo comments on St. John Chrysostom’s analysis of the Jewish desire for a Temple to replace the Tent of Witness which God reveals to the Israelites:

“It is Solomon who really wants the Temple, not God. God only desires the Tent of Witness. By describing David as a great man and Solomon as a mere castaway, Chrysostom illustrates the futility of having the Temple and the necessity of preserving the Tent of Witness.

Expounding further upon the differences between God’s Tent and the Jews’ Temple, Chrysostom suggests that the top of Mount Horeb is heaven and the original Tent is that in heaven where Christ dwells. Christ reveals to Moses that identical Tent when he ascended Mount Horeb and met with Him. God entrusts to Moses the exact type, or model, of this Tent, so human beings may have a place to interact and communicate with Him, experience His saving actions and miracles, and learn His laws. The Tent of Witness is portable and not bound to any one fixed place, like Jerusalem. Since the Tent of Witness represents the heavenly Church of God, it is not restricted to any locality; and, because Christ resides there and invites man to join Him, Chrysostom implies that each Church established by the Apostles during their earthly ministry is the Holy Tent of Witness, the point of union between heaven and earth, heaven itself.

Each Tent, as that in the wilderness with Moses, bears witness to Christ’s Sonship with God, thus revealing that the one Church (the Tent of Witness) can be truly seen in the many Churches (Tents) and vice versa.[…]  At the provocation at Horeb, the Jews totally reject the Tent of Witness, and then introduce the sacrifices. Prior to this provocation, Scripture recounts of ‘living oracles,’ life giving precepts; after it, and as its consequence, Scripture speaks of sacrifices, those evil statutes, and ordinances by which a man shall not live as God desires.” (Protopresbyter Gus George Christo, The Church’s Identity, pps. 334-335)

Christ brings to an end sacrificial worship as the one time Sacrifice which fulfills all sacrifice.

This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.  (Hebrews 7:22-28)

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.    (Hebrews 9:11-14)

For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.   (Hebrews 9:24-28)

When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.   (Hebrews 10:8-14)

Moses and Simeon: Seeing God

The hymns of the Orthodox Church offer us not only a rich theology but also insight into the Orthodox and Patristic way of reading Scripture.  Taking a look at a few hymns from Matins for the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (February 2), we encounter the treasury of theology afforded to us in our hymnology.

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!

Moses

In Exodus 33:20-23  God tells Moses that He intends to let Moses see God, but with the mystical notion that Moses may only see God’s back but not God’s face.  The idea expressed here is again rich in theology but also gives us insight into the depth of Scripture’s meaning and purpose.  This is especially true since in Exodus 33:11 we are told that Moses conversed face to face with God as a man speaks with his friend.  Literal readings of these texts are confounded by the texts themselves – they require interpretation to be understood, which is what Tradition is.

The Feast of the Meeting brings in a new aspect of this story – Moses, God’s friend, was denied permission to see the face of God, but with the incarnation of God in Christ, Simeon the Righteous is now able to look into the face of God in the form of the Christ child whom Simeon is holding in his hands.    Thus the Exodus account of Moses’ own encounter with God illumines the depth of the revelation which is found in the incarnate Christ.

Simeon was amazed when he beheld incarnate

the Word that is without beginning,

carried by the Virgin as on the throne of the cherubim;

the Cause of all being, Himself become a babe;

and he cried aloud to Him:

The whole world has been filled with Your praise!

The hymn above credits, poetically yet anachronistically, Simeon with a complete knowledge and understanding of who the Christ child is – the incarnate Son of God.  Simeon in the Scriptures (Luke 2:22-40)  is credited only with being granted the privilege of seeing the Lord’s Messiah before he (Simeon) dies.  In this sense Moses serves as a type of Simeon or Simeon is like Moses who was able to see the promised land from a distance but not allowed to enter it.  Simeon proclaims in seeing the infant Jesus that he has seen the Lord’s salvation.   Yet Simeon like Moses is allowed only to see the potential of what God’s plan is and does not live to see Christ’s active ministry as Moses was not allowed to enter into the promised land which was the destination all along of the 40 year wandering in the desert (Deuteronomy 34).  Both Simeon and Moses experienced an anticipatory drought before being allowed to glimpse what God had planned as the fulfillment.

Another theological aspect of the Feast of the Meeting mentioned in the hymnology comes from Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly throne (Isaiah 6 – which is also one of the Old Testament readings for the eve of the Feast).

IN FIGURE, ISAIAH SAW GOD ON A THRONE,

LIFTED HIGH UP AND BORNE IN TRIUMPH BY ANGELS IN GLORY,

AND HE CRIED: WOE IS ME, FOR I HAVE SEEN BEFOREHAND GOD INCARNATE;

LORD OF THE LIGHT THAT KNOWS NO EVENING AND KING OF PEACE!

Isaiah

In this hymn we do encounter a particularly Orthodox hermeneutic.  Isaiah’s vision of God is cast first of all as a typology or a foreshadowing.  Isaiah is said to have seen God “in figure.”   The hymn is suggesting Isaiah doesn’t fully or clearly see God but his vision is some sort of foreshadowing of a direct vision – like the “vision” Simeon receives when he is holding the Christ in his arms and looking into the face of the incarnate God.  Isaiah in the hymn acknowledges that he is being given a vision of “pre-incarnate” God.  Much of Orthodox interpretation of the Old Testament assumes that visions of God are actually visions of the pre-incarnate Christ.  The prophets in seeing God are actually being given a shadowy insight into the incarnation – they are seeing Christ thus God is left without image – invisible, inconceivable and ineffable, as the priest prays in the Divine Liturgy.

The Meeting of our Lord in the Temple (2012)

THE FEAST OF THE MEETING OF THE LORD IN THE TEMPLE: This is one of the Twelve Major Feasts of the Orthodox Calendar year. The Feast commemorates the event of Christ’s parents bringing Him to the temple as a 40 day old child in fulfillment of Torah as described in Luke 2:22-40. The Gospel text originally was read as part of the Scripture readings for Christmas but by the late 4th Century the Feast was celebrated 40 day after Christmas. The Feast appears to have originated in Jerusalem. “The emphasis of the Feast is on the Incarnation, particularly on the meeting of the Incarnate God and faithful Simeon, who represents the old dispensation and awaits the fulfillment of prophecy; after seeing the fulfillment of the promise Simeon departs from the scene, ready (according to some of the hymns) to spread the news of the Incarnation to the dead.” (John Baggley, Festival Icons for the Christian Year, pg. 41).

A blessed Feast Day to all!

The Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (2010)

Meeting of the Lord

February 2 is in the Orthodox Church the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple.  The feast commemorates the infant Jesus being brought into the Temple In Jerusalem by his parents in fulfillment of the Torah; the event is described in the Gospel according to St. Luke 2:22-40.

In the late 4th Century, the presentation of Christ into the temple was celebrated on Christmas day as part of one feast which included everything from the birth of Christ to His being brought into the Jerusalem temple.    St. Gregory of Nazianzus in his Theophany sermon in 380AD recounts the events they and all the cosmos had celebrated at the birth of Christ:

“There at his birth we kept festival as was fitting, both I the leader of the feast, and you, and all that is in the world and above the world.  With the star we ran, and with the magi we worshipped, and with the shepherds we were surrounded by light, and with the angels we gave glory.  With Symeon we took him in our arms, and with aged and chaste Anna we gave thanks.  And thanks be to the one who came to his own as a stranger, that he might glorify his host.” 

Nonna Harrison in the footnotes to her translation of St. Gregory of Nazianzus’s FESTAL ORATIONS  says the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord was celebrated on February 2 in Jerusalem in the early 380’s.  It was first celebrated in Constantinople in 534AD before becoming a Feast day throughout the Orthodox world. 

Part of the celebration of the feast is noting that there were some in Israel who believed the promises and prophesies of God and thus were prepared to understand when they witnessed their fulfillment.  Among these faithful are John the Baptizer, Mary the Theotokos, Joseph the Betrothed, the righteous Simeon,the prophetess Anna, the noble Joseph, Mary and Martha,  and the Twelve Apostles.   It has always been the case that there have been within Israel a faithful remnant, as the prophets themselves learned when they despaired of Israel’s status (for example, as Elijah learned in 1 Kings 19:14-18).

God’s Word does not return to Him empty, for it always finds those hearts which have been spiritually cultivated and are receptive to the good seed of His Word (Isaiah 55:10-11).

The Feast of the Meeting honors not only those prepared to witness the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies.  It also celebrates the fulfillment of the Law, which thus brings the purpose of the Torah to its completion.  For when Christ enters the temple, the purpose of the Temple and all of the Torah are brought to completion having served their purpose in God’s plan of salvation.  Righteousness has been fulfilled, the temple as God’s dwelling place is fulfilled.  They all were given by God to prepare His people for what He intended to do and reveal in His Messiah.

The Presentation of the Lord: Relationship Not Religion

meetinglord2In today’s Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple , we commemorate Christ’s initial entrance into the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-40) as an event which fulfills the very purpose of the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple was a sign of God’s presence in and to His people.  When Christ enters the Temple (even though only a baby carried by his parents), the temple truly becomes the place where God is present in the world.  But Christ is not permanently fixed and immovable like the Temple or like an idol (Psalm 115:7); Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, is much more like the tabernacle in the wilderness than like the Temple in Jerusalem.   The fact is that in the Old Testament God seemed to prefer the tabernacle over the Temple – the Lord preferred mobility to permanency.  The tabernacle was the tent of witness which the Israelites carried with them whenever and wherever they moved on their sojourn to the Promised Land.  It is the Jewish Kings David and then Solomon who desire to build a permanent temple for God.  God really does seem to prefer the portable tent of witness.  St. John Chrysostom argues that in the same way that God allowed Himself to be rejected by relenting and giving the Israelites a king so that they could be like the rest of the nations (1 Kings 8), so too God gave into Solomon and allowed a temple to be built.  Chrysostom says the unintended consequence of the Israelites trading the tent of witness for the Temple was they substituted sacrifice and ritual for the living oracles of God.  God then endeavored to control the sacrifice and ritual by setting limits on them through the Torah, but the Israelites then made both Torah and Temple into types of idols and so substituted ritual and sacrifice for a face to face relationship with the living God.    We see in St. Paul his own effort to undo this substituting religion for relationship in how he re-interprets (and even rewrites!) the Old Testament scripture. 

In Deuteronomy 30:11-14  we read:

 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”  No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

In Romans 10:5-10, St. Paul takes that Deuteronomy 30 passage and re-interprets it:

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.”  But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say?  “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

St. Paul takes a passage from Deuteronomy which speaks about the Law (and thus rules and rituals), and gives it new meaning by applying it to Christ.  For St. Paul the very reason God’s Word can be near – and be relational – is because the Word of God refers to Christ.   St. Paul argues it is not ultimately the Law (Torah) which is important but rather the relationship with God is the essential thing.  The Law was meant only to provide, promote and protect a relationship with God.  Instead the Israelites substituted a relationship with God with a relationship to the Law but forgot or misunderstood what the purpose of Torah was.   So God sends His Son, the Word, into the world in order to re-establish a right relationship between Creator and creation.

In the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (Luke 2), the Torah and the Temple’s true purpose was revealed: they were supposed to maintain the people of God’s relationship with God and to give the people a sense of God’s presence with them.  Neither Torah nor Temple were meant to become idols in their own right, rather both Torah and Temple were to be means to maintaining a personal relationship with the Living God.  When the infant Jesus is brought into the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time, Simeon the Righteous immediately recognizes that God’s purpose for the temple has been fulfilled.

Meeting of the Lord in the Temple

meetinglordFeast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple     2009   

The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple commemorates the event of Jesus being brought into the Temple for the first time in His life which is described in  Luke 2:22-40.  Jesus is an infant, but when Simeon the Prophet sees the Christ child, he proclaims to God “my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30).  Salvation it turns out is someone to see.  God’s Word become flesh (John 1) makes visible not only God’s plan of salvation, but God Himself.  “He who has seen me,” Jesus says, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  John the Evangelist also lays heavy emphasis on seeing God’s salvation in his first Epistle (1 John 1:1-3). 

 “Beauty is the corollary of seeing. In the Scriptures many of the key terms used of God’s self-disclosure, words such as glory, splendor, light,  image and face, have to do with the delight of the eye. When we speak of the pleasure the eye takes in what it sees the term that comes to mind is beauty. The psalmist wrote, One thing have I asked of the Lord…that I will behold the beauty of the Lord  (Ps. 27:4). As early as the second century the apologist Athenagoras of Athens included the term beauty in a list of words depicting God. The God we set before you, he says, is ‘encompassed by light, beauty, spirit, and indescribable power.’…In the account of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, Origen observed that the Scriptures say that the people ‘saw the voice of the Lord’ (Exod.20:18 in the Septuagint). Obviously a voice cannot be seen with the eyes. Yet that is what the Scripture says. The biblical expression, says Origen, means that the voice of the Lord is ‘seen by those to whom it is given to see,’ that is, it is heard by those who have the capacity to grasp what is disclosed. Hence the term eyewitness in the prologue to the Gospel of Luke does not simply signify seeing Christ with the eyes. When Luke says that the disciples were ‘eyewitness to the word,’ he means ‘not only that they saw Jesus in his bodily form, but also that they were eyewitnesses of the Word of God,‘ that is, they knew Christ the divine Son of God…What one sees reflects back on the one who sees and transforms the beholder. As    Gregory the Great will put it centuries later, ‘We are changed into the wilkensearlyxcone we see.’ There can be no knowledge of God without a relation between the knower and God. To see light is to share in light and to be enlightened. In the words of Irenaeus,  ‘Just as those who see the light are illuminated by the light and share in its brilliance, so those who see God are in God and share his splendor.’ In the Scriptures, says Origen, the term know means to ‘participate in something’ or to be ‘joined to something.'” (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought)