The Door Through Which Christ Passed

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.   (Revelation 3:20)

“The door through which Christ passed in order to come into the world was his love for man.  It is this divine love that St Symeon the New Theologian addresses, asking that it may be for us too a door bringing Christ close to us:

‘O divine love, where are you holding Christ?  Where are you hiding Him? …  Open even to us, unworthy though we are, a little door, that we may see Christ who suffered for us…  Open to us, since you have become the Door to His manifestation in the flesh; you have constrained the abundant and unforced compassion of our Master to bear the sins of us all…  Make your home in us, that for you the Master may come and visit us in our lowliness, as you go before us to meet Him.’

The door of love through which Christ passed in order to come into the world was opened by the Mother of God.  Her holiness attracted divine mercy to the human race.  Through her ministry in the mystery of the divine economy, the Mother of God became the ‘Gate that faces east’ (cf Ezek 46:1, 12); the ‘Gate that looks towards the east’  from which life dawned for men and scattered the darkness of death.”

(Hieromonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY , p 36)

God Conceived of Mary Before the World was Made

It is obvious that the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple is a very theological feast in Orthodoxy.  Few historians would give it any factual credibility and recently even some Orthodox scholars acknowledge its importance is far more theological than historical.  It is a theological meditation on the incarnation of God, and all of the events which led to the incarnation.  Many Orthodox writers and saints through the centuries have treated it as a historical event, but that isn’t what makes the Feast significant.

So consider somethings we can glean from this Feast as well as from other Feasts of the Theotokos and the Lord:

Long before Mary was conceived on earth, God had conceived of her – for God’s plan for all humanity involved the incarnation,  which means it required a woman to be mother to the God who entered into the world.  God conceived of a Mary,  chose motherhood and willed her existence before the world was made.  Before God created anything, God knew the need for a mother, Mary, to fulfill His plan for humanity.  From all eternity God knew what was needed for our salvation.  The incarnation is not an after thought, a reaction to sin, but rather the plan hidden from all eternity revealed in Jesus Christ(Ephesians 3:9-13, Colossians 1:25-27).  If there was to be an incarnation in which God became fully human, there had to be a mother in which the incarnation would occur.

God knew His plan of salvation, knew He needed a mother to make the incarnation possible, and God planned this salvation before Mary was ever born.

Mary, for her part, carried the Word of God in herself long before she conceived God in her womb.  She heard God’s Word growing up in a pious Jewish family, and so was prepared to recognize God’s voice and to obey God’s Word.

Mary longed for God’s Word with all her heart, which is why she found favor in the eyes of God and why she was chosen to be the mother of God’s son.  God saw His plan for the salvation of humanity realized in a woman who was capable of being the Mother of God.  Mary is, after all, the one conceived of by God to bring His plan of salvation to fruition.  She is the one God needed to carry God’s Word on earth.  She is the temple God wished for Himself to dwell on earth from the beginning.

As it turns out, the temple in Jerusalem was a mere foreshadowing of Mary who became the temple of God on earth, the one in whom heaven was united with earth to become the dwelling place of God.  The feast of the Entry is thus much more a celebration of what happened theologically, than what happened historically.  The temple was real and historical, and Mary is real and historical.  Their relationship is a theological truth to which the Feast draws our attention.

And for those who believe in  God and God’s plan for our salvation – we are God’s people, God’s vineyard.  God plants His vineyard, cultivates and nurtures it, so that it would bear fruit for Him.  God chose His people and for centuries prepared them to be the location for His dwelling on earth.  Mary is the choice fruit of God’s vineyard.  She is the best product of God’s people, for in her God’s plan is fulfilled, and brought to fruition.  God comes to dwell in His people, and begins that in the Virgin’s womb.  The Feast of the Entry is simply making for us the connection between God, the temple and our salvation.

We fulfill our task by completing the words of our Lord Jesus:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.   (John 15:4-7)

We should ask ourselves, on his Feast Day, what am I going to do today that is distinctively Christian?  What am I going to do today that non-believers aren’t going to do or can’t do or won’t do?

As Christians we need to think in those terms.

Like the Virgin Mary, we too have a distinct vocation in the world.  We are God’s chosen people.  It is up to us to hear God’s Word and incarnate that Word in our hearts and minds, in our lives, in our homes and families and in our parish community, so that the rest of the world has a chance to hear God’s Word and see God’s light.

We are the living temple of God and when we live our faith, others in the world are given opportunity to find God as well.

The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2018)

On November 21 each year we celebrate the feast of the The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple.  The event itself is not found in the Scriptures of the Church, but represents a theological understanding of  what salvation in Christ means for the world and for each of us.  St. Gregory Palamas writing in the 14th Century writes of the Virgin Theotokos in this way:

By heeding the evil counsel of the pernicious angel, man transgressed the divine commandments, was shown to be unworthy, forfeited the pledge, and interrupted God’s plan. God’s grace, however, is unalterable and His purpose cannot prove false, so some of man’s offspring were chosen, that, from among many, a suitable receptacle for this divine adoption and grace might be found, who would serve God’s will perfectly, and would be revealed as a vessel worthy to unite divine and human nature in one person, not just exalting our nature, but restoring the human race.

The holy Maid and Virgin Mother of God was this vessel, so she was proclaimed by the Archangel Gabriel as full of grace (Lk. 1:28), being the chosen one among the chosen, blameless, undefiled and worthy to contain the person of the God-Man and to collaborate with Him. Therefore God pre-ordained her before all ages, chose her from among all that had ever lived, and deemed her worthy of more grace than anyone else, making her the holiest of saints, even before her mysterious childbearing. For that reason, He graciously willed that she should make her home in the Holy of Holies, and accepted her as His companion to share His dwelling from her childhood.

He did not simply choose her from the masses, but from the elect of all time, who were admired and renowned for their piety and wisdom, and for their character, words and deeds, which pleased God and brought benefit to all.

(The Homilies, p. 469)

Two hymns for the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple:

Today is the preview of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. The Virgin appears in the temple of God, in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all. Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice, O Divine Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation (Troparion).

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! (Kontakion).

The Theotokos: Image of Every Christian

St. Justin the Martyr writing in the 2nd Century shows how early in Church history Christians were contemplating the Virgin Mary and her role in salvation.

The Son of God became human by the virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her, ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God‘; and she replied, ‘Let it be to me according to your word‘ [Luke 1:35, 38].”  ( A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 877-81)

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Christians right into the 21st Century have continued to reflect on Mary’s significance to each Christian today.  Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber says:

“Images of  Mary remind us of  God’s favor. Mary is what it looks like to believe that we already are who God says we are.”   ( Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Kindle Location 1042-1043)

Advent and The Entrance of the Theotokos

“There is a strange silence about the Nativity in the first few days of Advent. While we begin to prepare for Christmas through fasting on November 15, the coming Nativity is first announced in the Church’s worship on November 21 (the Entry of the Mother of God) with the Katavasias of Christmas, chanted during the Matins service: Christ is born, give glory. Christ comes from heaven, go to meet Him. Christ is on earth, be exalted. Sing to the Lord, all the earth, and sing hymns in gladness, O people, for He has been glorified.”  

(Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth, Kindle Loc. 172-76)

The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2015)

“If a tree is known by its fruit, and a good tree brings forth good fruit (cf. Matt. 7:17, Luke 6:43-44), how could she who is the Mother of Goodness itself, who gave birth to that Beauty which has no beginning, not be incomparably more excellent and beautiful than anything good on earth and in heaven?

The power who made all things fair, the co-sempiternal, express Image of Goodness, the pre-eternal, supraessential and supremely good Word of the Father most high, wished in His ineffable love and compassion for mankind to put on our image, in order to recall our human nature, which had been dragged down into the inmost recesses of Hades, to renew it after it had grown old, and to raise it up beyond the heavenly heights to His kingdom and divinity. He united His person with our humanity, and, since it was necessary for Him to assume flesh that was both new and our own, in order to renew us by means of what was ours, He also had to be carried in the womb and brought forth as we are, then nurtured after birth and brought up as was appropriate. Becoming like us in all respects for our sake, He found the Ever-Virgin, whom we extol and whose mysterious Entry into the Holy of Holies we celebrate today, to be a most suitable handmaid in every way, able to bestow on Him an undefiled nature from her own. God determined before all ages that she should be for the salvation and restoration of our race, and chose her from all mankind down through the ages, not simply among ordinary folk, but from all the elect of every age, who were admired and renowned for their piety and understanding, and who were both beneficial to all and well-pleasing to God in their ways, words and deeds.” (St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp 407-408)

The Theotokos and Theosis

“But the Virgin, by conceiving the Word within her body, ‘deified the human race and made earth a heaven.’ The Word ‘became the Son of Man, sharing in mortality, to turn human beings into sons of God and make them partakers of divine immortality.’ How believers appropriate this within the ecclesial community is illustrated typologically. The incarnate Word gave us baptism as a sacrament and type of his burial and resurrection to deify both the soul and body. His transfiguration opened the eyes of his disciples, showing them that human nature has been deified by union with the Word of God.

We must imitate him in his earthly life to become partakers of his resurrection and fellow-heirs with Christ. Through fasting and  night vigils we are ‘renewed and deified’ in our inner being. This transformation of our human nature, first in the representative humanity of Christ and then in our own person through the life of faith, is thoroughly traditional and patristic.” (Norman Russel in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly: Vol. 50, #4, p 377-378)

In Praise of the Virgin Mary

“My Lady Mary –

Blessed arbor, most lovely among the trees,

It was you who brought forth the flower of faith,

And bore the berry of all benediction,

Ever fresh, never withering.[…]

My Lady Mary –

That House visited by God,

Whose greatness is inexpressible

Whose beautiful appearance is ineffable,

It was for you that the prophets of Israel

Built up their tower of prophecy.

O Holy One, set me back firmly

In the discipleship of your beloved Son.

Cause my enemies to flee from before my face.

May they be crushed as fine as the dust of sand.”

[Enzira Sebhat, The Harp of Glory, pg. 124, 142)

Beyond Compare More Glorious than the Seraphim

As we celebrate the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, one of the 12 Major Feasts of the Orthodox Church year, we can contemplate who the Virgin Mary is in God’s plan of salvation.

It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos,

ever blessed, and most pure, and the Mother of our God.

More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.

Without corruption you gave birth to God the Word.

True Theotokos, we magnify you.

St. Athanasius in of Alexandria  (d. 373AD) even in the 4th Century already had a highly exalted image of Mary as Theotokos.   Athanasius wrote:

“O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all. O [Ark of the New] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. Should I compare you to the fertile earth and its fruits? You surpass them, for it is written: ‘The earth is my footstool’ (Is 66:1). But you carry within you the feet, the head, and the entire body of the perfect God. If I say that heaven is exalted, yet it does not equal you, for it is written: ‘Heaven is my throne’ (ibid.), while you are God’s place of repose. If I say that the angels and archangels are great –but you are greater than them all, for the angels and archangels serve with trembling the One who dwells in your womb, and they dare not speak in his presence, while you speak to him freely. If we say that the cherubim are great, you are greater than they, for the cherubim carry the throne of God (cf. Ps 80:1; 99:1), while you hold God in your hands. If we say that the seraphim are great, you are greater than them all, for the seraphim cover their faces with their wings (cf. Is 6:2), unable to look upon the perfect glory, while you not only gaze upon his face but caress it and offer your breasts to his holy mouth…As for Eve, she is the mother of the dead, ‘for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor 15:22). Eve took [fruit] from the tree and made her husband eat of it along with her. And so they ate of that tree of which God had told them: ‘The day you eat of it, you shall die’ (Gen. 2:17). Eve took [fruit] from it, ate some of it, and gave some to her husband [that he might eat] with her. He ate of it, and he died. In you, instead,  O wise Virgin, dwells the Son of God; he, that is, who is the tree of life. Truly he has given us his body, and we have eaten of it. That is how life came to all, and all have come to life by the mercy of God, your beloved Son. That is why your spirit is full of joy in God your Savior!” ( Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero, pp. 106-107)

Noteworthy in many of the icons of the Feast is the fact that young woman served as taper bearers.  According to reports St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908AD) involved the girls of his parish to be involved in a liturgical procession on this day in imitation of the girls carrying the candles in the icons.

The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2011)

“According to St. Gregory Palamas, Mary, from her entry into the temple, served her apprenticeship in prayer: first the traditional prayer to Yaweh, then the prayer to the Son after the archangel revealed the name of Jesus. From the Annunciation onward, Mary’s entire movement of the heart tended between prayer to God and prayer to the one she carried in her, whose name she knew and murmured in a motherly way – the one to be born, Jesus.  In this manner, Mary gradually learned the meaning of her own motherhood by being at the same time turned completely toward her Son and toward God. In her, the Name of Jesus and the Name of God blended. The entire mystery of Mary lies in the unceasing and loving invocation of these two names. Through the grace of the Spirit whose breath penetrated her, these names carried the presence of the Father and the presence of the Son.” (Boris Bobrinskoy, The Compassion of the Father, pg. 103)

A blessed Feastday to all!