Jesus Christ Seen in the Temple

51bjegthg4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_As we celebrate the Meeting of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple, I want to offer a few thoughts take from the most fascinating book by biblical scholar Gary Anderson, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis.

The Feast is based upon the Luke 2:22-40 account of Mary and Joseph, fulfilling the Torah command, bring the 40 day old infant Jesus to the Jerusalem temple thus fulfilling righteousness – according to our hymns. In Orthodoxy we often see in this Feast the Jerusalem Temple finally fulfilling its destiny – when Christ is brought into the Temple, God finally and fully enters into and takes His proper place in the Temple.  Gary Anderson points out that the temple in so many ways was a type of an “incarnation” of God in the Old Testament.  The Scriptures make several references to people going to the temple to see God, and several verses in scripture make references to seeing the form of God – all this despite another stream of theology which says God cannot be seen.

Anderson writes:

“The first thing the reader must bear in mind is the Bible’s assumption that God has really taken up residence in the tabernacle. Michael Wyschogrod, in an essay on the notion of incarnation in the Jewish tradition, has argued: ‘God has undertaken to enter the world and to dwell in a place.’ But this deeply ‘incarnational’ character of the tabernacle carries a particular danger along with it: individuals will be tempted to co-opt either the building itself (cf. Jer. 7) or its most important artifact—the ark—to their own political and/or religious advantage and so compromise the freedom of God.  (Kindle Loc 420-425)

The artifacts in the temple and the ritual of the temple, gave Israel a way to approach God and to be aware of His presence.  But, there was a temptation to try to manipulate God by claiming to do all the ritual perfectly, thus making God a servant of the ritual – do the ritual correctly and God is obligated to the priests.  Certainly in the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, there is a great emphasis on the fulfilling of the Law, but now it is God who fulfills it when Mary and Joseph bring the incarnate God, Jesus, into the temple.  There is an unexpected turn of events where the fulfilling of the Law in not manipulating God but making God present!  God is present not in some almighty, transcendent form but incarnate in the infant Jesus!

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Anderson goes on to note that whatever the temple represents in terms of God’s own movement into the temple, this same temple always requires human cooperation.  The temple is not God’s alone, but exists in and for the people of God who are essential to the revelation.

“The first thing to be observed is the parallelism between the creation of the world in Gen. 1 and the building of the tabernacle in Exod. 25–Lev. 9. As Peter Schäfer has put the matter: ‘The creation of the world is not, if one accepts this view, solely the work of God but also the work of man: only when Moses erects the tabernacle is God’s created order brought to completion.’ The role ascribed to human agency in this narrative is not to be overlooked. Human actions have become a nonnegotiable part of the way God has chosen to direct human history. A second and closely related point is the manner in which this building project succeeds in capturing the presence of God. Moses opens the rites of the eighth day with the warning to do exactly as God has commanded (Lev. 9:6–7). Aaron complies with complete obedience and succeeds in attracting the divine presence to the sacrificial altar (‘Fire came out from the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces,’ 9:24). In allowing the tabernacle to be built and the cult to begin, God has invited Israel to participate in the divine life. But along with this gracious condescension comes considerable risk. Because Israel’s liturgical actions are allowed to attain such theurgic capabilities, God’s freedom is put at risk. Has the priesthood gained the upper hand over the being of God? Can the mastery of cultic law allow the priesthood to conjure the divine presence at will? Mē genoito [May it never be]! As Thomas Hieke puts the matter: ‘This dramatic narrative dispels the misunderstanding that one can compel God to behave in a certain way through human—or more exactly—ritual action.’  (Gary Anderson, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis, Kindle Loc 665-679)

The temple always meant a synergy between God and humanity.  Certainly the Feast of the Meeting places a great deal of emphasis on human activity, fulfilling the law, but again not manipulating God, but rather making God present in the temple through human activity.  The incarnate God is not limited in glory or power, but rather holiness, omnipotence  and the glory of God are present in a totally unexpected way.  This is the depth of God’s mystery revealed in Christ.

According to Anderson, the temple’s every detail were so important in the Old Testament because all of the things of the temple in some way make God “incarnate”.

“Menahem Haran has remarked, ‘The priestly writers find [this] subject so fascinating that . . . [they are] prompted to recapitulate the list of its appurtenances time and again. Their tendency to indulge in technicalities and stereotyped repetitions has here reached its furthest limits.’ I suggest that this is because the tabernacle furniture was understood as possessing something of the very being of the God of Israel.”   (Kindle Loc 2731-2735)

Anderson says the list of temple furnishing are repeated no less than six times.  While many modern readers just see unnecessary redundancy and boring repetitiveness, Anderson says the text is so otherwise terse and to the point  that the repetition stands out and tells us something very important is being detailed.  Anderson further notes:

“(1) that the furniture of the temple was treated as quasi-divine in both literary and iconographic sources during the Second Temple period; (2) that the exalted estimation of these pieces of furniture made them dangerous to look at but at the same time, quite paradoxically, desirable or even compulsory to contemplate; (3) that the impossibility of dividing with precision the house of God from the being of God led the early Christians to adopt this Jewish theologoumenon as a means of clarifying how it was that Jesus could be both God and man.”  (Kindle Loc 2740-2744)

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The temple in other words was a sign in the Old Testament of the incarnation of God.  The Israelites paid close attention to all the details of the temple because when the temple was properly put together God was present to the people.  God could be seen in some way in the temple properly furnished.  The Israelites could in some way see the face of God in the Temple.  The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord is when God comes face to face with Himself in the temple.

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God and the Christian

“In the fear of God, with faith and with love, draw near.”

There is no doubt that obedience to God is a virtue.  However, it is also true that the sense of obedience is highly nuanced in the Scriptural Tradition of the Church.  For it is God’s will that we might choose to love God and one another.  God gives us free will, and allows us to exercise that free will.  He does not compel us to love Him, rather inviting us to accept His love.  We have to cooperate with God for our salvation.  We are not merely cogs in the machinery God has created.  We are machine operators, cooperating with our Creator.

As Frederica Matthewes Green observes:

“God doesn’t use us as tools. His goal is not a tidy world, but healed and transformed people.” ( First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew, p xxi)

We are not mere tools which God uses and discards as His purposes are fulfilled.  Rather we are the goal and fruit of God’s love.  God created us to work with Him for our salvation and for the salvation of the world.  The Church is a living temple, not made with inanimate stones shaped by the Creator.  Christ didn’t leave in the world a bunch of literature for us to read, rather He called us to be disciples and to go into the world to do His will and work.

Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  (1 Peter 2:4-5)

The Metaphor: We Are God’s Temple

St. Paul writes that we are the temple of God.  He says in 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 –

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Dr. Adolfo Roitman of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, taking note of the ancient Jewish Qumran community and the Dead Sea Scrolls, describes how the Christians were not the first to lay claim to being God’s temple.   The Qumran Jews who had abandoned the temple in Jerusalem and taken exile in the desert believed God’s temple is essential to worshipping God.  They however rejected the idea that the temple was a building of stone, but rather believed God formed His chosen people into a true temple. St. Paul claims it is the Christians as God’s people who are the living temple of God.   Roitman writes:

Temple“[…] One realizes that the withdrawal to the Dead Sea area was an indispensable feature of their plan to emulate the Israelites in the wilderness, a step towards renewal of the covenant with God and the fulfillment of the divine will: ‘You shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples…you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Exod. 19:5-6). In order to achieve this sublime end, the secessionists established a community which set itself the goal of becoming a ‘spiritual temple.’ Thus we read in the Community Rule.[…]

In other words, the Qumranites were the first Jews to develop the doctrine that they were a ‘temple of men’, a human substitute for the Temple in Jerusalem, the ‘living stones’ replacing the building blocks of the material temple. The expression ‘living stones’ is taken from the First Letter of Peter (2:5). For the concept of the early Christian community as a ‘spiritual temple’ see 1 Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16.[…] In sum, these zealous secessionists wished to live their lives as a sort of virtual Temple, a substitute for the priestly service in the Temple in Jerusalem. In so doing they likened themselves to angels and saints in heaven, believing that their lofty spirituality enabled them to take part in the heavenly song of the angels and minister together with the angels in the ‘chariot’ (merkavah) or ‘temple’ (hekhal) on high.” (Envisioning the Temple, pp 91, 93)

Christ, the Theotokos and the Temple

The is the penultimate blog in this series of meditations on idea of the Temple of God.  The previous blog is The Temple Realized and the 1st blog in the series Is Envisioning the Temple (I).

The Temple. as we have seen in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, is a complex, mystical and theologically rich concept. It involves God, God’s Name, God’s presence, God and His creation, humanity, the incarnation and theosis.   The notion of the Temple as a building, comes from God who is the architect of the archetypal Temple in Heaven and the author of its blueprint.  The Temple as space and place where God dwells is mystically equivalent to Christ’s Body being Temple and the Church as Temple.  It also is the case that in as much as Temple means dwelling place for God, Mary the Virgin Theotokos is also Temple and a model for each of us as to what it means to be fully human.  And in turn, each of us who believes becomes a Temple of the Holy Spirit.  In Genesis 2:7, when God breathed His Holy Spirit into the dust of the earth, the soul – the living person – comes into existence.  The soul and the Temple share much in common with the Temple also being living.  Reducing the Temple to a building is equivalent to reducing a human to cells and organs which compose the body.

2nd TempleThe hymns of the Orthodox Church are rich in theological imagery of the Temple.  Obviously the Theotokos herself is frequently described as Temple and metaphorically compared to the Temple.  Theologically Mary is what the Temple is intended to be by its architect, God Himself.  God who designed the Temple choose Mary to be the Temple for the incarnate Son of God.

The temple also plays a significant role in the festal cycle of the Church’s liturgical year.  Two of the Church’s Major Feasts mention the Temple in their names:  The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (November 21) and the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (February 2).

We will briefly consider two hymns from each Feast.  First from the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple:

“Today the Living Temple of the Holy Glory of Christ our God, she who alone among women is pure and blessed is offered in the Temple of the Law, that she may make her dwelling in the Sanctuary, Joachim and Anna rejoice with her in spirit, and choirs of virgins sing to the Lord, chanting Psalms and honoring His Mother.”

“The most pure Temple of the Savior;  the precious chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of the glory of God, is presented today to the House of the Lord.  She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, which the angels of god do praise.  Truly this woman is the abode of heaven!”

In the above two hymns, Mary the Theotokos, is variously called the living, pure and preciousTemple and the abode of heaven.   That last phrase is very intriguing.  God is thought to dwell in heaven (whatever heaven may be).  So both the Temple and the Virgin’s womb are poetically presented as heavens since God dwells in them.  But the imagery recognizes a further claim: if God can be said to dwell in the Temple and in the Virgin’s womb, then the Temple and the Virgin both “contain” heaven!   Of course immediately we are confronted with the other scriptural truth that God is not contained in a building.  We see in these ideas a mystical theology which cannot be contained or limited by human rationality and doctrine.  The search for a systematic theology is another effort to build a temple which contains/limits God.  It is not possible.  God reveals His Temple and reveals Himself as Temple.  This in itself defies systematic rationalism.

Now we will consider two Vespers hymns from the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple:

“Let the Gate of Heaven be opened today, for the unoriginate Word of the Father has made a beginning in time without forsaking His divinity!  As a babe forty days old, he is of his own will brought by the Virgin His Mother, as an offering in the Temple of the Law.  The elder received Him in his arms, crying as a servant to his Master:  Let me depart for my eyes have seen Your Salvation!  Glory to You, Lord, for You have come into the world to save mankind!”

“The Ancient of Days, who gave Moses the Law on Sinai in former times, today appears as a child.  As Maker of the Law, He fulfills the Law!  He is brought into the Temple according to the Law, and given over to the elder.  Simeon the Righteous receives Him.  Beholding the fulfillment of the divine order now brought to pass, rejoicing aloud, he cries:  My eyes have seen the mystery hidden from the ages made manifest in these latter days, the Light that disperses the foolishness of the faithless Gentiles, and the glory of the newly-chosen Israel!  Therefore let Your servant depart from the bonds of this flesh to the life filled with wonder that knows no age or end, for You grant the world great mercy!”

The hymns and the Feast suggest to us that God prepared for Himself a Temple – a holy place/ space for God to be with and in the midst of His people.  What is revealed in Christ is that God’s dwelling with and in His people was a far greater and richer theological reality than at first imagined by the people of God.  The Temple prepared the people for the actual incarnation of God.  The incarnate Word of God enters into the world and is in the midst of His people, revealing the people as Temple and demonstrating that Temple is not equivalent to or coterminous with a building.  The Temple, as the sign of God’s presence, participates in the reality of God being present with His people.

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”    (Hebrews 9:24)

“For great is the distance and many are the levels of knowledge through which the soul must pass before it reaches ‘the place of the miraculous tabernacle, the house of God itself, with the voice of exultation and thanksgiving, and the sound of feasting’ (Ps. 42:4. LXX).”   (St. Maximos the Confessor, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 15491-98)

 

Next:  Temple Annex

The Temple Realized

This is the 5th blog in the series.  The previous blog is The Temple Envisioned Anew  and the 1st blog in the series Is Envisioning the Temple (I).

“The temples of the New Testament are places where Christians are initiated into the grace of the Holy Spirit through Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion. They build up the Christian people who form Christ’s holy and mystical Body in which they work out their common salvation. At the same time, the Holy Spirit makes every Christian a temple of God not made by hands.”  (Archimandrite Zacharias, REMEMBER THY FIRST LOVE, p 213)

The notion of the Temple as we have seen in the past blogs is complex for it is both a divine and human reality.  The Temple is the place where God dwells with His people and yet it does not contain Him.  The Temple is a reality of place and yet from its earliest conception in the Tent of the Meeting, it exists wherever God is with His people, wherever His people may move.  By the time of Christ these complex ideas of the Temple were incarnate in unexpected ways in Christ Himself.  Christ was seen as making the Temple fulfill all of its intended purposes, as revealing the nature of the true Temple, and as even superseding the Temple.  St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107AD) writes:

“As stones of the Father’s temple you have been prepared to be God the Father’s building, lifted up to the heights through the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, as you use the Holy Spirit for a rope. Your faith is your guide;  love is the way that carries you up to God.  You are all fellow travelers, God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, ordered well in every way in the commands of Jesus Christ.”  (Ignatius Of Antioch & Polycarp Of Smyrna: A New Translation and Theological Commentary, Kenneth J. Howell, Kindle Loc. 1452-55)

The New Testament, as we have seen in the previous blogs, conceives of Christ as Temple, the Church (the people of God) as Temple as well as each person being a Temple of the Holy Spirit.  The “Temple” thus continues to be a rich theological concept in the New Testament: reality and symbol, sign of God and transforming people individually and collectively.  The author of Hebrews draws together those texts of the Old Testament related to the Temple with Christ who enters not the earthly copy of the Temple, but enters the true archetypal Temple (emphases in the text is mine and not in the original):

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord. . . . They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’  But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. . . . Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”  (Hebrews 8:1-2,5-6 and 9:23-24)

Hebrews tells us the Jerusalem Temple is not the real Temple but merely a copy of the real thing.  The Temple in Jerusalem is a Temple made by human hands, like any idol.  It is a sign and symbol of the reality and thus participates in the reality, yet it is not the full reality of the true Temple made by God and not by human hands.  It is Christ through His death, resurrection and ascension who enters THE Temple of God and unites earth to earth to heaven, humanity to divinity.  When Christ entered the true Temple of God He also revealed the Jerusalem Temple to be a mere copy of the original, a shadow and type of the real thing.   When we have access to the real Temple, we no longer need the model of it.  This same thinking is how the Patristic Writers often thought of the scriptures: the scriptures as prototypes of the reality are no longer needed once we have the type, the reality.  The scriptures point to Christ, and so are essential to us, but once we have Christ, we are no longer need the sketches and models which helped us to recognize Christ.  But once we have the reality, the sketches and plans which were drawn up are no longer as valuable to us.

St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908AD) writes about the temple in Christian thinking:

“Lord!  Grant that Thy temple may communicate to all who enter into it with faith, piety and fear of God, the enlightenment of their souls, the cleansing from their sins, sanctification, peace health, tranquility of soul – that it may strengthen their faith, hope and love; that it may further the amendment of their lives, success in all their good beginnings and works, mutual love, pure Christian life, the softening of their hearts, and the cessation of self-love, hard-heartedness, covetousness, greediness, envy, malice, gluttony, drunkenness, dissoluteness – of these vices, which are so prejudicial to social life, sapping its very foundation.  Grant this, grant it, Lord, to all those who love to frequent Thy Temple, and incline those also who do not love it, to love it, and to amend their lives and works: for the time is near and the judgment is at the door for all, of every calling and position, of either sex and every age, and a work of infinite importance stands before all – to give an answer at the terrible Judgment of Christ.”  (MY LIFE IN CHRIST  V 2, pp 161-162)

Because the Body of Christ is identified with the Temple, the Temple in all its new manifestations becomes identified with both the Incarnation of God and the deification of humanity.  St. Maximos the Confessor (d. 662AD)   expresses the thought in his own mystical language:

“The way of truth is love. The Logos of God called Himself the way (cf. John 14:6, 1 John 4:8); and those who travel on this way He presents, purified from every stain, to God the Father. This is the door through which a man enters into the Holy of Holies and is brought to the vision of the unapproachable beauty of the Holy and Royal Trinity.”  (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 16076-80)

Christ is the door to the true Temple, the way into the Holy of Holies.  This is yet another of the many images and metaphors of the Temple.  And as we already saw in Revelation God the Father and the Lamb of God are the Temple of the New Jerusalem.

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”  (Revelation 21:22)

The Temple whose plan was revealed to Moses and David turns out to be God Himself.  The relationship between God, Temple, humanity and creation is indeed a mystical unity: an image of the incarnation of the Word.  The Temple was to make God present on earth in a most unexpected way which is fulfilled in Christ.  The Temple on earth was to be an image of God Himself to help us recognize the Christ who in turn is the Temple.  And then there is the miracle that the Temple is Christ’s Body which we turn out to be.  The Temple turns out to be the place where God and humanity are united.  Salvation as theosis is Temple theology.

Next:   Christ, the Theotokos and the Temple

The Temple Envisioned Anew

This is the 4th blog in this series exploring the complex and changing ideas which the Temple represents in our Scriptures.   The previous blog is The Temple and a New Vision and the first blog in the series is  Envisioning the Temple (I).

The idea of the Temple as we have seen originated with God Himself who revealed the archetypal heavenly Temple which Moses and David were told to copy.  God provided them the plan/ design/ blueprint (Greek: paradigm) for the Temple.  The Temple itself was something of God.  The copy of that Temple which the Israelites were to build and maintain so that God could have a place to be with His people also required that the people themselves be holy so God could dwell in their midst.  Place or space is not something God needs to exist, but something we humans need to exist. We need space or a place to be with God.  Whatever the Temple is mystically or spiritually, it also by necessity occupies space dimensionally in order to serve human need.

But whatever that Temple was to be – a sign of God’s presence – it could not protect either the people or the building from the events which overtook the Jews.  The Temple was an idea conceived and planned by the eternal and omnipresent Creator of heaven and earth.  As such it always meant something more than a building occupying a particular piece of real estate.  It mystically represented God and was never meant to be like all other temples built on the planet.  It could represent God by being the Place and symbol of His presence but it could never contain God as the Jews recognized from the time it was built as Solomon proclaimed (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 6:18).

In the New Testament we see Christ speaking of the temple of His body replacing the temple made of stone in Jerusalem (John 2:19-22).   The Cross became the throne for Christ, the place where he rested his feet.  The New Testament authors saw a new Temple emerging, and expressed this vision in several ways.

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For it stands in scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.’”  (1 Peter 2:4-6)

“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”    (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Christ is portrayed as the cornerstone of the new Temple which God is building for Himself.  Perhaps the Temple He always intended.  The notion that Jesus is the cornerstone rejected by the builders is one of the most quoted ideas from the Old Testament found in the New.  St. Paul interprets the Temple imagery to apply to each Christian and to the all of us together collectively as the Church.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.”   (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?”   (1 Corinthians 6:19)

“For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”   (2 Corinthians 6:16-18)

The Temple of God is not a building limited by being permanently fixed to a particular location but perhaps better represented by the Tent of the Meeting for the Temple of God moves wherever God’s people are. (And like the Rock which followed the Israelites – 1 Corinthians 10:4)

“We ARE THE TEMPLE OF THE LIVING GOD”  (St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 6:16)

In Paul’s own letters…the implication is clearly that the Temple no longer functioned for him as the focus of God’s presence and as  providing the means whereby a positive relation with him can be maintained.  Thus he transposes the category of the Temple from a geographical place to persons and their immediate relationship with God through the Spirit; ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple…?’ ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?’; ‘We are the temple of the living God…’ (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16) …. More striking still is the way in which the focus of divine presence (in ‘structural terms’) was  located for Paul not so much in the Temple as a sacred building, but in the body of Christ. … To the bulk of his first readers the  significance of this body imagery would be clear… In fact, we need look no further than the quite common comparison in Greek thought between the polis (city) and the human body… The point, then, which Paul’s first readers would readily have appreciated, is that the Christian communities of the diaspora could be said to have a corporate identity, as that of any city or corporation. … This means that Paul saw the small group of  Christians meeting in a member’s home as the body of Christ come together as church (1 Cor. 11:18). To be noted, then, is the fact that it was this coming and worshipping together, rather than the place where they met, which made them Christ’s body.”    (James D. G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways)

Next:  The Temple Realized

God Reveals Himself to & through His Chosen People

St. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself  being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”  (Ephesians 2:18-22)

Fr. George Florovsky wrote:

“Revelation is preserved in the Church. It was given by God to the Church, not to separate individuals, just as in the Old Testament ‘the words of God’ were entrusted not to individuals but to the People of God. Revelation is given, and is accessible, only in the Church; that is, only through life in the Church, through living and actual belonging to the mystical organism of the Body of Christ. This means that genuine knowledge is only possible in the element of Tradition.” Creation and Redemption, pg. 36) 

Fellow Workers with God

St. Paul Preaching at Corinth

We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.     (1 Corinthians 3:9-17)

All Christians are called to love one another, which often translates into being called into ministry and service.  Being a Christian is not a spectator’s sport.  We are in the arena, working with and for God.  We are supposed to be constantly in the process of building up the church (note the words edification and edifice are related!).  We are to come to the Liturgy prepared to work, to do all of the things commanded of us in the Liturgy – to pray, to pay attention, to lift up our hearts, to give thanks to the Lord, to love one another, to listen to the Gospel, to take and eat the Body of Christ, to give praise, to bless the Lord, etc.  St. John Chrysostom put it bluntly: 

St. Paul Inspiring St. John Chrysostom

“‘We hear that some of you,’ St Paul goes on, ‘are living in idleness, not doing any work.’  Even if they were passing the time in prayer and fasting, they would not be doing the manual work of which the Apostle is speaking.

He concludes: ‘Such persons we command and exhort in the name of the Lord Jesus to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.’

Paul does not say: ‘If they are idler, let the community keep them.’ On the contrary, he demands two things: that they keep quiet, and that they work! “ (St.John Chrysostom On the Second Letter to the Thessalonians in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain – A Patristic Breviary, pg. 279)

Christ did not come into the world to be served, but rather to serve.  Neither should we show up at the Liturgy expecting to be served – we are there to imitate Christ, which means we are there to serve others.

Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2010)

“The life of the Mother of God more fully discloses the secrets of the prayer of the heart.  Gregory of Palamas (1296-1359) developed a beautiful homily on the Presentation in the Temple, in which Mary enters the space of unceasing prayer.  In the Orthodox Church, the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple is celebrated on November 21.  The feast signifies the coincidence, or rather, the passage from the temple made by human hand to the temple “not made by human hand”—precisely, the Mother of God herself, who carries within the divine Word.  Mary is called to become the sanctuary and the temple of God.

According to St Gregory Palamas, Mary, from her entry into the temple, served her apprenticeship in prayer:  first the traditional prayer to Yahweh, 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 within 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 presences of the Son.”  (Bobrinskoy, Boris The Compassion of the Father, pg 103)

The Theotokos: The Temple Not Made by Hands

Scripture scholar James Dunn in commenting on St. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:41-50 before his martyrdom makes special note that St. Stephen makes a bold claim: the temple in Jerusalem is no different than the golden calf made by the Jews in the wilderness or any idol made by human hands.  When the Theotokos enters the Jerusalem Temple (an event commemorated in Orthodoxy on November 21), the Temple made by hands is shown to be what it is, while the Theotokos is revealed as that living temple, a temple not made by human hands but created by God Himself to be His true Temple.

‘The tent of witness in the wilderness’, made by Moses in accordance to God’s direction, ‘according to the pattern that he had seen’ (Ex 25:9, 40), had been brought in to the promised land, and remained the focus and medium of Israel’s worship right up to and throughout the reign of David, ‘who found favour in the sight of God’, Israel’s golden age (vv 44-46).  But David had not been permitted to build a temple; it was Solomon who did so ) vv 46-47).

‘Yet the Most High’ does not dwell in houses made with hands (v48).  That was the word used by Hellenistic Jews to condemn idolatry; Gentile gods were human artifacts, ‘made by hands’.  The idol was by definition to cheiropoiēton, ‘the thing made by human hands’; an implication which any Greek speaking Jew, and Luke too, could not mistake, since the word had already been used with this disparaging overtone in v 41.  For just that word to be used of the Temple would certainly have sent shock waves through any Jewish audience or readership—the Temple itself a breach of that most fundamental axiom of Israelite/Jewish religion, that God’s presence cannot be encapsulated or represented by any physical or man-made entity!—the Temple itself an idol!  (Dunn, James D G, The Partings of the Ways, 89)

John of Damascus wrote:

“Hence it is with justice and truth that we call holy Mary Theotokos.  For this name embraces the whole mystery of the divine dispen-sation.  For if she who bore him is the Theotokos, assuredly he who was born of her is God and likewise also man.  At the same time, the defenders of the icons insisted that “when we worship her icon, we do not in the pagan fashion, regard her as a goddess, but as the Theotokos.” 

The origins of the title Mother of God are obscure.  There is no altogether incontestable evidence that it was used before the fourth century.What is clear is that the first completely authenticated instances of the use of this title came from the city of (St.) Athanasius, Alexandria.  Alexander, his patron and immediate predecessor as bishop there, referred to Mary as Theotokos in his encyclopedia of circa 319 about the heresy of Arius.”   (Pelikan, Jaroslav Jesus Through the Centuries, Mary Through the Centuries, pgs 56-57)