Entrance of the Theotokos

“Seeing the entrance of the pure one, angels marveled in wonder how the Virgin could enter the holy of holies.” (Refrain to Irmos 9, on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple)

“Entrances” are a big deal in our liturgical tradition, (e.g., the Small Entrance and Great Entrance at Divine Liturgy), surrounded by great solemnity. Why? Because they are “transitional” moments; that is to say, they signify the most crucial and challenging aspect of life in general, and life in Christ more specifically – transitions. We “enter” any given day, for example, transitioning from nighttime not instantly, but by going through our morning “ritual” (getting out of bed, washing up, praying, making coffee, getting dressed, exercising, etc.). We also “enter” into communion with Christ, again and again, not instantly, but step by step, preparing ourselves with the help of traditional prayers and customs.

The feast we’re celebrating today on the Older Calendar focuses on “entrance,” the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. Similar to the entrances mentioned above, Her “entrance” into “the holy of holies” involves both preparation and transition. She is to be prepared, in the temple, for the pivotal moment in Salvation History, the descent upon Her of the Holy Spirit and conception, in Him, of God the Word. There is so much more to say on this topic, on how daunting and even potentially terrifying this “transition” was, for the three-year-old Mary from Nazareth, but this reflection is already too long.

So I’ll just say, let our Lady’s courageous “entrance” today be an inspiration and encouragement for all my entrances and other transitions. Let me not fear them but walk through them, by the protection and guidance of the Blessed among Women. Amen!

Meditation by Sr. Vassa Larin

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Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel.”

(Proto-Evangelium of James, chapter 7 and beginning of chapter 8)

One monastic commentator on today’s feast writes:

“A Jerusalem church in honor of the Mother of God was dedicated on this date in the sixth century. A century later, St Andrew of Crete mentions a yearly feast commemorating the entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

“The details of the feast are drawn from the apocrypha, such as the Gospel of James, since canonical scripture has no account of the early life of Mary. The setting of the feast is in the temple rebuilt by Zerubabel,, which no longer contained the Ark of the Covenant. In the feast-day icon, the priest and prophet, Zecharaiah, father of John the Baptist, escorts the Virgin into the Holy of Holies. The Theotokos is thus received as the Living Ark, for in the fullness of time, God himself will come to dwell in her.

“The feast, then, is another step in the preparation for the birth of Christ. What began as a legend has been used by the Church for centuries to emphasize the dedication of God’s Mother to service in the Lord’s house, to foretell to all the coming of Christ.

The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

The feast today is the story of our salvation through the temple of God.

The first temple was the temple in Jerusalem. It was a foreshadowing of the temple to come. It was localized in one place – the city of Jerusalem. In it were no images of God, for “No one has ever seen God. (1 John 4:12)” The Liturgy tells us that he is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing, yet ever the same.” The temple was his footstool on earth. Here animal sacrifice was offered to God, which was only a foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice to be offered by our Lord, “when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)”

The second temple is Mary, the birth-giver of God.” In today’s feast, she enters the temple of Jerusalem in order to replace it, for she shall bear God within her womb. As the new and living temple of God, she is our temple, for like Mary, who carried God in her womb, we receive God into our bodies in Holy Communion. As Mary was fed in the temple by angelic bread, so we receive the bread of life, the Body of Jesus, and his holy blood of the perfect sacrifice, which becomes our sacrifice of praise. St. Paul teaches us, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1),” in Sunday’s Epistle, he wrote, “you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)” This is the temple of God for us today.

The third temple is the one yet to come, but it surpasses all temples, which are only temporary dwelling-places, and so the Book of Revelation foretells, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.” The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new. (Revelation 21:1-5)” This fulfills the first temple of Jerusalem, “(The angel) took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God …. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23)” We pray with St. Paul, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. (Phillipians 1:21-24)”