THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE THEOTOKOS
HISTORY OF THE FEAST
This feast traces its origins to the tradition of the Church and apocryphal writings.
From these writings, the parents of Mary, being childless, made a promise to God that if they would have a child, they would offer him/her up the Lord’s service in the temple in the temple in Jerusalem.
The Lord blessed them with a daughter, Mary. When Mary was three, her parents, Joachim and Anna, brought her to the Temple. When Mary was presented, she was received by St. Zacharias, the father of St. John the Forerunner, as he was the High Priest at that time. He took her by the hand and led her into, not only the Holy Place, but into the Holy of Holies. This was the place that only the High Priest was to enter, and only on the Day of Atonement. The only explanation for this is that he was moved by the Spirit of God.
Mary studied and served in the temple. She wanted to remain in the Temple all her life and had no desire to marry, but the law had no provision for this. It was unheard of for a girl to vow perpetual virginity. When she was 14, Mary was betrothed, following a religious custom, to Joseph. She went to Nazareth with Joseph, where she continued her religious life of prayer and study. It was there, in Nazareth, that Mary was visited by the angel who told her she would be the mother of Jesus, God’s Son.
The Virgin Mary is called the Theotokos, which in the Greek language means: "She who bears God”.
This Feast celebrates the entry of Mary into the life of the Temple. When Mary was three years old, Anna, her mother, brought her to the Temple, and dedicated her to God’s service. It was customary for many young Jewish virgins and widows to live at the temple where they studied the Word of God and performed temple service.
Some mention is made to this feast in the 5th century. It was established in the 8th century since mention of it as one of the twelve major feasts was made by the Patriarchs of Constantinople in their sermons as well as in the Sinai Gospel which Emperor Theodosius III donated to the Sinai Monastery.
The feast was universally recognized and celebrated by the East in the 9th century.
In the West, the feast of the Entrance began to be celebrated in the 14th century. By the middle of the 15th century it spread throughout all of Europe.
The feast of the Presentation is one of the 12 great feast days, having a one-day pre-feast and a four-day post-feast.
DID YOU KNOW?
= The encounter between Mary and Zechariah takes place in front of the porch of the “holy of holies”.
= Mary resembles a three-year-old only in size; she is an adult in miniature.
= The virgins who form the retinue have their heads uncovered as a sign of their virginity.
= Mary wears a veil (maphorion), although she is a virgin and remains a virgin even in giving birth, because she has attained spiritual maturity and perfect union with God, even from a very early age.
= The Church as placed this feast at the beginning of the Philippian Fast when we relive the expectation of the Messiah by the Jewish people. Mary represents all of Israel; she fulfills the promise.
= All of the hymns of this feast day celebrate this tradition which is not intended to give precise historical information, but to lift up the holiness of Mary and her spiritual preparation to receive Christ in her womb.
TROPAR (Tone 4)
Today is the prelude of the benevolence of God, *and the herald of the salvation of humankind, * for the Virgin openly appears in the temple of God* and foretells Christ to all. * Let us also with full voice exclaim to her: * “Hail, fulfillment of the Creator’s plan.”
KONDAK (Tone 4)
The most pure temple of the Saviour,* richest palace and holy treasury of the glory of God,* today enters the house of the Lord* bringing grace which is in the Spirit of God.* The angels of God sing to her:* This is the heavenly tabernacle.
Six readings are designated for the Entrance into the Temple.
The 3 Old Testament readings which describe the Temple which symbolically prefigures the living Temple of Christ, the Virgin Mary:
1 Kings 7:51-8:11
The Epistle reading, Hebrews 9:1-7, also describes the arrangement of the sanctuary and of the “holy of holies” in the Temple; this text refers symbolically to Mary.
The Gospel readings, Luke 10:38-42 and 11:27-28 are read at all the feasts of Mary. Mary is the true contemplative who nourished and brought up the Saviour. She is the first disciple—she is the one who listened to, and kept, the Word. In this lies the ‘Gospel’ foundation of our devotion to Mary.
THEMES OF THE FEAST
The holiness of Mary.
‘Today the All-Pure and All-Holy enters the Holy of Holies’. The reference is to Mary but it also means that all human life can be a life that is ‘presented to the Temple’, a life that is holy and pure with God.
Comparison of the Temple of stone with the living Temple.
‘The most pure Temple of the Saviour…today is led into the house of the Lord, bringing with her the grace of the divine Spirit’. Mary, who will bear the God-Man in her womb, is a holier temple than the temple in Jerusalem. This is true of every person united with God: …”Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…?”
Mary is to be presented to our ‘temple’. Our soul is a temple where God wishes to live; Mary should be ‘presented’ to it: our soul is to be open to Mary so she may dwell in our own personal temple.
Entry of Mary into the holy, universal Church.
The whole assembly of the faithful is the body of Christ and the temple of God; today’s feast is the entry of Mary into this temple—the holy, universal Church. The Temple, which is the Catholic Church, pays homage to the Temple, which is Mary.
WHAT CAN I DO IN MY HOME OR IN MY CLASSROOM?
. Place an icon of the Presentation of the Theotokos in your icon corner. Explain the icon to the children.
. Explain the meaning of the feast day and why it is celebrated during the pre-Christmas fast.
. Teach the Tropar according to the proper tone.
. Learn a new hymn in honour of this feast.
. Venerate the icon on the Tetrapod in church.