(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord into the Temple, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
Presentation of the Lord into the Temple
The celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25 is marked by a period of extreme joy in which Christians the world over attain a euphoria referred to as the “Christmas Spirit,” which is so genuine it is contagious but altogether too short-lived. Nevertheless, that joyful spirit, highlighted by the exchange of gifts, has an emotional carry-over which tends to obscure the fact that forty days later the baby Jesus was presented at the Temple in accordance with ancient custom. This solemn occasion is regrettably more than just obscured; it is overlooked, but since it comes in the wake of the greatest religious celebration on earth, Christians cannot be judged too harshly for the apparent oversight. In any event, the birth of a baby occasions such great joy that anything that follows shortly thereafter is of necessity anticlimactic.
The Vesper Service contains a prayer from the service of the Presentation of the Infant Jesus which reads: “Lord, now let your servant go in peace according to your promise, because my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a Light to show to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.” The eyewitness referred to in this short prayer was a man named Symeon, who was privileged to hold the infant Jesus in his arms to be presented to the Father.
According to the Scriptures, Symeon was a man not only of holy spirit but of infinite patience as well, a highly intelligent scholar and deeply religious man who knew from his interpretation of the Old Testament that the Messiah was to come. He prayed not only for deliverance, but for the opportunity to remain alive just long enough to cast his eyes on the Messiah. This was no small request made of the Lord because, although estimates vary as to his actual age, it is quite certain he was born so many years before Christ that he had to be quite ancient by the time of the Nativity. Symeon is estimated to have been at least 150 years old and only because God gave him that many years in answer to earnest prayers was he allowed to live to that great day.
Born in a cave, the Son of God was held in the arms, not of some young hero, but of an ancient ascetic barely able to hold himself erect, let alone carry the infant, for the age-old ceremony of presentation at the temple. We read in Luke (2:22-40) of how the old man’s patience was finally rewarded by being led by the Holy Spirit to the infant Jesus, whom he fondly embraced as a Savior. There is no true Christian who would not exchange the mythical Midas touch just to be able to touch the garment of Jesus Christ at any time in his thirty-three-year lifespan, but this old man Symeon was privileged to cradle the Savior in his arms.
The practice of presenting a child to God in the church originated in the ancient temples of the Jewish faith and is continued by the Orthodox Church in the unbroken tradition of centuries which Orthodox prefer to call “being churched.” The true believer of Orthodoxy believes, as did the third-century St. Cyprian, that “he cannot have God for his father who has not the Church for his mother,” a religious admonition that bears repetition and should be borne in the minds of Christians throughout the year. The presentation on February 2 is one reminder that Christian duty comes before all else.
The same prayers are offered to God for infants of both sexes, but in Orthodox tradition a male child is brought into the sanctuary in the hope that he will be one selected by heaven to answer a call to serve as a priest one day. The female infant, however, is brought only to the entrance of the sanctuary, not in a discriminatory gesture, but simply because, since a female does not serve as a priest in the Orthodox Church, she is not offered to God with the prospect of being called to serve as a priest.
This does not smack of the chauvinism that is being misapplied by well-intentioned women of the world today. Since Mary Magdalene, the presence of women has been very much felt in the Christian faith, to which countless heroines and martyrs who have been sainted bear witness. There is ample proof throughout the New Testament that women are on the same level with men in the eyes of God, who chose as a Savior a male child. The presentation of the Lord on February 2 is a presentation of all who believe in him.