On 15th February, on the Old Calendar, we celebrate the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord in the Temple. This is known in the West as the Presentation in the Temple. According to the Law of Moses, every firstborn male was to be presented in the Temple on the fortieth day after birth and Jesus’ parents did this in obedience as required. The Meeting, however, has a much more profound meaning; the newly born Jesus met the Elder Simeon in the Temple on this day. Simeon had been told by God that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Anointed. He must have received many presented boys over the years, but he knew that this one was not only special, but very special. Indeed, he recognised him as the very one he was waiting for, the Son of God, The Lord’s Anointed. In his delight, he cried out the beautiful hymn which we sing at vespers every day; “Lord, now your servant can depart in peace for (because) my eyes have seen Your Salvation! As he held the child Jesus in his arms, he was further able to say, “(This child) is a light to enlighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of Your people Israel”.
This was a Theophany, a revealing of God. Jesus’ birth had been a rather private affair, witnessed only by Mary his mother, Joseph, probably a ‘midwife’ and some of Joseph’s, and, perhaps, Mary’s relatives. Then there were shepherds and much later, Wise Men from the East, but this for others, was a birth amongst births of no special note to the general population at the time. Now at the 40th day, in the Temple, the Theophany is more in the public eye and word of Simeon’s acclamation would have spread about. This Theophany was also witnessed by the prophetess Anna, who had been constantly at prayer in the Temple for many years. Simeon not only said, “Now mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation which Thou hast prepared before all people, a light to enlighten the Gentles and to be the glory of thy people Israel”. He proclaimed a great message for us; the child in the arms of Simeon, “a light to enlighten the Gentiles”, is for us, as we welcome the Lord Jesus into our arms, that we too maybe enlightened.
This is the truth revealed by the Canaanite woman. She, a Gentile, had heard of Jesus and now came to him to ask him to help her daughter. Initially, he challenged her, ”I have only come to the lost sheep of Israel (“to be the glory of Israel “), It is not right to give the children's food to dogs”, The Canaanite woman was not insulted by this but accepted the challenge in humility, saying with great faith, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs from the Master’s table!”. She was implying, she would willingly be a dog to feast on the crumbs which Christ might drop” To this, Our Lord acknowledged her profound faith and for the first time (according to the record) reached out to a Gentile to bring healing for her daughter and enlightenment. This is why the Meeting in the Temple supported by this encounter with the Gentile woman is, for the Orthodox Church, a much more profound understanding than simply a record of Our Lord’s, through his parents, acquiescence to the Law of Moses.
In the West, and particularly according to an old English custom, this Feast is also known as Candlemas. At the end of the Liturgy on this day, we processed around the inside of the Church with lighted candles, symbolising the Light of the World. Whilst doing this, we sang the hymn.
Blest are the pure in heart, for they shall see our God; the secret of the Lord is theirs, their soul is Christ’s abode.
It is, as in the Beatitudes, the pure in heart that see our God. With this purity to which we all aspire, we are led to understand His secret, a secret only revealed to those who truly seek Him. Then, our soul can be filled with Christ our Lord, as we hold him close to us as did the Elder Simeon on this great Feast which we celebrate today. For Christ is the Light to enlighten the Gentiles as we draw close to Him.
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