The Meeting of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple
Icon of the Mother of God “Softener (or “Consoler”) of Evil Hearts” or “Prophecy of Symeon”
Commemorated on February 2
St. Symeon the God-Receiver and St. Anna the Prophetess and Daughter of Phanuel.
Commemorated on February 3
Concentrate on those things we shall be able to take with us into eternity.
Anthony Bloom Metropolitan of Sourozh
John of Kronstadt was asked once how it was that priests, in spite of their training, experience wandering, intrusive thoughts, even in the course of the liturgy. The answer was: ‘Because of our lack of faith.’ We have not faith enough, faith being understood in the terms of St Paul as ‘the evidence of things not seen’ (Heb 11:1). But it would be a mistake to think that those distracting thoughts all come from outside; we must face the fact that they come from our own depths: they are our continual inner preoccupations coming to the fore, they are just the thoughts that usually fill our life, and the only way to get radically rid of unworthy thoughts is to change our outlook on life fundamentally. Again, as Brother Lawrence puts it in his eighth letter: ‘One way to recollect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquility, is not to let it wander too far at other times; you should keep it strictly in the presence of God; and being accustomed to think of him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm at the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings.’
As long as we care deeply for all the trivialities of life, we cannot hope to pray wholeheartedly; they will always color the train of our thoughts. The same is true about our daily relations with other people, which should not consist merely of gossip but be based on what is essential in every one of us, otherwise we may find ourselves unable to reach another level when we turn to God. We must eradicate everything meaningless and trivial in ourselves and in our relations with others, and concentrate on those things we shall be able to take with us into eternity.
Prayer in its turn will change and enrich our daily life, becoming the foundation of a new and real relationship with God and those around us.
Our spiritual life is based on our faith and determination, and any incidental joys are a gift of God. St Seraphim of Sarov, when asked what it was that made some people remain sinners and never make any progress while others were becoming saints and living in God, answered: ‘Only determination.’
One can pray everywhere and anywhere, yet there are places where prayer finds its natural climate; those places are churches, fulfilling the promise; ‘I will make them joyful in my house of prayer’ (Is 56:7).
A church, once consecrated, once set part, becomes the dwelling-place of God. He is present there in another way than in the rest of the world. In the world he is present as a stranger, as a pilgrim, as one who goes from door to door, who has nowhere to rest his head; he goes as the lord of the world who has been rejected by the world and expelled from his kingdom and who has returned to it to save his people. In church he is at home, it is his place; he is not only the creator and the lord by right but he is recognised as such. Outside it he acts when he can and how he can; inside a church he has all power and all might and it is for us to come to him.
A priest who visited Russia recently took services in a church where there was a well-known wonder-working icon of Our Lady and was deeply conscious of her active participation in the service. The icon had become very dark in the course of centuries, and from the place where he stood he could not distinguish the features, so he continued to celebrate with his eyes shut. Suddenly he felt that the Mother of God in the icon was as it were compelling him to pray, directing his prayers, shaping his mind. He became aware of a power originating from the icon that filled the church with prayer and guided the diffuse thoughts. It was almost a physical presence, there was a person standing there, compelling a response.
We sometimes pray for someone we love, who is in need and whom we are not able to help. Very often we do not know what the right thing is, we do not find the words to help even the most beloved. Sometimes we know that nothing can be done except to be silent, though we are ready to give our life to help. In that spirit we can turn to God, put the whole situation into his care and say: ‘O God, who knowest everything and whose love is perfect, take this life into thine hand, do what I long to do, but cannot.’
St Isaac of Syria says: do not reduce your prayer to words, make the totality of your life a prayer to God. Therefore, if we wish to pray for our departed, our life must back up the prayer. It is not enough to wake up to a certain feeling for them from time to time and then ask God to do something for them. It is essential that every seed of good, truth and holiness that has been sown by them should bear fruit, because then we can stand before God and say: he has sown good, there was some quality in him which inspired me to do well, and this particle of good is not mine but his and is in a way his glory and his redemption.
The Meeting of the Lord: a Priesthood of Sacrifice
Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou)
In today’s Apostle reading, St Paul speaks about a change that occurred in the priesthood through Christ. In the Old Testament, the priesthood descended from the tribe of Aaron and every first-born male child of this tribe inherited the priesthood from his father. As St Paul says, this was a law of carnal commandment (Heb. 7:16). Now, with the coming of Christ, we have a new, royal priesthood. Christ descended from the tribe of Judah, which was a royal tribe, but did not have the gift of priesthood. This signifies that, before all worlds, He is God and Lord of all and so, He naturally has this royal property. Thus, through His incarnation, priesthood is introduced in the tribe of Judah.
By assuming human flesh, Christ reveals His priesthood in the world. Why is this? Because it is with this flesh that He suffered death on the Cross and it is in His sacrifice that His priestly ministry for the reconciliation of the world with God was established. Yet, the priesthood of Christ does not only consist in His sacrifice, but also in the divine energy which He bore within Himself as God. His priesthood is founded on the endless life which He had in Himself, as St Paul says: Not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. We all received the royal priesthood when we were baptized. The royal priesthood means that, by the grace of God, we can all imitate Christ and become like Him, including the whole world in our hearts just as He brought the whole world before God the Father in His prayer and through His crucifixion.
Today Joseph and the Mother of God bring the Child to present Him before the Lord, and it is very moving, because Christ is brought as an Infant to the temple which was built for Him, for He is the Lord. For this reason, this feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple is also named the Presentation of the Lord. Through His incarnation, Christ performed a twofold presentation: He came down from the bosom of His Father and He manifested into the world the love of the Father, which is a love unto the end. However, by dying on the Cross, being buried, risen from the dead and then ascending to Heaven, He presented to God the Father the true man, as He was foreordained by God before all ages. Christ is He Who first presented the true man as the true image and likeness of God to the Father and to all of us.
In today’s Gospel we also hear about Symeon, a man just and devout, who received from the Holy Spirit the promise that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. What is important for us to know is that Symeon grew old in the temple, waiting for this promise to be fulfilled without faintheartedness. In his person, we see a very significant aspect for our life, namely the aspect of time. Time and waiting with patience for the promise of the Lord is very important, because it makes us more humble. Waiting patiently, not desiring to quickly acquire the promise, but devoting years, decades of his life longing for the promise of God—all this humbles the heart of man and makes him more like unto the One Whom he is about to receive—Christ.
Another very important aspect is that Symeon received the promise of the Lord with great gratitude: As soon as he received Christ in his arms, he immediately exploded in a hymn of praise to God: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation. The gratitude with which he received Christ in his arms attracted the spirit of prophecy in Symeon and then he prophesied to the Mother of God: He becomes a collaborator with God in revealing the divine will to the Mother of God.
He speaks about the sign of Christ, that this Child is set for the fall and the rising of many, and then he turns to the Mother of God saying, A sword will pierce through your soul, also. Therefore, the gratitude with which he receives Christ in his arms drew upon him the spirit of prophecy and established him in the realm of the divine will, which he revealed to the Mother of God. Thus, we learn that when we receive the gifts of God with gratitude, this gratitude attracts a greater blessing upon us; it makes us ministers of the mystery of God and gives us the gift of being collaborators with Him in revealing His truths even to our fellow men.
The Meeting of the Lord is a feast of the Lord, but also a feast of the Mother of God. Today we see that she gives Christ to Symeon, and this is a power, an authority that she always has. The Mother of God is always this bridge through which we can receive Christ. It is the Mother of God who gave to St. Silouan the rare gift of unceasing prayer: As he was praying before her icon, the prayer came out from the icon, went into his heart, and remained with him unto the end of his life.
Those who love the Mother of God are very privileged, because they surely go through many spiritual changes. The monks of Mount Athos may even scandalize with their love for her, and some do protest that they love her as God. However, they do not consider her as God, they simply love her much because they have benefited much.
So, today we must remember that the priesthood of Christ is a priesthood of sacrifice. The more we bear this sacrifice of praise in our life, and keep a painful heart out of gratitude to God and because we are unable to thank Him as He deserves, the more this royal priesthood will become alive in us and our life will be a constant presentation. We pray day and night and we come to the Liturgy because the purpose of our life is to learn how to present ourselves before God in a way that is pleasing to Him, so that we can present ourselves in the same way that day, when He will come again with glory.
Apolytikion of the Meeting of the Lord, Tone 1
Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, full of grace, for from thee arose the Sun of justice, Christ our God, lighting those who are in darkness. Rejoice and be glad, O righteous old man, carrying in thine arms the Deliverer of our souls, Who granteth us Resurrection.
Adorn thy chamber, O Zion, and receive Christ the King. Welcome Mary the heavenly gate; for she hath appeared as a cherubic throne; she carrieth the King of glory. Verily, the Virgin is a cloud of light carrying in her body the Son Who is before the morning star, Whom Simeon carrying in his arms proclaimed to the nations as the Lord of life and death, and the Savior of our souls.
-Vespers of the Feast, Tone 7
Tone IV: Spec. Mel.: “Thou hast given a sign …”:
As one righteous and perfect * and glorious in all things, O divinely inspired one, * taking up in thine arms * the one perfect God, incarnate, * Who came to justify the world; * thou didst cry out to Him, asking to be released from thy body saying: * “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, * for I have beheld Thee today, ** O Lover of mankind!”
Young in spirit, * yet elderly of body, O Symeon, * the promise made to thee was fulfilled; that thou wouldst not see death * until thou beheld a young Babe * Who before time as the Creator and God of all, * would humble Himself by assuming flesh; * and beholding Him, thou didst ask crying aloud; * let me be loosed from the flesh, ** and joyously pass over to the mansions of God.
The divinely inspired Anna * and the most rich Symeon, * resplendent in prophecy, * manifest as blameless according to the law, * beholding the Bestower of the law * manifest among us as a Babe, * have now worshipped Him. * We now joyously celebrate their memory, ** glorifying as is meet, Jesus Who is the Lover of mankind.