Focus on the Faith
THE FEAST OF THE “MEETING OF THE LORD”
On the 2nd of February, our Holy Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Church also refers to this Feast as the Synaxis (or Meeting) of the Lord in the temple.
In accordance with the Law of Moses, 40 days after the birth of a male child, his mother is required to present the child in the tabernacle and offer, as a sacrifice, either a lamb or a pair of doves or pigeons for her purification. The presentation of a first-born son also signified redemption, or “buying back,” of all first-born creatures (both humans and animals) for they were considered as belonging to God.
The Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary and the Righteous Joseph obeyed this commandment of the law. They brought Jesus to the Temple where he was met and blessed by a very old Holy man. On that day in the Temple, both Simeon and a woman by the name of Anna, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognized the infant Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour of the world. Simeon, who had been one of the original translators of the Septuagint, had been promised by God that he would live to witness the coming of the Messiah to the world. These events are the subject of today’s Gospel reading. (Luke 2:22-40)
Imagine this blessed scene, an old man - barely able to hold himself upright due to his advanced years- fully clothed in the traditional vestments of the High Priest of the Temple, cradling the infant Jesus in his arms. It is the meeting of the Old Testament Priesthood in the Temple with the New Testament Priesthood in Christ. Hence, this Feast day is called the "Synaxis" or Meeting of the Lord in the Temple.
The Church today calls each one of us to make our soul a Temple of God, where the Holy Virgin can bring her Divine Child. And each one of us should, like Simeon, take the Child in our arms and say to the Father:
"Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation."
This Prayer of St. Simeon is used every day at Vespers in the Orthodox Church. But this prayer should be more to us than a description of someone who has been allowed to see and hold the Christ child, and requesting a peaceful departure from this life. It should also mean for us, in particular, that having seen and touched the Saviour, we are released from the hold that sin and death has on us, and that we may, in peace, depart from the realm of evil.
Be The Candle!
“O Almighty God, Pre-Eternal God, Who didst command Thy servant Moses to make ready a preparation of purest oil to be a light before Thy presence: Do Thou mercifully pour out the grace of Thy blessing upon these candles, that they might bring brightness to the people outwardly, as by Thy gift the brightness of the Holy Spirit shines inwardly in our thoughts, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom is due all glory, honor, and worship, together with Thee, O Father without beginning, and Thy Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.”
–Orthodox Prayer for the Blessing of Candles
Let’s all shut our eyes for a minute and remember a time when we were sitting with our family in the living room or at the dinner table during a big storm that was raging outside. The lights in the house began to flicker and everyone stopped what they were doing to look around at this temporary break from normalcy. We shrugged it off and then continued to go about our business until we heard: “bzzt!” The lights all went out, leaving our families to freeze in their tracks.
Before the invention of flashlights on our phones, what did we do? The kids would scream while the adults stretched out their hands to try and gain an idea of where they were at in the room. Bruised knees were practically a given as we slammed into the coffee table, trying to remember where we kept the matches and the candles. Once we found them, and with a quick “swatch” of the match against the box, the small flame illuminated our entire room. We then quickly found a large candle so that the light could continue to shine until full power had been restored.
This is the primary purpose candles serve isn’t it? They help us to keep light in the midst of darkness…to bring clarity in the midst of chaos. If a small flame can do that in the middle of a dark room, how much more can our Savior…the True Light…illuminate the dark recesses of the world which we find ourselves in?
On the feast of the Presentation of our Lord, it is the custom to bless candles in the Church. One of the things that I am reminded of this day is how similar our own spiritual life is to a candle. The flame…the Light and Love of Christ…is ignited within us at Chrismation, providing within us a natural illumination to protect us from the darkness.
St. Nikolai of Zica once said:
“Candles remind us that before anything else, the Creator of the world created light, and after that, everything else in Order: “And God said, let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). And so it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life…so that before anything else, the light of Christ’s truth would shine in us. From this light of Christ’s truth, subsequently, every good is created, springs up, and grows in us.
This past year, how many times have we either experienced or heard stories of those who have been driven to the brink of despair, shrouded in darkness, and seemingly absent of hope? As difficult as things have been for us Orthodox Christians, imagine how much more difficult it must be to those who do not have the light of Christ in their lives…who have been bumping into the proverbial “coffee tables” and searching for the “matches of meaning” where they can’t be found. It is our calling as bearers of Christ’s Light to illuminate not just our own lives, but all of those who are searching for that gentle presence of Christ in the midst of chaos.
Great and Holy Lent will soon be upon us. Now is the time to put forward our best efforts to test the purity of our inner candles that hold the Light of Christ. If there is a vice or impurity that we have allowed to plague us during the past year, wipe it away with tears of repentance. If the foundation of our spiritual life has melted away, let us strengthen it with spiritual reading, fasting, and prayer. Keep the flame of God brightly burning with us, allowing His Life to shine from our souls, illuminating not just us, but all those who are searching for meaning in the midst of chaos.
From the Fathers
We don’t have to look very far to see the darkness in the world. We see so much pain and destruction, so much needless suffering, so much hatred, such clear failure of empathy, so many people crying out in distress yet so few ears open to hear their cries. How do we battle such monstrous darkness? St. Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia (Athos) has a simple answer, as he does to most complex issues. “Don’t fight to expel darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for the light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.” Think of this along with John 1:5: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” What darkness can overpower light? Light always wins out over darkness; there is simply no other way for things to be. If there is darkness, light is not present, and if there is light, there cannot be darkness.
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