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Sermon on the Feast-day of the Presentation of the Lord

Today, the Holy Church celebrates the Meeting of our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast-day has a special spiritual meaning, being at the same time a feast-day for the Lord, since the Gospel read for the Meeting recounts the bringing of the Infant Christ to the Temple, and a feast-day for the Mother of God, as the Virgin Mary, directed by the Holy Spirit, brought Her First-born Child to the Temple, dedicating Him to God as per Jewish law. The dual significance of the feast-day is also reflected in the megalynarion (verse of magnification) that glorifies the Lord and the Mother of God: We magnify Thee, O Life-giving Christ, and we honour Thy Most Pure Mother, by Whom Thou now art brought in accordance with the Law into the Temple of the Lord.

This wonderful meeting, which the people of Israel had been awaiting for so long, was promised by the prophets. In the mystery of Christ’s Nativity, the Son of God came to Earth, becoming incarnate from the Virgin. And when the days of purification were completed, they brought Him to be presented before the Lord. The Presentation before the Lord, that is, dedication of the firstborn to the Lord, was a requirement according to the Old Testament law: Every male that openeth the womb of their mother shall be called holy to the Lord (Exodus 13:2).

The parents of baby Jesus, the righteous Joseph and the Virgin Mary, brought Him to the temple on the fortieth day after His Nativity, and also brought the customary sacrifice, as set out in the Law of God: two turtledoves or two young pigeons. A pair of turtledoves in a sense portrayed the chastity of the parents, and two young pigeons were a symbol of virginal birth. These images even in the Old Testament prefigured the chastity of the parents of the Lord and the infantile impeccability of Christ.

For the Mother of God, this joyful meeting of Her Divine Son with the abode prepared for Him, the Church of the living eternal God the Father, was the threshold of Her sacrificial separation from Her Son. She, by Her own free will, offered Him as a sacrifice to God, giving to the Church the most precious thing that She had: Her First-born Son. This sacrifice continued henceforth, throughout Her life, and ended with Her great sorrow at the Cross, as was foretold by the elder Simeon: a sword will pierce through Your own soul also.

On this day, the Infant Christ met with the righteous elder Simeon, who, being led by the Holy Spirit, came to the Church where the Saviour was brought. Simeon was a God-fearing and virtuous man who lived a long, righteous life. In the Gospel it is said of Him: This man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him (Luke 2:25). It was proclaimed to Him from God that he would not die until he saw Him, Who would be the Saviour of the people of Israel, and Who will give him, in his extreme old age, release from the bonds of the temporal world, that is, the long-awaited end of his mortal life.

And this joyful day arrived; the righteous Simeon met God face to face, in the form of the Infant Christ. With trepidation, he received in his elderly hands this heavenly and, at the same time, earthly Infant; this forty-day old, tiny Being, to Whom he appealed his prayer: O

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation… Now Simeon could depart in peace into eternity, to the region of the departed, and bear the joyful message that he saw God on earth, Who came in the flesh; that he saw the saving Light that will be the fall of the unbelievers, and the rise of those who believe in Him.

Bearing witness to this mysterious, spiritual event was the prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, a widow of eighty-four years, diligent in fasting and prayer, who, serving God, did not leave the temple day and night. Guided by the Holy Spirit, she gave thanks to God, and announced a prophecy that redemption had come for those who were awaiting salvation, and that redemption was this very Infant.

Anna received the gift of prophesying, having abandoned worldly and mundane pursuits, while remaining in fasting, vigils and prayers. With her life, she set an example of what righteous widows should strive to be. Anna’s purity and zeal can serve as an example of the fulfilment of Christ’s commandment: to crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts; to put to death in oneself impurity, passion and evil lust. Like blessed Anna, we must have reverent fear at the appearance of the Sun of Truth, Christ.

Let us heed the admonition of the Apostle: Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the Temple of God, God will destroy him (1 Cor. 3:16). When we commit a sin, we alienate ourselves from the Lord and are denied the opportunity to meet Him, because there is nothing in common between light and darkness. Hierarch Gregory Palamas, in his sermon for the Meeting of the Lord, says: “O man, with all your strength, save your soul from fornication! Run from fornication, brethren, as the Apostle commands. Because for those in whom the Spirit of God dwells, it is necessary to be pure <…> to stifle the passions that manifest themselves, and strive to obtain sanctity and chastity, <…> so that we may all joyously reside with the imperishable Bridegroom forever.”

The Lord says through the Apostle Paul: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22). The Old Testament (that is, treaty) was concluded on Mount Sinai between the prophet Moses and God. Moses brought the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. By fulfilling these commandments, Israel was preserved for a long time from spiritual harm, while the other nations pursued the path of paganism, and began worshipping many false gods, that is, demonic power. In its historical development, Israel, having forgotten the covenants of God, approached its spiritual limit, at which point Christ had to come into the world to save the chosen people. The prophets were preparing the people for the adoption of the new teaching of the Messiah, that a man, freed from the bonds of the old law, comes under the shelter of the grace of God. Grace is granted to us by the Holy Spirit and manifests itself in a true spiritual life. The old law did not save man from a spiritual death, since it only limited sin, and created a certain ritual, the convention of a righteous life. The life of the Israelites according to the law was a preparation for their perception of the Truth and the grace of God in their meeting with the Saviour. A person who is falling in love with God, who lives a spiritual life, can become a receptacle for the grace of the Holy Spirit, bearing spiritual fruits, of which the Apostle Paul writes about.

The law of God is established on the love of God and neighbour. Certain people are able to strictly follow the rules, and behave outwardly irreproachably; such were the Pharisees. But Christ came, and they crucified Him, because they had envy and malice in their hearts; and of the struggle against this, nothing was written in their law. The Gospel, brought into the world by Christ, expands and deepens the gracious operation of the law. We should perceive the Gospel in such a way that it penetrates deep into our consciousness. Those who have the commandments written on the tablets of their heart simply cannot do otherwise than the Gospel commands. After all, it is not compliance with the rules in itself that is salvific, but salvation lies in repentance, the changing of one’s life, and correction of one’s own heart.

The meeting with Christ is also occurring in our life, similar to the meeting that took place in the Jerusalem temple. Our first meeting takes place in Holy Baptism, when we are brought to the church, and with the love of our loved ones we are given to God. By our parents we were brought before the Lord and dedicated to Him for service. In Holy Baptism, we received many gifts, as well as the important and sacred duties which were laid upon us, and the responsibility to preserve the purity of our soul, which was bestowed upon us in Baptism by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

After baptism, we purify our soul through the mystery of Repentance. Sometimes, when we come to confession, we cannot understand in what way we are sinful. If at confession we say: “I have nothing to repent of” or say: “I have sinned in everything”, then we have not yet had our meeting with God, when a person sees their sins, and is horrified and shudders at their multitude. God is light; but what we carry in our soul is often sinful darkness. Therefore, if a person does not see the state of their soul, and says that they have no sins, then they have not yet met God, and have not yet felt what the grace of God is.

How can we be made worthy of a joyous meeting with the Lord? What is needed is the constant working of the soul. For example, when we stand in church, we must constantly drive away extraneous thoughts, force ourselves to pray, try to ponder the words of the prayers so that every word reaches our mind and our heart, because God’s grace enters us only through our spiritual effort. It is said that the hardest toil is to pray to God; and, indeed, many are willing to do anything, except pray. But when we, expressing our will, still force ourselves to pray, do we partake in a meeting with God? In order for your heart to open towards God, you need to perceive yourself in the presence of God as a great sinner, to want to improve yourself with all your soul, to want to live every upcoming day better than the previous one. This is the beginning of a spiritual life; this is the basis of a meeting with God, like the one in which the elder Simeon and the prophetess Anna met Christ.

A Meeting with the Lord in our lives is seen in every Communion of His Divine Flesh and Blood, since in this Mystery we are united with the Saviour. We should, as often as possible, recall in our memory what we promised to the Lord in Holy Baptism: that, in our meeting with the Lord after leaving this world, we will not be judged as having received the grace of the Holy Spirit in vain. Let us remember to Whom we are dedicated in the meeting of Holy Baptism, so that on that final day of our life, when we, having repeated the words of righteous Simeon: O Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; having been released from the bonds of the flesh and leaving this most restless and vain world; with joy and hope may we be deemed worthy of the great Meeting with the Saviour: We shall be

caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17). Our entire life is preparation for this very meeting.

May the Lord help us in being deemed worthy of this Divine Meeting