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Sermon on the Entry into the Temple of the Mother of God

“Magnify, O my soul, Her Who hath been led into the Temple of the Lord, and been blessed by the hands of the priest,” is how the Holy Church extols our Most Holy Lady, Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary on the day of the great (one of the Twelve) feast of Her Entry into the Temple. This feast is held in commemoration of the important and mysterious event, not only in the life of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, but also for the entire human race. With Her entry into the Holy of Holies in the temple, She commenced the event which had long been foretold by the prophets. She entered the realm of mysterious grace, into the depth of communion with God. The predictions of the prophets were realised with Her; the age-old expectations of the Israeli people were fulfilled when, through Her, the Saviour of the world took on the flesh, coming to deliver the human race from its original sinful fall, and to open the way into the Kingdom of Heaven.

On the day of the marvellous and holy entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, the prophecy of the Old Testament was fulfilled, and the New one was foretold. In the troparion of the feast it is said: The Virgin appeareth openly in the Temple of God and bringeth the glad tidings of Christ to all. She foreshadowed Him Who reconciled the people with God, Who stretched out His hands on the Cross for the sins of the people, and granted us the remission of our sins and the grace of the Holy Spirit, through which we return from our state of servitude of sin, to the great dignity of the sons of God (Gal. 3:26). The event of the Entry into the Holy of Holies was so unusual that even the Angels, beholding the Entry of the Most Pure One, were struck with wonder, seeing how the Virgin entered into the Holy of Holies: is how the church service hymns this event, in which the great mystery of Divine dispensation was being completed, the salvation of mankind.

According to God’s all-wise design, the Saviour was to come into the world from the Virgin. The appearance in the flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ was preceded by the preparation of God’s chosen people of Israel. From century to century, among the ranks of good and evil, sin and sanctity, the Israelites awaited the birth of the Virgin, Who would choose goodness from the very beginning and live in purity and faithfulness to Her Divinely elected vocation, and would become an animated image of all that is beautiful, a living portrayal of every virtue and the focus of Divine grace; through Her would commence the traversal of the separation that existed between God and man since the fall of Adam. She would become a bridge between Heaven and earth; She would be a Door that opened into Heaven.

The actual event of the appearance on earth of the Blessed Virgin is described as follows according to Tradition. In the Galilean city of Nazareth there lived an elderly couple: the pious Joachim and Anna. Both of them reached extreme old age, but they did not have any children, as they were barren, which was considered very reprehensible at that time. The righteous spouses diligently prayed to God for their release from barrenness, and vowed that they would dedicate their child to God. And the Lord granted them a Daughter, Whom they called Mary. Only up to the age of three was she raised in Her parental home; then the time came for the fulfilment of their promise given to God: to give the Girl back to the One Who gave Her to them.

Of course, this parting at such an early age with Her, Who became their great consolation in extreme old age, was not easy. After all, they had to part with Her before the end of their fading lives! However, Joachim and Anna, seeing young Mary’s holy enthusiasm and love of God, which were imparted by the grace of God and spiritual upbringing, overcame their parental attachment and other doubts, and decided to devote their young Daughter entirely to the Lord. With great solemnity, and accompanied by young girls with burning candles and their relatives, the holy spouses went to Jerusalem, to bring their pure fruit, born of prayer, to the Lord. In spiritual joy, and not in grief and sorrow, they accompanied their young Dove, Who likewise joyfully went to the house of God. “Joachim is rejoicing, and Anna is celebrating,” says Hierarch Germanus of Constantinople about the Entry of the Mother of God, “look upon, O Lord, look upon Her, and take Her, Whom You gave; accept the One given to us for the release of our infertility.”

The three-year-old Girl, walking up to the steps leading to the Temple of Jerusalem, ascended them as if into a heavenly abode. Unsupported, like an adult, the Young Girl overcame the fifteen grand steps of the staircase towards the high priest Zachariah and the servants who were waiting for Her at the doors of the sanctuary. Hierarch Gregory of Nicomedia, in his discourse on the Entry to the Temple of the Mother of God, says: “Angels and suprawordly Forces surrounded the Virgin. They were amazed at Her bearing of the signs of eternal purity, and how no sinful filth approached Her flesh.”

A Dove, untouched by sin, undefiled by impurity and vice, young Mary humbly entered the depths of Divine, prayerful contemplation, mysteriously preparing to become the inhabitance of the coming Saviour. The high priest Zachariah, upon meeting the Virgin, was astounded by Her kindness and experienced sacred delight. He knew the prophecy of the Holy Spirit that She would be the Ladder by which the Son and the Word would descend to the earth and man would ascend to Heaven. According to the blessed Theophylactus: beside himself, he led the wonderful Young Girl into the altar, past the sacred veil, to a place intended only for the high priest, where only he was allowed access, and only once a year. The Entrance of the Ever-Virgin into the Temple was the basis for our hymning of Her as being More honourable than the Cherubim and truly more glorious than the Seraphim.

With Her Entrance into the Temple, She laid the foundation for what the prophets had predicted and saw in divinations and images, the fulfilment of the expectations of the people of Israel for the incarnation of the One Coming to save the human race. The Holy Spirit proclaimed through the prophet the glory which filled the temple when the Virgin entered it: The glory of the Lord had filled the House of the Lord (2 Chron. 7:2). In the Temple of Solomon there were sacred and venerable objects, which were seen as a prototype of the Mother of God.

In the prophecies, She was truly proclaimed as the seven-branched Lampstand of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; the life-bearing Table of the Bread of Life; the golden Censer holding the fire of the Deity; the precious, golden Pot that holds the angelic gift – the manna from heaven; the Tablet of the Covenant, for She carried the incarnate Word; The Rod of Aaron, budded with the incorruptible Flower; The animated Ark, Who saved the human race from the deluge of sin; The Divine Cherubim, because the power of the Most High overshadowed Her; The Holy of Holies, for She contained in Her womb the Incorrupt and

Immortal High Priest. The Virgin Mary was the animated Temple, full of the grace and glory of God.

The way of life of the Ever-Virgin, and how She was brought up at the Temple of Jerusalem until the fifteenth year of Her life, are briefly mentioned in the teachings of blessed Jerome: “Only God and Archangel Gabriel, Her relentless keeper, knew of this,” that is, the Ever-Virgin was led, protected and mysteriously guided by God as the prepared instrument of His incarnation. On the life of young Mary, Gregory Palamas writes: “She resided as if in paradise, the chosen place on earth. She lived, pursuing an ascetic way of life, isolated, free from care and sorrow, disconnected from base passions; She lived only for God, and evidently only by God, nourished only by God, kept only by God, looking only to God, having enjoyment in God, incessantly heeding God.”

Ancient Tradition says that the Most Holy Virgin, residing in the temple and being brought up there, was in prayer, in complete detachment from the sinful world, in reading of the sacred texts, in meditation upon God’s greatness. She felt the spiritual sweetness of prayerful communion with God, silence, reverence, love and contemplation of purity, found within the Holy of Holies. She revealed Herself as the perfect example of an ascetic life, reminding us of the great vocation and dignity of man — to become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). With the good feat of faith, and remaining in constant prayer, the Most Pure One succeeded in righteousness, godliness, love, patience, gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11). The Lord, through His grace, led the Virgin into eternal life, arranging Her soul on earth in the likeness of the Kingdom of God, and then, in the Dormition of the Mother of God, He united like with like in His Heavenly abode.

The Lord said that the Kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21). It is built through effort, and demands it; It approaches us through repentance here on earth, in our hearts. And the result is tested by the fire of Divine love in eternity. The Most Holy Mother of God for us, struck by the poisonous sting of sin (for there is no person who would not sin (3 Kings 8:46)), is an image of that which we are called to by the Lord, an image of purity and holiness. Yes, we are defiled by sin; yes, our minds are clouded by worldly predilections; yes, our hearts are defiled by passions and lusts; yes, sometimes our lives are wicked and unworthy of God – but we have repentance that can cleanse our mind, flesh and heart, correct our will and make our whole life righteous, so that we too can enter the Holy of Holies – the Kingdom of God. After all, the Most Holy Theotokos did not descend from heaven to earth, but was born from earthly parents, descendants of fallen Adam. She lived among the common people of Nazareth, among poverty and sorrow. But in Her soul She contained the grace that carried Her up to Heaven. Hierarch Gregory Palamas writes: “If a soul in which grace dwells ascends into Heaven, how could a body that had taken into itself the Eternal and Only Begotten Son of God not have ascended from earth to Heaven? Those qualities which only Angels and men who have been ennobled by God have, She combined all in Herself, and She alone inexhaustibly abounds in them all.”

The Entry into the Temple of the Mother of God represented a joyful and profound appeal to all people to embark upon the path of deeds and holiness. The virgins behind Her shall be brought to the King; Her neighbours shall be brought to You; they shall be led into the Temple of the King (Ps. 44). Her neighbours, that is, Her friends, are those who are close to the Virgin Mary by their way of life and disposition.

Virgins and wives, being more sensitive to purity and holiness, are especially called on the day of this feast to spiritual activity, to mend their lamps and to courageously follow the Divine Maiden. As the verse glorifies the Entry: Ye mothers, setting aside all grief, follow joyously Her Who is to become the Mother of God. We must imitate the Most Pure Virgin with reverent and frequent attendance of the Church of Christ and bring our children there, as the God-bearers Joachim and Anna once did, because the Church is a school of piety, a spiritual hospital, a meeting place with the saints, a place to behold God and to worship the Creator. So, let us lead our children along that path which is salvific and pleasant for pious souls, along which the Virgin Mary was led into the Temple.

We should be attentive at this appeal of the Church, being careful not to find ourselves among the Jewish crowd, which did not notice the One, Who dwelt in spirit beyond the Holy Veil in deeds and in prayer. Looking reverently this great day upon the solemn procession into the Holy of Holies of the Mother of our salvation, let us strive to pursue the path of Her deeds and holiness, clothed in the virtues of the Most Holy Mother of God, and become a living temple, a dwelling for the Holy Spirit. “Let us too resettle ourselves, brethren, from earth to heaven, from flesh to spirit,” writes Hierarch Gregory Palamas, “let us despise carnal pleasures, which act as a lure for souls, and which soon pass; let us desire spiritual, gracious gifts; let us expel the image of our life and our thoughts from earthly turmoil; let us ascend them to the heavenly temples, to the Holy of Holies, where the Mother of God dwells now.”

Brothers and sisters! Let us fall at the most pure feet of the Mother of God, Who is our refuge and intercession. Let us approach the quiet dock of mercy from the bitter sea ofworldly concerns, to find joy and comfort for our souls. Let us pray to the Mother of God that She may grant us entry into the Promised Land, as She Herself once entered the Temple of the King. Let us ask the Virgin, Who held the Divine Infant in Her arms, to implore Him, that He may deliver us from the fiery gehenna, and deem us worthy of His Heavenly Kingdom; to Him be glory, with the Father and the Most Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen!