THE PRESENTATION OF THE VIRGIN MARY TO THE TEMPLE
By the Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
"Today the living temple, the temple of the Great King, enters the Temple, to prepare a Divine Abode. Wherefore, O ye nations, rejoice."
During the final prayer of the Divine Liturgy the Priest commemorates the parents of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary): Joachim and Anna. They were devout people who loved God, and were faithful believers. To her dismay, Anna was barren, and prayed often to God for the high honor of becoming a mother. Anna promised God that she would pledge her child to His Holy Temple if He would bless her with a child. Many years passed, Anna never lost her faith and hope that God would answer her prayers. At last God granted her request! Anna became the mother of a little girl, whom she named Mary.
In accordance with the tradition of the times, Mary was presented to the Temple of God as soon as she reached the age of three. Joachim and Anna brought her to the priests of the Temple, where she remained for twelve years, or until the age of fifteen. Mary was presented to the Temple on November 21st.
According to the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the Virgin Mary was received into the Temple by Zacharias, the High Priest, who later became the father of John the Baptist, the Forerunner that prepared the way for Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was also born of previously barren parents.
During the time of the Blessed Virgin Mary, all of the children who were dedicated to the Temple were taken by the holy men of the Temple and given the finest education possible. The education of the children was conducted over a period of twelve years, following the education, the children were returned to their homes. Consequently, St. Joachim and Anna are considered the "Patron Saints of Pious Education".
Can you imagine being blessed with a child after being childless for many years, then at the age of three, dedicating your child to live in the Temple for twelve years? Can you imagine the faith in God that led Anna to dedicate her daughter to God so completely and willingly? It was a sacrifice of faith in God. You would think that a mother who gave birth to a child after being barren for so long, would be selfish and cling to the child. Anna; however, fulfilled her promise to God.
We sing a Troparion for the Preparation for the Presentation that beautifully puts into words the fulfillment of Anna's promise to God: "Now does Anna proceed and bequeath to all joy instead of sorrow. By giving forth the fruit, the only Ever-Virgin, whom she offered in the Temple of the Lord. Fulfilling her vow, being verily the temple of the Word, and an undefiled Mother. "
Anna's profound act of unselfishness, paved the way to the ultimate unselfish Sacrifice of Jesus Christ for all mankind. The sacrifice of Anna and the benefits of it are sung at the Vespers Service for the Presentation of the Theotokos into the Temple in a hymn called the Prosomia:
"Verily, the blameless Saint entered by the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Holy of Holies and to be nourished by the Angel, who in truth shall be a most holy temple for our Holy God. He it is Who by dwelling in her has sanctified all creation and deified the perishing nature of man.
Today the young maidens come forth joyfully, carrying their lamps before the supersensuous torch, and in a noble manner take her into the Holy of Holies, going before and foretelling the ineffable Ray which shall shine forth from her, lighting in the spirit those who sit in the darkness of folly.
With joy the all-extolled Anna cried to Zachariah, saying, receive thou her of whom the Prophets of God did preach in the Spirit. Take her into the Holy Temple to be brought up in purity, that she may become a divine throne to the Lord of all, a palace, a couch, and a shining abode."
Shortly after being returned to her parents, Mary received a visitation from the Archangel Gabriel informing her that she would give birth to the Son of God. Anna, through faith in God did not withhold her child from God, and likewise, God did not withhold His Only-Begotten Son from us.
We have in Joachim and Anna examples of faith and unselfishness. We have in them also examples of being rich toward God. In the Gospel account of St. Luke, Chapter 12:16-21, we read of a rich man who had many goods. This rich man decided to pull down his barns and build even larger ones to hold all of his earthly treasures. God said to him, "you are a fool, for tonight your soul will be required of you, and whose treasures will they become". "So it is with he who lays up treasures for himself, and is not rich toward God."
How can we be rich toward God? You might ask! Joachim and Anna were rich toward God, and look at the results of their actions. What God means by being rich toward God, is to have faith in Him, to trust Him, to Love Him, and to place Him first in your life.
Many people tend to think that security comes from money; however, money is a perishable commodity, you can store all of your money in bank accounts, but should your soul be required of you, as the Gospel account we have just learned about, it will be of no value to you. Security comes from God, and God only! It is God Who formed the universe from nothingness, and when all of our material things have faded into distant memories, God will still remain, unchanged and steadfast. It was God Who formed you, it is God Who breathed the breath of life into you. It was God Who gave His Only-Begotten Son to die on the Cross so we might become rich toward God. He has given us all the tools we need to glorify Him and become rich toward Him, yet many decide to put their trust in worldly treasures.
To be rich toward God is to understand that the only riches that are worthy of pursuit are the ones that bear spiritual fruit. The Presentation of the Theotokos into the Temple is a reminder that personal sacrifices for God can accomplish great and wonderful things.
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