On February 2nd, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The feast is also known as the “Meeting” focusing on the “meeting” with St. Simeon and the Prophetess Anna. Again, the feast is also called the “Purification” remembering that one important aspect of this 40-days after the birth of a first child, a woman makes an offering in the Temple for her “purification.”
If we want to be very technical about things, the Theotokos, in giving birth to Christ, remained a Virgin, thus there is nothing in need of “purification” according to the Jewish Law. But there is no discussion of this, only a submission to the Law as it stood.
Like so much else that we see in the life of Christ, God has done what was not required of Him. He was required by nothing to become Man, and yet He did. He was required by no one to submit to the rite of Baptism, and yet He did, with the words, “It is necessary for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
The Theotokos follows in the same path as the Savior. There is no argument about “I don’t need this!” Instead, there is the humility of the handmaiden of God who herself, will fulfill all righteousness as she follows the path of her Son.
The Way of the Cross is always this same path, a path that leads us to fulfill all righteousness, to do not “what must be done,” but to do freely what we could do otherwise. Thus we fast freely, we give freely, we love freely, we lay down our lives freely. The Way of the Cross always carries this element of freedom: “No man takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
When someone looks at the “externals” of Orthodoxy, it might be possible to conclude that we have “many rules.” These are not the rules of the Law, but the rule of the heart, in which the Church gives us guidance in learning how to lay down our life for Christ. She teaches us to love as He loves and to love in freedom.
This is our only true vocation – to love as Christ loved. Those who think (as many moderns do) that “I must do thus and such in order to be fulfilled,” are seeking to fulfill the wrong thing. The self, when approached in such a manner, is a bottomless pit. It will never be filled. We can only be filled by emptying.
A Virgin enters the temple to offer the sacrifice that only a non-Virgin should have to pay. In return she is promised that “a sword will pierce your own soul also.” And she will not turn from that sacrifice either. She is following her Son, just as we are bidden to do. And as we do this, all righteousness will be fulfilled.
“No man takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
How beautiful post about significance of freedom!
How loving and sweet is surrender that comes from the free choice!
While sitting in the service listening to the OT readings, the significance of some of the passages hit me. At the heart of what is going on is Simeon’s prayer that Christ would be a
light to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel”.
I think this explains the two Isaiah passages read. One (Isaiah’s vision) is the “glory of Israel”, and the second referring to Egypt coming to worship the God of Israel is “the light to the Gentiles”.
Thank for the image of “fulfilling all righteousness”
This is lovely and very meaningful. Thank you, Father Stephen.
Ah, Theron, there’s even more! As I listened to the Vigil last night, that Isaiah passage gets picked up several times in various hymns. St. Simeon is described as the “tongs” that picked up the “live coal” which is the Christ Child. Thus his two arms are compared to a set of tongs. That’s rich.
More than that, but it also notes that he prays to the child in his arms “Lord, now lettest Thou that servant depart in peace.” The little child is the One who binds him!
The Byzantine tradition of texts surrounding the Great Feasts are perhaps the richest part of Christian Tradition outside of Scripture itself. They make an ideal study.
Recently in anoher forum, the OrthodoXCircle, in the Head Coverings Group, no less, there was a discussion about , what else, head coverings, but the comment was made that they are a distraction for this person, and that this other person would be the only person wearing it, etc. The same kinds of things that are always said about them, the same kinds of excuses given, but not one person said as Fr. Stephen, “These are not the rules of the Law, but the rule of the heart, in which the Church gives us guidance in learning how to lay down our life for Christ. She teaches us to love as He loves and to love in freedom.” Of course such a thing is an external, especially now, in this day and age, such as the “churching” ceremony that women go through after birth. But we do these things to “fulfill all righteousness” because we love our Lord.
Thanks, for the great information on the OT readings, we were snowed out once again! 🙁
Interestingly, at St. Anne, one of our women gave birth on Christmas day to a son. So we did her Churching prayers before the Vigil last night.
It made for rich meditation – but again – a reminder that we do these things in imitation of Christ and the Theotokos, not because we are under the Law. Christ has set us free. There are interpretations, not uncommon in Orthodoxy, that create a new law. I think these approaches can begin to confuse. Fasting becomes a Christian form of kosher in such settings, and misses its point. The same can be said for some of the services, such as the Churching of Women, in my humble opinion (but I speak as one who has discussed these matters at great length with his bishop). We have to be careful to see everything in Christ who has fulfilled all righteousness. If we are asked to walk as He walked, we too may find ourselves humbling ourselves (indeed we must), but never out of submission to the law – but rather to the Law of Christ which is summed up in love.