33rd Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on Great Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (Lk. 2:22-40)

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is a day of fulfilment, an affirmation of the prophesies of the Righteous Simeon and Prophetess Anna regarding Christ’s divinity and God’s Incarnation as the long-awaited Messiah.  This is the central theme of the Feast, but it points us to a still deeper meaning.

We know that the Logos,Word of God, has bowed the heavens and come down to share our human nature in the flesh.  But only if He is also God can He redeem, recreate,that nature, and make a means for all humanity to come into that redemption through the waters of regeneration, Baptism and Chrismation, and begin to live anew in His redeemed humanity. This recreation is the fulfillment of the Law given by God’s Word before His Incarnation.  

Here is the beauty of the Mystery revealed in this Feast: In obedience to the Law, Mary, the Theotokos, and the Righteous Joseph, take Jesus to the Temple 40 days after birth in obedience to the commands of the Law as we read for the Feast in Leviticus 12:2-8. This is the same practice, now fulfilled in meaning, which we practice to this day after a woman gives birth and participates in this sacred act. But on this day, we recognize in awe that the One who made the Law, the very Word of God communicated to Moses in the Law, is now obediently presented in keeping with that Lawthat He Himself set down.  Glory to God!

In His keeping the Law, Christ God also then fulfillsthat Law, fills the Law with fulfilled meaning.  In doing so, He inaugurates this new race of man, making Himself the new Adam.  The first Adam, through his sin, died and returned to the earth.  He inaugurated a race subject to sin and death of which all his descendents succumb.  But Christ, as the new Adam, inaugurates a new spiritual race of man that, with Him and through Him, overcomes death, first in soul and then in body.  

By Christ’s obedience to the Law, those who have “put on Christ” in Baptism, entering the new race of Adam in Christ, are taught by the Spirit by whom they are also sealed, to be obedient in faith as a new creation in Christ.  Through that new life, we grow in holiness through our participation in His life, through our repentance and the Sacraments.  We become fit for the Kingdom of God.  We are, in other words, given the means to overcome the flesh and be healed of its passions, of all those things that would otherwise keep us from life with God.  By putting on Christ and living out our baptism, we experience the Law written on our hearts, just as the Prophet Joel foretold of the Messiah’s coming: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28).  

Purity, chastity, are not now made up of outward sacrifice, but of the sacrifice that comes from within, from seeking Christ God, in prioritizing the life that is alone in Him, the Giver of Life, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit now dwelling in us in exercising our free will.  

What in the Law pointed to this saving fulfillment has now come to pass.  God has established a means of our true healing and forgiveness in His Christ, Who St. Simeon recognized by the Holy Spirit of God was indeed the long-awaited Messiah, “a Light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people, Israel.”  It is this Light that enlightens the world that we celebrate this day.

St. John the Theologian says at the beginning of his Gospel, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not comprehend it.” (Jn. 1:4-5).  The Feast of the Meeting is, then, the proclamation of this Light that has come into the world to make it new again; Christ is the primordial light of God made manifest.  In this sense, the candles we light at church this day and bless are a tangible reminder and proclamation of this truth: An affirmation of the Reality of God’s Incarnation as the Life of the world.    

Before reading the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays that God will illumine our hearts with the pure light of His divine knowledge so that we can understand His Gospel message.   Hieromonk Gregorious in his commentary on the Liturgy says concerning the use of candles in the Orthodox Church:“We asked Christ to enlighten us with the light of divine knowledge because He is the illumination of our souls and bodies.  This Light of Christ is symbolized by the light of the candles and lamps which we light at the Divine Liturgy and other services. . ..”

 St Nikodimus of the Holy Mountain has this to say as to why we have lights in church:

 ‘First, to the glory of God, the true Light who enlightens every man [cf. John 1:9].  Secondly, to banish the darkness of night and give consolation…    Thirdly, as a sign of joy and delight…    Fourthly, in honour of the martyrs and saints…    Fifthly, to suggest the light of our good works.   And sixthly, for the forgiveness of our sins.’

St Symeon the New writes: ‘The candles which you light reveal to you the intelligible light.  Just as the church, that house of great beauty, is full of light from many candles, so the house of your soul, which is more precious than that church, should be illumined and full of light in a noetic sense – that is to say, that within you all the spiritual virtues should burn with divine fire… The multitude of burning lamps signify the illumined thoughts which should shine within you like lamps, so that there should be no dark thought in the house of your soul, but that all should be aflame and shining with the light of the Holy spirit.’”(TheDivine Liturgy, A Commentary, pp 161-162)

Every time we come to church we can light a candle.  When we do so, we are sending our prayers heavenward by this offering. We are encouraged and strengthened by their glow which reminds us that we are God the Father’s adopted son or daughters.   By virtue of our baptism into Christ, we are called to be “little Christs” for Christ Himself who is the Light that has come into the world, calls us “the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14).  May our participation in the Feast this day spur us on to be that light of Christ in the world, which, we pray, will shine in us and through us more brightly as we seek to do His will, courageously and boldly dedicating our lives to the glory of God.  

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

February 2, 2020kl.

Meeting of our Lord in the Temple/Zacchaeus Sunday

Epistle:                        Hebrews 7:7-17

Gospel:                        Luke 2:22-40