BECOMING A LIVING TEMPLE OF GOD
On November 21, the Church proclaims with joy, “Today is the foreshadowing of the good pleasure of God and the herald of the salvation of men. The Virgin is revealed in the temple of God, and beforehand she announces Christ to all. Let us therefore cry to her with mighty voice: Hail! Thou fulfillment of Christ’s dispensation.”
Thus the festal troparion for the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple proclaims the role of Mary in God’s plan for man’s salvation — in her we see what God has made possible for you and me.
As we know from the feast of Mary’s birth (September 8), her parents, Joachim and Anna, were granted the blessing of a daughter after many years of being childless. The hymnody of Mary’s birth reveals how special this daughter was, being “foreordained before the womb as the Mother of God.” Mary is referred to as the “Temple and Throne of God,” the “Bridge of Life,” the “living Pavilion of the glory of God.” Mary’s womb would become the dwelling place of God, where the union between God and man in the Person of Jesus Christ would take place.
The Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos takes up the story of Mary’s preparation to become the Mother of God. When Mary was three years old, her parents decided the time had come for them to fulfill their promise to offer their child to the Lord. Escorted by young girls from her neighborhood, Mary was led to the temple. She was received by the High Priest Zacharias the future father of John the Baptist — who led her into the Holy of Holies where she was miraculously fed by an angel. She remained in the temple until her betrothal to Joseph.
What can we see in this feast? What promise does it hold for us? Both the Feast of Mary’s Nativity and the Feast of her Entry speak to us concerning her preparation to hold Christ within her. Throughout her young life, God was preparing her in body and spirit to become a living tabernacle, a living Temple of Christ. The primary theme of the Feast of Mary’s Entry into the Temple is that of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within her. In Great Vespers preceding the Feast, the Church proclaims, “All the powers of heaven stood amazed, seeing the Holy Spirit dwell in thee.” Throughout her time in the Temple, the Holy Spirit was working within Mary to make her a temple within which God could dwell.
What is the promise of this Feast? By willingly submitting to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, Mary received Christ within herself. To the church at Corinth, St. Paul proclaims, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God?” (I Cor, 3:19). In Romans, St. Paul promises, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in You” (Rom. 8:11).
By submitting to the will of God, Mary became a dwelling place for God. Our assurance is that the same miracle awaits us as well. Mary, as the bearer of God, is the image and prototype of what each of us can become — bearers of God. That is why when we enter an Orthodox Church, on the wall behind and above the altar, we see the icon of Mary with Christ within her. This is the icon of what we all can become both as individual bearers of God and together as His Body, the Church.
God, the framer and sustainer of all of creation, takes up residence in us when we submit to His will and receive His grace. God within us! No wonder “all the powers of Heaven stand amazed!”
As we celebrate this great feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, and each time we enter the temple ourselves and see the icon of Mary with Christ within her, let us “commit ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God,” that we, too, might become living temples of the Most Holy God.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America