On February 2nd, the Orthodox Church celebrates one of her twelve major feast days, The Presentation of our Lord in the Temple.
Forty days after His birth the God-Infant was taken to the Jerusalem Temple, the center of the nation’s religious life. According to the Law of Moses (Lev. 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a male child was forbidden to enter the Temple of God for forty days. At the end of this time the mother came to the Temple with the child, to offer a young lamb or pigeon to the Lord as a purification sacrifice. The Most Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, had no need of purification, since she had given birth to the Source of purity and sanctity without defilement. However, she humbly fulfilled the requirements of the Law.
At this time the righteous Elder Simeon (February 3) was living in Jerusalem. It had been revealed to him that he would not die until he should behold the promised Messiah. By inspiration from above, St Simeon went to the Temple at the very moment when the Most Holy Theotokos and St. Joseph had brought the Infant Jesus to fulfill the Law.
The God-Receiver Simeon took the divine Child in his arms, and giving thanks to God, he spoke the words repeated by the Church each evening at Vespers: “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
This practice of “churching” continues to this day in the Orthodox faith. The prayers contained in this service are for both the mother, who has not attended since giving birth in order to allow for her body to heal and to bond with her child, and for the baby, who becomes a “periphery” member awaiting the great gift of holy Baptism. During the 40-day blessing, the mother presents herself as ready to re-engage in the community, and she presents her child to the community for the first time. In both instances we have this “presentation” to Christ and to His Church, the faithful.
The presentation of our Lord in the Temple, and the presentation of children to the Church on their 40th day of life, affords us the opportunity to remember that each time we enter the church we are in fact “presenting” ourselves to the Lord. We are to come to His home bearing our hearts in hand, offering them to Christ as the expression of our love and commitment to Him.
We also come offering Him our time and our attention to the words of the service. For what does it profit us if we go to the services and not give our attention to what is being said? When we are both physically present and mentally attentive, then we depart with St. Simenon’s words on our lips, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation.”
We also present ourselves in the offering of the Liturgy, when we present our gifts, the bread and the wine, which symbolize and contain our whole life, and we say to God, “Your own of Your own, we offer to You in all and for all.” Our Lord accepts these gifts and is well pleased with them. This moment in the Divine Liturgy has great depth as we give to God elements of the earth, from which we too have our origin, and He in His loving kindness, receives them in His heavenly altar, changes them into His Body and Blood and then returns them to us as the Food of Immortality. We offer him wheat and grapes, and in exchange, He gives us provisions for eternal life!
What can we give to the Lord that is of any significance? What can we offer to Him that is of any substance? There is nothing that we can present to Him in exchange for what He offers us. Yet, despite this reality, He does ask something from us, though He is in need of nothing. He wants our hearts! (Cf. Prov. 23:26). He desires our salvation and yet He knows that this is in part up to us. The free will that has been given to us, we must exercise by opening our hearts inviting Christ to come in and dwell within us. This is a conscious choice and an ongoing exercise. Each day as we rise from sleep we must present our self to Christ: “I am yours; save me” (Ps. 118: 94). Throughout each day we must present our self to Christ: “Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever.” (Ps. :2). And when we go to sleep at night, we must present our self to Christ: “I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches” (Ps. 62:6). Finally, we present our self to the Lord with each encounter we have with all other people. How we speak, how we conduct our self, how we respond to others all reflects how we are presenting our self before the Lord. This is why every thought, every word, every gesture, every action is our presentation to the Lord.
What an opportunity we have to offer our self to Christ our Lord every day, from morning to night. We have many hours each day to present our self and to show our gratitude to God. However, this will require a shift in our thinking, because we are not trained to think in these terms. Our mind typically surrenders itself to the thousands of thoughts that flood our mind every minute, so we must be intentional in this endeavor. We must practice putting the Lord before our eyes upon waking and keeping Him there throughout the day, meditating on His teachings, as the King David says. Only then will we offer our Lord our hearts undivided, and experience the Peace from above that bathes us with joy, the same joy the Righteous Simeon felt when he took the infant Jesus into his arms.
With love in Christ,