On February 15th (February 2nd on the new calendar), the Orthodox will celebrate one of the most joyful feasts of the entire liturgical year - the Meeting (Presentation) of our Lord. This ancient celebration gives a lot of hope and light and inspires us to keep going, no matter how hard it might be at times.
According to the law of Moses,
“You are to dedicate to the Lord everything that first opens the womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord." (Exodus 13:12)
This means that during the Old Testament (including the time when Jesus was a child), parents had to bring their firstborn male child to the temple to be presented (or gifted) to God.
The ritual had to be conducted on the 40th day after birth. This is when the mother of the child had to undergo a ritual of purification and offer the sacrifices, as prescribed by the law:
When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. (Leviticus 12:6)
Mary and Joseph were not an exception and followed the law. As Jesus said,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
They took the baby Jesus and went to Jerusalem. We know about this trip from the Gospel of Luke:
“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” (Luke 2:22)
One might think that this feast is just a commemoration of past events and Old Testament rituals. In a way, yes, this is true; however, there’s so much more to it.
If we read the second chapter of St Luke’s Gospel a bit further, we discover what had happened inside the temple. This story explains to us the meaning of the feast and the joy behind it.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout.” (Luke 12:25)
We learn about Simeon, a very old righteous man, who was waiting for the Messiah. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he will not die before he sees Christ with his own eyes. He believed God and waited patiently his whole life just for that one moment.
The day that Mary and Joseph were to present Jesus, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to go to the temple as well. He saw the little child and knew Who He was right away.
Read these beautiful words of joyful thanksgiving that he said when he took Jesus into his arms:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
This episode shows the impossible: the Messiah, the Savior of the world, is a 40-day old baby in the arms of elder Simeon. The Son of God, who is the giver of the law is now fulfilling the same law.
The elder Simeon trusted God and waited his whole life just to see Him, to meet Him. He did, and that was enough for him. He was ready to depart. His life was complete because he met Christ.
The same applies to every Christian. When we first met Christ, when we felt His love in our hearts, it changed our lives forever. We’ve heard the Gospel, we know that Christ fulfilled the law and resurrected. This is the most joyous news in the world which is more than enough for us to glorify Christ with the words of thanksgiving, just like Simeon did!
The Meeting of the Lord is one of the 12 Great feasts in the Orthodox Church.
On the eve of the feast, we place the icon that depicts Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the arms of Simeon in the center of the church. We then serve the All-Night Vigil service, read passages from the Bible and sing the feast’s magnification hymn.
Here in the Belarussian Orthodox Church, we have a special tradition to bless candles on the eve of the feast. It is a beautiful rite which symbolizes expressing gratitude for the Divine Light that allows us to meet Christ and feel God’s presence in our lives.
Then, on the day of the feast (February 15th) we celebrate the Divine Liturgy and sing this beautiful hymn:
“Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, full of grace!
From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God.
Enlightening those who sat in darkness!
Rejoice, and be glad, O righteous elder;
You accepted in your arms the Redeemer of our souls,
Who grants us the Resurrection.”
(Troparion of the Meeting of the Lord)
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