Today we celebrate a multi-layered Festival. It is multi-layered because it is both a festival of the Church and an astronomical calendar date marking the half way point between winter solstice and vernal equinox: spring is on the way! It commemorates a scriptural event which combines the Presentation of the infant Jesus, a Christological feast; the Purification of the Virgin, a Mariological feast; and at the same it is the honoring of the temple, so it is a temple feast as well.
This feast, celebrated on February 2, is known in the Orthodox Church as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Mayaltho in Syriac). Another name for the feast is The Meeting of our Lord. Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians call the feast, The Purification of the Holy Virgin. About 450 AD in Jerusalem, people began the custom of holding lighted candles during the Divine Liturgy of this feast day. Therefore, some churches in the West refer to this day as Candlemas.
Forty days after Jesus Christ’s birth, Mary and Joseph, brought Christ to the Temple to make the customary offering for purification; a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. According to the Law of Moses (Leviticus. 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a child was forbidden to enter the Temple of God for forty days. There, the prophetess Anna and the aged Simeon met them. Simeon sensed the fulfillment of Isaiah’s puzzling prophecies of a virginal birth (Isaiah 7:14), and received God Incarnate just as he was promised he would before his death. Then Simeon praised God singing a hymn now called the Nunc Dimittis: “Now let Your servant depart in peace, O Master” (Luke 2: 29-32). Also, in the Temple was Anna the Prophetess. She had been a widow for many years. Anna was about eighty-four years old and spent her time in the Temple worshiping, fasting, and praying. When she saw the Christ Child she praised God and spoke of him to all who were awaiting the Messiah. After Jesus was presented in the Temple, the family returned to Galilee to the town of Nazareth. The Bible tells us that Jesus grew and became strong, and was filled with wisdom. (Luke 2:22-40)
Egeria, writing around AD 380, attests to a feast of the Presentation in the Jerusalem Church. It was kept on February 14th. The day was kept by a procession to the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection, with a homily on Luke 2:22-39. However, the feast had no proper name at this point; it was simply called the 40th day after Epiphany. This shows that the Jerusalem church celebrated Jesus’ birth on the Epiphany Feast (as is common in some Orthodox Churches today). In regions where Christ’s birth was celebrated on December 25th, the feast began to be celebrated on February 2nd, where it is kept in the West today. In 542, the Emperor Justinian introduced the feast to the entire Eastern Roman empire in thanksgiving for the end to a great pestilence afflicting the city of Constantinople. Perhaps this is when Pope Gregory I brought the feast to Rome. The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord is among the most ancient feasts of the Christian Church. We have sermons on the Feast by the holy bishops Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom.
When Mary ritually presented her newborn Son in the Temple in Jerusalem, she did so in accordance with the Mosaic Law. The law provided that a woman should bring as a sacrifice a lamb and a dove.
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