Entrance of the Theotokos
On November 21 our Church commemorates the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Theotokos. This event is not mentioned in the Holy Gospels, so our source is Holy Tradition, being drawn from the hymnology and iconography of the feast, as well as the writings of the Fathers.
When the blessed Virgin was three years old, Joachim and Anna fulfilled their promise to dedicate their child to the Lord. Her father gathered a procession of young pure virgins, each carrying a lit candle. The holy Maiden outran her attendants in her great zeal to enter the Temple, and reached the top of the fifteen steps where the high priest Zacharias, the future father of the Forerunner, waited for her. Zacharias led Mary into the Holy of Holies, which was the innermost part of the Temple that only the high priest could enter once a year. The Theotokos danced with joy when she entered this holy place. She remained there for the next nine years until her betrothal to the righteous Joseph. Whilst there she was visited daily by the Archangel Gabriel who nurtured her with heavenly food, and through ascetic struggle she reached the most pure level of prayer and contemplation.
The icon of the feast is rich in its imagery and tells the entire story of the Virgin’s entry into the Temple. We see the procession of lamp-bearing virgins, the Righteous Forebears in a stance of offering their daughter to God, and the Holy Virgin herself before the archpriest who stands before the temple. The temple itself is often portrayed with elements of a Christian church, and in a background scene we see the Virgin in prayer within the inner sanctuary, being visited by a winged angel who offers her divine bread.
This scene is described in the hymns of the vespers service for the feast: “Into the Temple of God the all-holy Virgin is admitted, being herself the temple which contains God. She is preceded by maidens in procession, with their lamps in hand. Her parents Joachim and Anna, that excellent couple, dance with joy, exulting indeed, for they bore the one who would bear the Creator. The all-blameless one danced around within the divine abodes, and she was fed by an Angel, being shown forth as the Mother of Christ, who is granting great mercy to the world.”
It is important to remember that there is always a mystical dimension in the poetry of our Church hymnology and the imagery of our sacred art. Thus we see the fulfilment of the Old Testament images in the young Virgin, who entered the physical Holy of Holies but was to become herself the very Temple of the incarnate Word of God. This mystical understanding of the Orthodox icon takes us beyond the mere events which we commemorate. It lifts up our minds to contemplate the divine, and to engage in an active synergy with God on our path to salvation.
Source: Lychnos October-November 2020