By John Athanasatos
This past weekend everyone was busy preparing for and celebrating Thanksgiving. On Friday there were plenty of leftovers to fuel the energy for Black Friday shopping. The weekend of shopping doesn’t end on Sunday but Monday, known as Cyber Monday. What was overlooked in the midst of all this holiday chaos was the Feast of The Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple. The more popular feast that we all celebrate is the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15. So for people named Maria, Despina, Panagiotis, Panagiota, etc. typically that is when they celebrate their name day. However, that particular day is just one of the several feast days dedicated to the Theotokos. The Feast of the Entry into the Temple is celebrated on November 21. Sometimes like this year, it falls the day before Thanksgiving.
So why is this feast so important? Well, when Mary before she became the Theotokos, at age 3 was brought to the Temple to remain there until she was of age. Her parents, Joachim and Anna had trouble conceiving a child and made a promise to God that if Anna was able to bear forth a child they would dedicate it to God. It wasn’t that she just entered the temple and remained there but that she entered the Holy of Holies. First, only males enter the Holy of Holies, second, in the Jewish faith, the high priest or ranking priest would enter once a year in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur which is the day of atonement. The priest would offer sacrifice first for his own sins and then for the people. When the second and final destruction of Solomon’s Temple occurred in 70 AD this practice ceased to continue. However, for Christians the need to enter the Holy of Holies once a year was no longer necessary when Christ, by His own sacrifice on the Cross completed this once and for all. The veil that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple was a symbol of the separation between God and man. Christ’s death opens the way into the presence of God for all people. Today in the Church we see a curtain which separates the altar from the nave. The curtain is drawn open during liturgical services to emphasize the communion with God which was at one time sealed off from humanity but is now available to all who approach in faith.
For all the feasts for the Theotokos, the Epistle and Gospel readings are the same. For the Epistle, Hebrews 9:1-7, it mentions the “second veil” which separated the sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. It also mentions that inside the Holy of Holies was “Aaron’s rod that budded;” this is a prefiguration of the Theotokos. Likewise, the mention of “tent” or “tabernacle” also refers to the Theotokos since she herself is a “tabernacle” that beheld the Logos. Mary was granted the privilege to enter the Holy of Holies because she was to be the Theotokos, the Mother of God. She was nourished by an angel of the Lord who fed her mystically from Heaven and Mary lived among other virgins until the day of the Annunciation when she was told that she was to bear forth the Logos, Jesus Christ. At that time she was about 15 years old, so about 12 years she lived in the temple.
The Entry feast also is significant for its preparation for the coming of the Lord. The apolytikion or entrance hymn says: today is the prelude of God’s good pleasure and the proclamation of humanity’s salvation. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and in herself she announces Christ to all. Let us, then with a great voice cry aloud to her: Rejoice, you are the fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation. Indeed, this is a prelude because Joachim and Anna fulfill their promise to God and dedicate their only child, Mary to Him. For the next 12 years she prepares herself for the day when the Archangel Gabriel appears to her and announces: Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name JESUS. (Lk 1:30-31 NRSV) She fulfills God’s will when she says: Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk 1: 38) So for all the Marias’, Panayiotis’, Depinas’ and all those who claim the Theotokos as their patron saint, Rejoice! Again I say Rejoice, this is indeed another name day to celebrate.
O Most Holy Theotokos, save us!