When my husband and I first became Orthodox, I really didn’t know much about the feasts of the Church. Oh, I had celebrated Christmas and Easter, but what were all of these other feast days? Were they really necessary?
Over the past several years, I have slowly learned more about the feasts. More than that, I have come to anticipate them. To look forward to the celebrations, to the intersection of my life with the life of the Church.
Feasting and fasting is now part of the rhythm of my life. Imperfectly, to be sure. But the seasons of our faith have begun to be the seasons on which my life is based.
The Story of the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord in the Temple
The feast of The Meeting of Our Lord in the Temple (also called The Presentation of Christ in the Temple) is celebrated 40 days after the Nativity on February 2nd. The date is significant, because it corresponds with the Jewish law’s requirement to bring every firstborn male to the Temple 40 days after birth and dedicate the child to God. The parents offered a sacrifice as a redemption of the child–a lamb if the parents were wealthy or turtle doves if they were poor.
Being faithful Jews, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple 40 days after his birth. There they meet two elderly people who were eagerly awaiting their Messiah. The righteous Simeon was a noted scholar who had spent much time studying the prophecies foretelling the Messiah. During his prayer and study, he was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Redeemer of Israel.
Inspired by the Spirit, Simeon recognized the baby brought by Mary and Joseph to be redeemed under the Law to be the Redeemer himself. He took the child into his arms and blessed the Lord, saying his famous canticle that is sung in every Vespers service in the Orthodox Church today:
“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For mine eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29).
Furthermore, he prophesied that Christ would cause “the fall and rising of many in Israel” and the suffering of Mary his mother (Luke 2:34).
The Prophetess Anna, a widow who spent all of her time praying and fasting in the Temple, heard Simeon and also recognized Jesus as the Messiah. She gave thanks to God and went out to tell others that the Christ had come.
The feast reveals several important truths about our Lord.
- First, that he perfectly fulfills and shows himself to be the purpose for the Jewish Law.
- Second, Christ is also the foretold end of all the Old Testament prophecies.
- Next, Christ is recognized as the Light of the entire world, including the Gentiles.
- Finally, the wonder of the Incarnation is again realized as the hymns of Vespers point out: “Receive Him, O Simeon, whom Moses on Mount Sinai beheld in darkness as the giver of the Law. Receive Him as a babe now obeying the Law. For he it is of whom the Law and Prophets have spoken, incarnate for our sake and saving mankind” (Vespers Verses for the Feast).
If you would like to celebrate this feast with your family, here are a few ideas:
6 Ways to Celebrate the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord in the Temple
1. Attend Divine Liturgy and Learn the Troparion
As always, the best way to enter fully into the joy of the feast is to attend Divine Liturgy or Vespers. The services are filled with beautiful imagery and symbolism about Christ as the Light of the World, which lead to excellent discussions with children.
Ask them, “What is light? What does it do? How is Christ like a light? How are we lights?” I am often amazed at the insight and depth of thought that even the littlest ones have on this subject.
The Troparion for the feast is:
“Hail Virgin Theotokos, full of Grace,
For Christ our God, the Sun of Righteousness, has dawned from you,
Granting light to those in darkness.
And you, O Righteous Elder, rejoice,
Taking in your arms the Deliverance of our souls,
Who grants us Resurrection.”
It can also be a good time to review or learn the canticle of St. Simeon, “Lord now let your servant depart in peace.” This song makes a lovely bedtime hymn to sing as a family or with each child separately while tucking them into bed at night.
2. Bring Home Blessed Candles
Many churches bless candles at Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, because of St. Simeon’s reference to Christ as a Light of revelation to the Gentiles.
If your church practices this tradition, be sure to bring home blessed candles to put in your icon corner. Then, have children hold them during family prayer time or even when you read the Gospel at home.
3. Light Up the House
Another way to integrate the theme of light into your celebration is to “light up your house.”
Fill your house with candles. Perhaps you can eat meals by candlelight or pray your Evening Prayers solely by the light of a candle.
When your children ask you about this change in routine, you have a built-in opportunity to speak about Christ as the Light of the World and our charge as Christians to be lights.
4. Talk about Churchings
The Orthodox tradition of churching–bringing a mother and child into the church 40 days after the birth of a baby–comes from the Jewish rite seen in this feast. This makes the feast an excellent time to tell the children about their own churching, to look at pictures, and talk about the practice in general.
5. Call Elderly Relatives
Finally, two pious elderly saints play a major role in the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord. This can serve as a good reminder to children of the importance of our elders and their wisdom.
Perhaps children can call grandparents, great-grandparents, or other relatives on this day to maintain a vibrant relationship with the elders in their own life.
6. Learn More about St. Simeon
Finally, the children can learn more about the life of St. Simeon as taught by the church tradition. His story is a fascinating one of doubt and faith, of patience and perseverance that is an example to all.
These small, simple activities can help make the feasts of the Church more real in the home.
Have a blessed feast.
How does your family celebrate the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord in the Temple?