This coming Monday (November 21), Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. When my husband and I were first considering becoming Orthodox, this was one of the feasts that I had a hard time wrapping my mind around.
If that is you, or if you are an Orthodox Christian wondering how best to celebrate this feast with your family, read on!
The Story of the Feast
The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple is celebrated on November 21 each year, near the beginning of the Nativity Fast. On this day Orthodox Christians remember when Mary was brought to the Temple as a young girl in order to live there.
The details about the life of the Theotokos are found primarily in the Protoevangelium of James, which dates back to the second century. Although not included by the Church in the New Testament Canon, it was nonetheless a source known to and used by the early Church to increase its knowledge of the Theotokos. Mosaics depicting scenes from the life of the Theotokos as found in the Protoevangelium of James have been found in ancient churches, showing the familiarity the early Church had with the accounts and their acceptance of them.
When Mary was three years old, her parents, Joachim and Anna, presented their child to God as fulfillment of their promise to Him. Joachim asked young maidens from the neighborhood to light torches and lead the way to the Temple. Delighted by the torches, the Theotokos followed them and did not turn back to her parents.
The high priest Zacharias, the future father of John the Baptist, met her at the Temple gates and recognized Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant. He said, “The Lord God has magnified your name in all generations; in you, at the end of days, will the Lord God manifest his deliverance to the children of Israel.”
Zacharias brought Mary into the Holy of Holies, into which only the high priest could enter once a year, and placed her on the third step of the altar. The grace of the Lord came upon her, and she danced with joy.
The Theotokos remained in the Temple for the next nine years until she reached the age of marriage. At that time the priests gave her into the care of Joseph, who would protect her and guard her virginity.
Ways to Celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos often falls right around Thanksgiving, which can make it easy to overlook at times in the bustle of travel, family, and shopping sales. However, by putting forth just a little effort, we can help remind our families of the importance of this feast and line up our family life with the Church’s calendar. Here are a few ideas:
1. Attend Divine Liturgy and Read the Story of the Feast
As with any feast of the Church, bringing your family to church to participate in Divine Liturgy is truly the best way to celebrate any feast. Also, reading the story of the feast helps it come alive to young children. I highly recommend the children’s book The Story of Mary, the Mother of God by Dorrie Papademetriou.
2. Sing the Troparion of the Feast
One of the things that drew me to the Orthodox Church was the richness and depth of theology in our hymns. By helping our families learn the hymns for each feast, we are allowing that richness to become part of the way they view the world. How amazing!
The Troparion for the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos is:
“Today is the preview of the goodwill of God,
Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the Temple of God
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her,
Rejoice, O Divine Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.”
There are A LOT of big words in the feast’s hymn. If you have small children, it would be a good idea to try to explain the hymn as you teach it. How is the Theotokos a “preview” of God’s goodwill? What does it mean that she is the “fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation”?
3. Pray an Akathist Hymn
In the Orthodox Church, we also pray prayers that are called Akathist hymns. Akathist hymns are dedicated to a particular saints, events, or a person of the Trinity and are designed to guide a Christian’s prayers and meditation upon that person or event. The word Akathist itself means “not sitting,” as the general posture for prayer in the Orthodox Church is standing. The most famous Akathist hymn (referred to generally just as The Akathist) is dedicated to the Theotokos and is a part of the Lenten services.
There are many beautiful Akathist hymns dedicated to the Theotokos which would make a wonderful addition to the feast day. As it is close to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, one fantastic option is the Akathist of Thanksgiving. Another beloved prayer is the Akathist to the Mother of God Nurturer of Children. Adding either of these prayers to your feast day family prayer time would be a lovely way to honor the Theotokos.
4. Temple of the Holy Spirit Craft
The Theotokos would become the literal temple of the Holy Spirit when she bore Christ in her womb, which is foreshadowed by her entrance into the Temple. Paul wrote that we, as Christians, are also temples of the Holy Spirit. This feast is a great day to make a simple craft that will help children begin to understand this abstract concept.
First, have children lay down on a piece of large paper (butcher paper, etc.). Then, trace their bodies with a marker. When they get up, they will be delighted to see an outline of themselves on the paper. Next, children can color in their features and clothing. Finally, once all of the drawing and coloring is complete, tape or paste a small paper icon of Christ on the paper child’s heart. Explain to them that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, came upon them at their chrismation and dwells within them. At the bottom of the paper you can write the words, “A Temple of the Holy Spirit.”
5. Lantern Procession
To young children, one of the most interesting parts of this feast is the procession of lantern-bearing maidens that accompanied the Theotokos to the Temple. Your family can act out this procession by making lanterns (or torches) of your own. The torches could simply be flashlights or candles. Or, you can use craft supplies like cardstock and tissue papers to create a lantern. Once you have your lanterns, have one family member hold the icon of the Theotokos while the others surround it carrying their lanterns. Then, walk around your house singing the Hymn to the Theotokos.
In order to help your family celebrate this feast and the other feasts and fasts of the Church year,
I have written my e-book, Seasons of the Faith.
This 200 page e-book is designed to help you and your family celebrate the feasts and fasts of the Church year. You will learn:
- The story of each feast
- Simple, practical ways to celebrate the feast or fast as a family
- Fun learning activities designed for younger children
- Engaging age-appropriate learning activities for older children
- Tips for fasting with children
If you are a recent convert wanting to learn more about the Church calendar, then this book is for you!
If you are a long-time Orthodox Christian who wants to make the faith come alive to your children, then this is for you!
If you are a Church School teacher looking for activities and lessons for your children, then this book is for you!
Seasons of the Faith is priced low at only $12!
Have a blessed feast!
(This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase an item, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting The Orthodox Mama.)