The Entrance of Mary, the Theotokos
November 21st is a great feast day in the Orthodox Church. It is the day we celebrate the Entrance of the Theotokos, or as it is often referred to as, The Presentation. According to tradition, Mary’s parents Joachim and Anna had been unable to conceive. Their promise was that if a child was born to them, they would present her to be in service to God.
When Mary was three years old, Joachim and Anna decided it was time to fulfill their promise. Joachim gathered all the young girls of the neighborhood and had them carry torches. Mary was in front of the procession. As they began to move forward, Mary became so excited she ran ahead to the temple, never looking back at her parents.
Zacharias was the high priest of the temple at that time; he was the (future) father of St. John the Baptist. He was waiting for Mary as she was escorted (Psalm 44/45: 14-15) into the temple. Upon her arrival, Zacharias exclaimed, “It is in you that He has glorified your name in every generation. It is in you that He will reveal the Redemption that He has prepared for His people in the last days.” Tradition says there were fifteen high steps leading to the sanctuary. Since Mary was a child, it was assumed she could not ascend the stairway. But as Zacharias placed her on the first step, she seemed strengthened by God and quickly climbed the steps to the highest one. Zacharias then led Mary into the Holy of Holies, a place he entered only once a year on the Day of Atonement.
After this presentation, Mary entered into temple life and remained in the living quarters for nine years. It is not certain what she did there but the general assumption is she spent her days in study and prayer. When she left the temple she was entrusted to St. Joseph.
On the morning of this feast day, the Matins include one of my favorite Gospel verses from Luke 1: 46-49, “And Mary said: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for He has regarded the lowly state of His handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” This passage is read on all the feast days of the Theotokos.
The icon of the Entrance of the Theotokos is very beautiful. The priest Zacharias is shown with open arms, receiving the Virgin. Mary has her arms open to Zacharias. Saints Joachim and Anna are behind Mary as well as a multitude of virgins. It is interesting to note that Mary has her head covered, just like her parents. This is a sign that she was already received as a perfected woman that has reached full spiritual maturity. In the upper portion of the icon, Mary is seated at the steps of the Holy of Holies and attended to by an angel.
I am blessed in that my birthday falls on this feast day of November 21. This year I will be fifty eight years young. My mother tells me that when I was brought to the church for my forty days blessing, the priest did not realize I was a girl, or in his humanness, he momentarily forgot. He took me into the altar and presented me to God.
When my mother told me this later in my life, it made me feel very special. I can only imagine how the Virgin Mary must have felt when she was presented at age three. What would it have been like for her to leave her parents and go live at the temple? As she was the Mother of God, I am sure she was steadfast in her devotion and ready to give her life to God.
The Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple is the foretelling of God’s blessing for us all, the coming of Jesus Christ. May we all celebrate this magnificent day.
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