February 2nd, 2013

The Presentation of Christ 2013

According to the gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth and to perform the redemption of the firstborn in obedience to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12-15, etc.). Luke explicitly says that Joseph and Mary take the option provided for poor people who could not afford a lamb (Leviticus 12:8), sacrificing “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Leviticus 12:1-4 indicates that this event should take place forty days after birth for a male child, hence the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple (AKA the Meeting of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ) is celebrated forty days after Christmas. The West also calls this feast Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin.

Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, Mary and Joseph encountered Simeon. The Gospel records that Simeon had been promised that “he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). Simeon prayed the prayer that would become known as the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon, which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).

Simeon then prophesied to Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). The elderly prophetess Anna was also in the Temple, and offered prayers and praise to God for Jesus, and spoke to everyone there about Jesus and his role in the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:36-38).

The Feast of the Presentation is among the most ancient feasts of the Church and it is unique among the Great Feasts in that it combines elements of both a Great Feast of the Lord and a Great Feast of the Theotokos (Mother of God). Originally, the feast was a minor celebration. But then in 541 a terrible plague broke out in Constantinople, killing thousands. The Emperor Justinian I, in consultation with the Patriarch of Constantinople, ordered a period of fasting and prayer throughout the entire Empire. And, on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, arranged great processions throughout the towns and villages and a solemn prayer service (Litia) to ask for deliverance from evils, and the plague ceased. In thanksgiving, in 542 the feast was elevated to a more solemn celebration and established throughout the Eastern Empire by the Emperor. From there, it spread to the west where it added the custom of blessing candles

Late in time though it may be, Candlemas is still the most ancient of all the festivals in honor of the Virgin Mary. It is this feast of purification on the 40th day after childbirth that leads to our custom of churching women following childbirth today. With the celebration of this feast, we took down the greenery and said goodbye to the Christmas season. Subsequent moveable feasts are calculated with reference to Easter. The Great Fast is already upon us…

Text largely adopted from Presentation of Jesus at the Temple wiki.