Sermon for the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2016)

What is taking place today? In the Old Testament, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and that once a year…But today, the animate temple, the Most Holy One, enters into the Holy of Holies inside the Jewish temple, in order to dwell there for 9 whole years.

In the troparion-hymn, this Feast is called the “the heralding of the salvation of mankind.” Why? Because, the Virgin will give birth to Christ, the Great High Priest, Who was not a Levitical priest, but a priest after the order of Melchizedek; He did not enter to minister in the Jewish temple, nor did He enter physically into the Holy of Holies. But, offering Himself as the Only True Sacrifice for our sins upon the Cross, He has resurrected Himself in our very flesh which He has received from the Virgin-Mother.

And, raising Himself up in a transformed and deified spiritual body, He has ascended above the forecourt of this earth, has passed through the heavenly sanctuary of angels, and has entered beyond the second veil into the Holy of Holies of the kingdom of heaven; and He has sit down upon the throne of His Father with our lowly flesh. Through Him we have access to union with God in that heavenly Holy of Holies; and through the Holy Spirit Whom He sends down upon our Church, we partake of His precious Body and most pure Blood in preparation to dwell there forever.

This is what is being heralded today. The old law and its temple, the shadow of the Gospel and our Church, is perfected today by the entry of the living temple into that temple; yet the future reality which the Gospel of the New Testament proclaims is just beginning, and its end is found in that everlasting city of the heavenly Jerusalem, where God, through His Christ, is said to be the only Temple; Who has also granted us to become a part of this eternal temple, the Body of Christ.

The Virgin entered into the physical Holy of Holies; and foreshadowed the entry of her Son, our Great High Priest, Who entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary; where He is now seated, ever living to make intercession for us before God His Father as our Great High Priest and Heavenly Bishop.

In this is the shadowy form of the old law, with its temple service and High Priest, fulfilled. Therefore, today, we glorify the Virgin through whom all these things have come about, who foreshadowed the great ministry of her Son, Jesus Christ.

But there is something else taking place today. At one and the same time that the Virgin entered into the physical temple and its Most Holy Place, she entered into the mystical temple of her body and into its Most Holy Place, the depths of her heart.

What did she find when she came into the physical Holy of Holies? When she entered into it, there was not present the Ark of the Covenant, for it had long ago been carried away. By the providence of God, nothing was in there…it was awaiting her!

What a mystery! As a bridal-chamber it had been prepared for her from before the ages; for she was foreknown and prepared from before the ages to be the animate Ark, the living temple, the Most Holy Dwelling-Place of God, the true mercy-seat, the throne of God, more honorable than the Cherubim, where man meets God and God becomes Man.

The Holy of Holies in the tabernacle which Moses had constructed in the 15th century before Christ—according to his divine vision on the mount—contained the Ark of the Covenant, into which the stone tablets of the law were placed. Later, this ark was brought into the Temple which Solomon built in 960 B.C., and at that time it contained not only the tablets of the law, but also the pot which held the manna, and Aaron’s rod which had blossomed.

Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.…and a second was built a little later by Zerubbabel, according to the book of Ezra, beginning in 536 B.C., and finished 20 years later.

However, it is said that the people who saw it mourned because of its lack of glory compared to the first temple. Historical testimony says that it lacked not only the Ark of the Covenant and all it contained, but also the overshadowing cloud of God’s glory—that is, the Holy Spirit did not fill it as it did Moses’ tabernacle and Solomon’s temple.

A little less than 500 years later, just before Christ, the so-called Herod the great, the murderer of the Holy Innocents, being a lover of fame, desired to perpetuate his name through marvelous buildings; he greatly expanded Zerubbabel’s temple. Beginning in 20 B.C., the main part of the temple was completed in just a year and a half; it was just a little after this that the Virgin entered that very temple.

What a great vision of God’s providence; He beautifully orchestrated His divine dispensation and gathered all of human history into this very moment which we rejoice in today with unspeakable joy: the entry of the temple into the temple!

He led the animate temple of God, the Most Holy One into the Holy of Holies of the inanimate temple—she who is the living heaven, the living tabernacle, the living temple of God, the very reason for their being, the very vision of Moses, the very purpose of the law, the Birth-Giver of their Fullness, Christ—she it is, the true Ark of the Lord, that comes into the Holy of Holies today, crowning the Old Testament, and giving birth to the New.

She contains not stone tablets of the law, but has given birth to the very Law-Giver and Word of God Himself; and, even before this, having offered to God the pure tablet of her heart, she had written within her mind and heart the laws and wisdom of God which He foretold through the prophet Jeremiah, who prophesied about the New Covenant of God.

Seeing this take place today, and keeping in mind that at this time the Most Holy Place was empty of sacred vessels and the glory of the Holy Spirit, we come to understand why we chant in the Kontakion that “the most pure temple of the Savior, the most precious bridal-chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasury of the glory of God, is on this day brought into the house of the Lord, bringing with her” what? “Bringing with her the grace that is in the Divine Spirit!”

When she entered there, finding it barren and empty, she forgot everything worldly and perceptible; and she dwelt there in watchfulness, heavenly stillness, humility, sacred reading, vigils, prayers, angelic fasting, love for all the world and divine longing.

Through these things she also entered into the mystical temple of her body, progressing by the grace of God into the depths of her soul, and finding the depths of her heart, the spiritual Holy of Holies. Yet, this she also found to be barren—human nature had grown barren; and the outward state of the Jewish temple and its people manifested this.

By the grace which God gave to the Virgin, that she might be the first to enter into the depths of the heart and send up fervent prayers to God, she came to understand, according to St. Gregory Palamas, the great barrenness and fallenness of our human nature. He says that she knew the great abyss of our wretched state of sinfulness far more keenly than anyone else; therefore, she knew more than anyone, and desired more than anyone, the coming of the promised Savior Christ Who would come to dwell in and fill, not the temple made by hands, but the temple of our body and soul.

She offered to God, not sacrifices and whole-burnt offerings of the animal sort, but the only sacrifice acceptable to God: a broken spirit and a humble heart; this is the spiritual altar where, through fiery contrition and tears, she slaughtered and utterly consumed the beasts of the passions and washed herself pure that she might receive the grace of God to enter into the holy sanctuary of her soul.

Within this sanctuary she offered the incense of prayer; she set forth the offerings of spiritual desires before God as holy loaves of bread, which nourished His love for her and poured out upon her His grace; and, being illumined through prayer and good works, the light of her mind was kindled, as a seven-branched candle-stand, with divine love, humility, wisdom, understanding, and the fear of God.

Then, at the appointed time, when God’s grace ordained it so, her mind, as a sacred High Priest, entered beyond the veil of the senses and into the most holy quiet place of the depths of her heart in order to commune with God alone; this came about after much struggle with sinful temptations, bodily passions, evil thoughts and spiritual warfare.

This is the mystery which the Holy Virgin found within the temple, and within herself. However, just as the High Priest did not enter simply for himself, but for all God’s people, so also the Holy Virgin forsook the whole creation, both bodily and mentally, for the sake of the whole creation, in order to commune with God alone, so that she might draw Him to herself, and into all the world.

She was also given heavenly bread by an angel; about this bread, St. Gregory Palamas says that if Adam had eaten it, he would not have fallen away and died. The Virgin was given a special grace to receive immortal heavenly food even before the incarnation of her Son and God, the Bread of Life, Who now offers Himself as Food in Holy Communion.

This Feast is most wondrous! In it we behold the great arrangement, providence and wisdom of God Who has created all things, and Who gathers all things together into Himself.

Beholding all these things, we find great joy and love for God; and we are established and confirmed whole-heartedly in the fact that the God Who spoke to Adam and Eve; the God Who sought to bring forth His Son incarnate of Seth’s line; the God Who took care of Noah and his progeny; the God Who spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob;

The God Who brought forth Moses and the first High Priest Aaron from Jacob’s son Levi, from whom also came all the high priests, priests and Levites of the old law; the God Who brought forth the royal line of David from Jacob’s son Judah; the God Who brought forth Anna the mother of the Theotokos from that priestly line and Joachim her father from that royal line; the God Who led their daughter into the temple;

The God Who became incarnate through her, Who has become our Great High Priest, Who has shed His blood upon the Cross, Who has descended after us into hades, and Who has led us up again into Paradise and to the throne of His Father within the Holy of Holies of the heavenly temple through His resurrection and ascension;

The same God Who has established His Church upon the Prophets and Apostles and their successors, the Bishops, unto this very day;

This same God watches over all of us collectively and each individually. He is found in the smallest details of our lives; He knows every secret thought and every hidden movement of our hearts; He guides us all throughout our particular lives; and in His Holy Church, He gives Himself to us as Divine Food that we might all be wondrously knit together into One Man, One Body, the Body of Christ!

These are the wondrous things which have been heralded today! These are the things which have been revealed to us through the Virgin’s entry into the temple.

From before the ages she was foreknown by God and greatly loved by Him. He could not wait until the moment when His plan would be unraveled in her, and His pre-eternal purpose and vision were brought to fulfillment, the mystery hidden from before the ages which He has revealed to us in these last days, the incarnation of His Son through the Virgin, and the establishment of His Holy Church.

God could not contain his most pure longing which desired to dwell within her more than in heaven; it is this pure divine love which drew the Virgin into the Most Holy Place of the temple; and it is this same love which drew God down into her most pure womb; that He might over-flow therefrom upon all the world, filling all things with the fullness of Himself, Who is the Fullness of the Godhead, the All in all.

He has manifested His divine life to us which has no beginning nor end. Elder Porphyrios says that the Church has always been and always will be; because the Holy Trinity, that Church (or rather, Assembly) of Three Persons, has always existed; and in these latter days, One of Them, the Son, became incarnate, founding this pre-eternal Church in time upon earth, and revealing it to us, incorporating all of us into it through the mediation of His most pure Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos.

This is who we glorify today for giving us such wondrous divine life. This is the fullness of meaning of this Holy Feast of the Church. Today, the Virgin brings into the temple the grace of the Divine Spirit! Today, the Virgin over-fills this very Church with the grace of God! Today, the Virgin fills our hearts with joy; and leaping up to meet the coming Christ, they are confirmed in faith and love. Today, the foretaste of the kingdom of heaven is manifested within our human nature; and we are being prepared to give birth to Christ in our hearts, together with the Holy Virgin, upon the Feast of her Son’s Holy Nativity.

+Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us! Amen.

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