Many are the Feasts and commemorations of the Mother of God. Many are the hymns which honor her at every divine service. Many are her virtues. Many are the wonders of her life. Many are her icons, which—though beyond counting—still do not capture the many different manifestations and graces of her person and presence and the help she provides us.
Today, on this Great Feast; today, on this Feast of the greatest of all the Saints; what shall we speak of? What shall we meditate on? What shall we think about? What shall we say regarding her? What shall we draw out for consideration? What shall we focus on? What shall we praise?
Let us first sketch the significant historical details regarding this Feast. 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 those who had seen and worshipped in Solomon’s Temple mourned because of the lack of glory in the newly built Temple. It is related that the cloud of glory—that is, the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit—which often descended upon Moses’ Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple, was not present in Zerubbabel’s Temple.
A little less than 500 years later, just before Christ came, Herod (so-called “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. It was prepared just at the right time as a dwelling place for the True Temple of God, the Theotokos.
What a great vision of God’s providence. Let us who are children of the Church marvel at this fact and glorify God, for those outside cannot bear to hear of this Feast, nor do they believe in it or honor it. It is a mystery, just as the whole life of the Mother of God, which can only be understood and enjoyed within the bosom of the Church, the Treasury of Mysteries.
The Mother of God was miraculously led into the Holy of Holies by the High Priest under divine inspiration. The High Priest alone was allowed to enter therein, and that only once a year. Yet, through the grace of God, he perceived that this little daughter of Israel of only three years of age was more worthy than himself, and more holy than the Holy of Holies. He therefore led her into it. She dwelt in the Holy Temple for 9 whole years.
As our temples of worship consist of three parts, so did the Jewish temple. This is no surprise, considering that Christ and His Apostles have taught us that the whole Old Testament—with its temple, priesthood, and worship—is a shadow of the New Testament. The old law was the shadow of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, the old law is a shadow of the Church also.
The three main parts of the Jewish temple were the outer courts, the sanctuary or holy place, and the Holy of Holies. Those who were not descended from the lineage of Levi—the son of Jacob-Israel and the grandfather of Moses and the High Priest Aaron—were only allowed into the outer courts. There was a specific court for non-Jews, another for women, another for Jewish men. There was also the temple proper, the sanctuary. Only the high-priest, priests, and Levites—all descended from the Levitical line—were allowed into the sanctuary. Finally, there was the Holy of Holies which was separated from the sanctuary by a large veil. Only the high-priest, as we already said, was allowed there, and only once a year.
Although He providentially and miraculously led His most pure Mother into all of these parts, Christ our God only frequented the outer courts. Her life was a secret mystery. His life was a public manifestation. Being born of the Davidic and Judaic lineage, but not of the Levitical one; strictly adhering to the Old Law as a faithful Jew; and desiring to give no scandal to others; He confined Himself to the outer courts of the Temple. He never physically entered the earthly sanctuary or Holy of Holies. Yet, after His death and resurrection, He ascended beyond all the heavens and all the angels, entering the noetic and divine Holy of Holies with our human nature.
He is a priest after the order—not of Levi, but—Melchizedek. Assuming the fullness of our human nature within His own Divine Person, through His Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Sending Down of the Holy Spirit, He has founded His Church. He ordained His Apostles. They ordained their successors the bishops, who in turn consecrate new bishops, and ordain priests and deacons, perpetuating the Church. The clergy are the guardians of the Holy Mysteries. The bishops and priests initiate others into the Church through Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion.
Let us look at the structure of our temple of worship. Our churches have a narthex, a nave (that is, the temple proper), and the altar (that is, the holy place). Our narthex was typified by the ancient outer courts. In older practice, the catechumens and unbaptized could only enter the narthex. This has changed in modern practice, but its spiritual significance should not be forgotten. For, in older practice, into the temple proper only the baptized could enter. Why? Because only the baptized and chrismated have been reborn in Christ and are part of the royal priesthood of all believers.
Do you understand the significance of this? The temple proper where all of you are standing is the ancient sanctuary wherein only the consecrated priests and Levites were allowed to enact the worship of God. After Christ entered the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies in heaven, a change has taken place. All those who are baptized into Him are grafted into the royal priesthood and allowed participation in His Holy Body and Blood. Be mindful of the holiness of the place where you are standing, realizing that you have been granted a much greater grace than the ancient Levites.
And clergymen: be even more mindful of the place you occupy. For we now enact the worship of God in that place of the ancient temple known as the Holy of Holies, wherein in former days the high-priest alone was granted entrance, and that only once a year. But after Christ has entered the Holy of Holies in heaven, sent down His Most Holy Spirit, founded His Church, and granted us the grace of His singular priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, He has allowed us also entrance into the Holy of Holies.
The Mother of God truly perceived the holiness of the place she lived. She became acquainted with its glory through reading the Scriptures and came to an ever greater knowledge of the grace she was given, and an ever greater sensitivity to it. Through this she strove to purify her heart in order that it might accord with the holiness of the place she dwelt bodily.
Let us do the same. Let us ever strive to renew our spiritual sensibilities. Let us constantly pray to the guardian angel of our church, and to our own personal guardian angel, that we might enter the church temple with reverence and awe and renewed perception. Let us pray that we might worship with all our body, soul, heart, mind, and word. Let us rouse ourselves from spiritual slumber, moving our mind to exhort our whole soul to remember that we stand in the House of God.
Let us inscribe, within our hearts, thoughts which awaken our awareness to the holiness of this place. If we do so, where will lust, or anger, or judgment, or pride, or distraction be found within us? If we become aware of the grace we have been given, and truly perceive the holiness of this place, how shall we not be transformed through-and-through?
On the other hand, if we lose this spiritual sensibility, we will lose consciousness of the holy presence of God. If we lose this perception, we will lose reverence and awe and divine fear. If we lose respect for God, how will we reverence and honor and love other people?
In the ancient Holy of Holies, there was the Ark of the Covenant. This was overshadowed by the two cherubim. Above the Ark the cloud of God’s glory would descend, pouring forth therefrom throughout all the temple. Within the Ark there were the stone tablets of the Law, the golden jar which held the manna, and Aaron’s rod which blossomed.
Understand the significance. Now, instead of the Ark, we have the Holy Altar. Instead of the golden jar filled with manna, we have Christ, the Heavenly Bread, descending at every Liturgy, transforming bread and wine into His Most Pure Body and Precious Blood. Instead of the stone tablets written upon by the finger of God, we have the Holy Gospel which contains the words of God Incarnate. Instead of Aaron’s rod which blossomed, we have the Life-Giving Cross which has granted us remission of sins and life everlasting.
Let us take these things to heart. Let us strive to constantly understand the holiness of this place. Let us constantly contemplate the power which lies within our church temple and its furnishings. Let us read the accounts in the Old Testament about the tabernacle of Moses, and about the Temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel. Let us read the Book of Hebrews which speaks of our New Testament worship. And let us read the Book of Revelation of the divine John, wherein we see that our liturgical worship is patterned after that of heaven. Let us enter ever deeper into our liturgical worship.
We might be hindered at certain times from entering into the divine temple through sickness or bodily weakness, or through the obediences and labors laid upon us, or from our own negligence. Therefore, let us appreciate, and become extremely grateful, and spiritually perceptive all the more when we are granted the great grace to step foot onto the holy ground of the church building. Yes, to come to church is one of the greatest gifts of God to men. Never let yourself take it for granted. Never enter without thanking God for granting you to be a Christian.
Let us loose our sandals from off our feet. That is, let us loose the activity of our soul from passionate attachment to sensory things, that we might truly perceive that we have come into the House of the Lord wherein His divine presence is superabundant above all places on this earth.
But if our hearts remain hardened, then we will not worship—in fullness of faith and humility—our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ; He Who—so to say—turned away from the company of His bright and holy angels dissatisfied, to visit us lowly men of dust and sin and to bear our sicknesses, infirmities, and death.
To Him, together with His Father and the Life-Giving Spirit, be thanksgiving, glory, honor, worship, and love unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!