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For my eyes have seen Your Salvation...

In America, February 2nd is best known as Groundhog’s Day. We find out if we will have six more weeks of Winter or an early Spring. However, for the Orthodox Church this day is one of the Twelve Feasts of the Lord: the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or the Meeting of the Lord (in Greek: Υπαπαντή του Κυρίου).  It is also on this Feast Day that Mother’s Day is celebrated in Greece. 
 
Forty days from His Nativity, Jesus was taken to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem by His Mother, the Theotokos and Joseph the Betrothed. This was in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law which says: you shall set apart to the Lord all that open the womb, that is, every male, everything that opens the womb from the herds or among your cattle; as many as you shall have, you shall sanctify the males to the Lord (Ex 13:12). 
 
So, every first-born male was brought on the fortieth day to the Temple.  Furthermore, in accordance with the Mosaic Law, a woman was not permitted to enter the Temple until the fortieth day after her days of purification were complete.
 
It says in Leviticus 12:4: she [a woman] is not to touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are fulfilled. Furthermore, when the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she is to bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a whole burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering…But if she is unable to afford a lamb, she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons- one as a whole burnt offering and the other as a sin offering (Lev 12:6, 8). 
 
In the 2nd Doxastikon of Festal Vespers we hear: He as God receives the gifts offered by Joseph, a pair of turtledoves, as a figure of the spotless Church and the new-chosen people of the Gentiles; and two young pigeons, since He is the author of both Old and New Covenants.
 
The Theotokos did not need purification because she gave birth to the Source of purity and sanctity without defilement. Yet, out of humility she fulfilled the requirements of the Mosaic Law. The Righteous Symeon who was living in Jerusalem at the time was inspired by the Holy Spirit to be at the Temple on that same day. For an Angel revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  
 
When Saint Symeon beheld the Infant Christ, he told the Theotokos:  yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also (Lk 2:35). This prophecy foretold the anguish the Theotokos would later experience, witnessing Jesus being crucified on the Cross. 
 
The Prophetess Anna was also present that day. She was the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher (Lk 2:36). She was a woman of advanced age who spent day and night in the Temple, fasting and praying. She spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem (ibid, 38). It is noteworthy that a woman was first to preach both Christ’s redemption and His Resurrection. 
 
Righteous Symeon and the Prophetess Anna represent the last righteous people of the Old Testament who were deemed worthy to meet the Savior in the Temple. Symeon was one of the seventy scholars who came to Alexandria in the 3rd Century B.C. to translate the Holy Scriptures into Greek. This completed work is called the Septuagint, meaning “the Seventy.” This is the version of the Old Testament used by the Orthodox Church. 
 
Saint Symeon was translating the Book of Isaiah into Greek and came upon the words: Behold, a Virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son (Is 7:14). He thought that the word Virgin was incorrect and wanted to correct the text with the word woman, however, an Angel prevented him from doing so. It was then that Symeon was told by the Angel that he shall not die until he beholds the Christ born of a spotless Virgin. The promise of the Angel was indeed fulfilled and once Symeon beheld the Infant Jesus he proclaimed: Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace according to your Word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples. A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel (Lk 2:29-32). This has become known as the Song of Symeon which we hear at every vesper service just before the Trisagion prayers. It is also the prayer that is read when departing Church. 
 
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is among the ancient of feasts in the Orthodox Church and is indeed a fulfillment of the Mosaic Law by both the Theotokos and the Infant Jesus. Now the Ancient of Days becomes an infant for me. And the most pure God now shares purification with me, to show that truly He assumed my flesh from the Virgin. And Symeon was led to know the mystery and recognized as God the one he saw in the flesh. And he embraced and kissed Him as life itself, and he rejoiced as an elder and cried aloud, Let me depart now, for I have seen You, O Lord, the life of all things (Kathisma from Festal Matins). 
 
The Ancient of Days refers to Christ being eternal. Christ assumed my flesh, meaning our flesh, that of mankind. Christ while being fully divine, takes on flesh in His Incarnation, becoming fully human. Symeon embraced Christ as life itself, because He is the Creator. For Christ Himself said: I am the Resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25).
 
The Orthodox faith still holds the tradition of presenting an infant to the Church. This is known as the Churching of Children. On the fortieth day, parents bring their newborn baby to Church for the first time and the priest meets the parents in the narthex. 
 
After reading the prayer of purification for the mother of the child, the parents and the child are brought into the nave and gradually the priest carries the child toward the altar. If it is a male, the priest will bring the child inside the altar for a blessing. It is on this day that the newborn child becomes a catechumen and prepares for baptism. It is also a tradition for the mother of the child to wait until the fortieth day to enter the Church. 
 
In ancient times these forty days were for purification of the woman after childbirth. In more recent times, these forty days are more for mother and child to bond than it is for purification. 
 
Righteous Symeon and the Prophetess Anna are examples to us of patience and faith in God. They both were of advanced age and near the end of their earthly lives, yet, assured by their faith in God that they would physically witness their Lord Jesus Christ. God reveals Himself to us in His own time. It is not for us to know the when and how but rather to await with vigilance in faith.
 
Let us also come; let us meet Christ with inspired song, and let us receive Him whose salvation was seen by Symeon. He is the One whom David proclaimed. He is the One who spoke in the Prophets; He became incarnate for us and spoke through the Law. Let us worship Him (Stichera from Festal Vespers).
 
-John Athanasatos 
 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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