Homily on the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple
Today is primarily a feast of children and the family. Look at the icon which depicts this holy event, my children. Let your thoughts take you there and you will see an endearing, inspiring scene, a family portrait. The elderly parents Joachim and Anna are giving to God as a gift the very one whom they received as a gift from God, their only, three-year-old Daughter. Now the young Mary is separated from her close ones and obediently enters the Church of God to be taught in the presence of the Lord. Surrounding her are young maidens, her friends. A noble high priest meets her and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, blesses the parental vow and child-like obedience and takes the God-Chosen Maiden into the formidable and mysterious Holy of Holies.
Yet the holy joy of the family moves beyond the tight confines of the family and envelops the whole world, visible and invisible. "The angels on high, beholding the Entry of the Most Pure One, were amazed..." (sung instead of "It is truly meet..." for the Feast of the Entry) and the earthly Church joyfully lauds it to this very day. Who would have known, who would have ever thought that here, in the stillness of the church, in a humble family feast, an event is occurring which will have an enormous grace-filled impact on humankind. For herein was "the prelude of God's God will" (troparion, tone 4), herein was felt the unspeakable mystery of God's Incarnation.
One of the Holy Fathers symbolically states that a ship full of priceless treasure cannot come ashore if it cannot find a proper harbor. So the priceless treasure of the Redemption and Incarnation seemingly sought a harbor in the Mother of God, a worthy vessel of holiness, in order to be passed on to mankind and be accepted on earth. And now the Birthgiver of God, herself a living Church, is brought into the temple to be brought up as a vessel of the Divine, as the church hymn says. Here in the church She reached that moral perfection which attracted the mercy of the Creator to her. From that time on the history of the world travels on a path different from that which it moved upon earlier. From that point on, the Heavens and earth come together, humanity is reconciled with God, the path to Heaven is open and eternal salvation is granted to mankind. It is now obvious why the Entry of the Mother of God is so joyfully and solemnly celebrated by the Holy Church. It is one of the greatest manifestations of God's concern and providence for the world.
If one event out of the life of one family can have so much significance for the entire world, so the opposite can be true: such a world-shaking event can be full of lessons for each individual family. In other words, today is not only a feast of parents and children, it is a great lesson given to them from on high.
We primarily direct our words to you, our little girls. In ancient times the forefather David through a mystical twilight saw the Great King and Lord, higher than all earthly kings, and next to Him a Queen elevated above all - the Mother of God and said of her: The virgins [her companions] that follow after her shall be brought unto the King (Psalm 44:14)
Her close ones, those who follow her - those are you, my good children! You are dedicated to God in the image of the Ever Virgin. You are brought into the tabernacle of God, the Church of Christ, and you have been brought here before His altar to be trained up before the Lord. Remember well your own Joachim and Anna, your fathers and mothers, their tears, concerns, labors, privations, sighs for you and by the image of the young Mary, be obedient to their will. Remember that in these light filled moments of the feast your parents await good fruit from your years of learning. Fulfill with love that which they have brought you here for. Learn Holy Scripture with the fear of God, not for the foretaste of benefits to come, not with the thought of future rights and advantages, but for the foretaste of great and holy responsibilities. As future co-workers in the Holy Church, as those more knowledgeable in society, as future family members and conscious carriers of the covenants of love, purity, humility and modesty, you are endearing and precious to us, and you attract the hopes not only of your parents, but society at large.
Is this not the reason why people, though of many different mindsets, take so much care, sensitivity and attentiveness in raising children? It is disturbing to watch the battle of these differing mindsets over innocent children. Some are trying to raise them by the example of the Holy Virgin, under the wing of the Church, to fill them with piety, to plant in them and inspire them with the love of God, neighbor and nation, and to acquire the spirit of obedience to their Church. Others, however, are trying to snatch the children from their native soil, to train them on foreign principles, and, foremostly, to tear them away from the Church. It is indeed sad to watch this struggle. Our nation needs active people who are raised in the spirit of Orthodoxy, under the shelter of her churches. Grow up under the grace-filled cover of the Church, children, following the example of the Mother of God. She spent her youth in the church in labors and prayers. You must pray as well, and work hard, and not be slothful, a burden to your family and society. She began her training in full obedience to her parents' will. You do the same. She finished her training with the vow to wholly dedicate herself to God. Promise to dedicate yourselves, each other and all your lives to Christ our Lord, to serve goodness, to battle evil, to give yourself over to the responsibility which God Himself will indicate to you, wholly, unreservedly. No man, having put his hand on the plough, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
And what shall we say to you, parents and teachers? Before you are Joachim and Anna, who brought their Daughter to the Lord's temple. They entrusted to Him and gave to Him a treasure they had begged and prayed for, priceless, as dear as only a child can be for a mother and father. Do you hear the Savior's call: Suffer the little children to come to me and do not forbid it (Mark 10:14)?
Let the children come to Christ and in the name of true love for them, and for their own benefit do not impede them in this. Your child will one day grow up, the noise and complexities of the world will encompass him and days of sorrow and sadness will come; jealousy will cast out its nets, hatred will sharpen its blade...Let the child come to Christ now, and he will not be vexed, but will have a source of comfort. He will know where and to whom he should turn. In the church where he was brought as a child, He will turn to God, the Protector of his childhood. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God (Psalm 83:4). There will be trials and tribulations, but he will say with the royal prophet: For He hid me in His tabernacle in the day of my troubles (Psalm 26:5). The pangs of hades encircled me, round about the snares of death have overtaken me. And in mine affliction I called upon the Lord, and unto my God I cried; He heard my voice out of His holy temple, and my cry before Him shall enter into His ears (Psalm 17: 5,6).
Many have left the faith and the Church and travelled long and aimlessly along the byways of life. But in the wells of the world, the waterless wells, they were unable to quench the thirst of their immortal soul, did not find comfort, could not fill the emptiness of their soul and heart. In their despair some chanced to enter a church of God... And suddenly by a supernatural power their past suddenly opened up to them, their childhood came to mind with its fervent faith, and a quiet joy entered their heart, the feeling of closeness to God entered their soul. And not once did it happen that sweet tears fell from their eyes, and the formerly closed lips uttered prayer, the hitherto obstinate knees bent on their own, and they, prodigal children of the Church, returned to faith and truth.
And what about us, brethren? We are fortunate if we have retained a particle of childlike faith, childlike feelings, if we know how to pray as a child would pray! With childlike feelings, forgetting ourselves we sometimes hear the noiseless fluttering of someone's robes, or angel's wings, someone's invisible but palpable presence. Christ is then touching our souls, the angels have gazed into our souls and rest therein. Do you wish such happiness for your children for their entire lives, do you wish that they never experience dark despair, the horrors of deadening faithlessness, the fear of spiritual loneliness, that they by pass the sufferings of the prodigal son? Then let them come to Christ now and do not impede them! Lead them, by the example of Joachim and Anna, to faith, to the Church of God, to prayer, to pious learning and training. Do not hinder, but on the contrary, help them in this by deed and word, by kindness, and by your own example!
Dear children! You are so fortunate to have been brought into church by your parents and teachers, in the image of the Ever Virgin. By her name and the joy of today's feast we entreat you: Remain children before God forever! Preserve your childlike faith, your childlike obedience to the Church, your prayerful feelings, and, having been brought into the temple of the Lord, in spirit remain in it forever, until your very last breath! Amen.
Translated by Maria Naumenko from Pastyrskiye Besedy s Det'mi, Moscow 1997 (reprinted from a 1901 edition).[../../_private/oabot.htm]