Every year, on February 2nd, we celebrate the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. This feast is one of the 12 Great Feasts celebrated by the Orthodox Church. What makes this day so special? Why do we celebrate it, and what does it reveal to us about God and His love for us?
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The biblical story of the Presentation
We find the story of the Presentation of the Lord in Luke 2:22-29. In this passage, we see Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple forty days after His birth. In accordance with Mosaic law, the mother must present her first-born male child in the tabernacle and offer either a lamb or a pair of doves or pigeons as a sacrifice for her purification. (Mary brought turtle doves, the sacrifice prescribed for those too poor to afford a lamb.) The presentation of a first-born son also signified redemption or buying back, for in Hebrew society, all first-born creatures (both humans and animals) belonged to God.
The Prayer of Simeon
A holy elder named Simeon and the prophetess Anna greet Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child upon their arrival at the Temple. God had promised Simeon “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). And by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, both Simeon and Anna recognize Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world. After this, Simeon takes Christ in his arms and says:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples. A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory to Thy people Israel.Luke 2:29-32
We sing this prayer every day in the Vespers services of the Orthodox Church. It reminds us that, having seen and touched the Savior, God has released us from the hold that sin had on us. We now can strive toward holiness and grow ever closer to God, because of what Our Lord has done for us.
What’s in the icon?
The holy icons for the Church’s Great Feasts can give us a far deeper understand of what exactly is taking place. Let’s take a look at this icon and see what it illustrates for us.
In the icon of the Presentation of the Lord, we see that the meeting takes place in front of the altar in the Temple. The altar has a book on top of it, much like Orthodox altars always have the Gospel sitting upon them. Additionally, we see the Theotokos holding out her hands, offering Christ to Simeon. Joseph carries the two turtle doves for the sacrifice. And lastly, Anna the Prophetess points to the Christ child while holding a scroll containing a prophecy of Christ in her other hand.
What we find most interesting about this icon is the appearance of Christ and Simeon. We see Christ as a child, but not in swaddling clothes. Moreover, His legs are bare, and He appears to be giving a blessing. Simeon, on the other hand, holds Jesus with both hands, which are covered by his cloak. He is not wearing priestly garments, despite being an elder, and his head is uncovered. This shows us the reverence that Simeon had for the Messiah.
Why is this feast so important?
On the eve of this feast, we celebrate the Vespers service. During this service, the Church prescribes three readings from the Old Testament:
If Matins is celebrated the morning of the feast, you will hear the Gospel reading from Luke 2:25-32, where Saint Simeon receives Christ. Then, during the Divine Liturgy we hear two more readings: the Epistle reading from Saint Paul to the Hebrews (7:7-17) and again the Gospel reading from Luke (2:22-40).
Together, these readings tell of the changing from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, the old law becoming something new through Christ. The Old (illustrated through Simeon) and the New (embodied in Christ) meet together on this Feast Day. Today the Son of God, giver of the law, now Himself fulfills the law, being carried in Simeon’s arms as a human child.
Did you know?
In the Orthodox Church, both baby boys and baby girls are taken to the Church on the fortieth day after their birth. We do this in remembrance of the Theotokos and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the Temple.
The celebration of the Meeting of the Lord in the Church is not merely a historical commemoration. Inspired by the same Holy Spirit as Simeon, and led by the same Spirit into the Church of the Messiah, the members of the Church also can claim their own “meeting” with the Lord, and witness that they too can “depart in peace” since their eyes have seen the salvation of God in the person of His Christ.
Hymns of the Feast
In closing, we would like to leave you with the Orthodox Troparion and Kontakion for this blessed Feast Day. These hymns beautifully illustrate the events of the feast, and why it is so important that we celebrate it every year, forty days after Our Lord’s Nativity.
Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, Full of Grace! From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, enlightening those who sat in darkness! Rejoice and be glad, O righteous elder; you accepted in your arms the Redeemer of our souls who grants us the resurrection (Troparion).
By Thy nativity, Thou didst sanctify the Virgin’s womb. And didst bless Simeon’s hands, O Christ our God. Now Thou hast come and saved us through love. Grant peace to all Orthodox Christians, O only Lover of man (Kontakion).
Keep Reading: Why Did Christ Speak In Parables?