It was about 8 months ago, March the 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, when we celebrated that precious moment when “in quiet silence, in the middle of the night, God’s Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of (His) royal throne, as a powerful conqueror, into the midst of a land of destruction” (see Wisdom of Solomon 18:11). At that very moment, at that holy instant, God was with us. And in about a month’s time, we will celebrate the revelation of the fruition of that divine and human pregnancy – the birth of the Theanthropos, the God-Man, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. These are special days, brothers and sisters. These are the church’s memories of the history of our salvation. The Word of God entered into the womb of this holy girl, this holy maiden, the Virgin Mary, and united Himself to her humanity and our humanity, and as a mighty conqueror, enters into the fallen world of destruction. What does that mean? Satan is the destroyer (see 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 9:11). He is called Abaddon in the Bible, “the one who destroys” or the “one who ruins.” God the word entered into the womb of Mary, and then was born of her, to free us from the destruction of Satan, the ruin of sin and death. But wait! This didn’t all just happen at once. No, there was a time of preparation, a time of formation and groundwork. And that is the focus of today’s Feast.
Before the time when God entered into the temple of the Virgin’s womb, turning it into Heaven, the Virgin first had to enter into the earthly Heaven, the Temple and House of God. Even though she was only three years old, she did so completely willingly, completely joyfully. In the Protoevangelium of St. James it says “And when the child was three years old, Joachim said: ‘Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning’...And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her” (Protoevangelium of James, ch.7).
St. Gregory Palamas, reflecting on this, said: “By her demeanor she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it most desirable and appropriate that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies. Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which She was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just on one occasion, but was accepted by God to dwell there permanently with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving” (St. Gregory Palamas, Excerpt from the Discourse on the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Holy of Holies).
For us, the faithful, there is a clear message, a clear analogy. In order for Christ to dwell in us, and in order for Christ to be born in us, we must first prepare ourselves in order to make that happen. And how do we do it? The last tropar of the first Ode of the Canon at Vigil last night told us: “Having opened the gates of the temple of God, the Glorious Gate, through which human thoughts cannot pass, now urges us to to enter with her and to delight in her divine wonders.”
We must enter with her into the Temple, the House of God. And we are doing that today, and our sweet and all-loving God is here to pour out the miracle of grace upon us. But we must strive to become more. We must strive, like Mary, to become “fans” of God. Do you know what that means? “Fan” comes from the word “fanum” in Latin, which means “temple.” So a fan is someone who is always in the temple, super-enthusiastic about being in the House of God, a continual resident not an occasional visitor! Next, St Gregory Palamas told us that the High Priest recognized “the divine grace within her.” We too must strive with all our might to be like the Virgin by being free from sin and our passions, and becoming instead receptacles of grace, temples of the Holy Spirit, light-bearers and Christ-bearers. By this we will come to see many wonders, many miracles; miracles of God, miracles through the Mother of God, miracles through the saints, miracles all around us. How do we know that? What did Jesus say? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!” And what about this familiar verse from the Psalms, which talks about God’s Temple: “O God, in the Sanctuary is Thy way. Who is so great a god as our God? Thou art the God Who workest wonders!” (Psalm 76/77: 13). Amen.