There are good reasons why our church celebrates some feast days for more than one day. But among those reasons might also be the fact, I suppose, that the given event which we happen to be celebrating, though at first glance it might seem simple and straightforward, is one which is so great and beyond our comprehension that the Church gives us some time that in celebrating it and contemplating it, it might sink in, so to speak. One particular feast I have in mind is the one we celebrated this past Friday, the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, which we happen to be celebrating still today.
Here, we have a perfect example of a seemingly simple event from the life of the Virgin Mary. Namely, we commemorate the event when the parents of the Virgin Mary, Joakim and Anna, took their three year old daughter to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate her to the service of God according to the promise they made God. And, in a nutshell, that’s it. That’s the feast. Yet, it is in our celebrating this great event from the history of our salvation that we see how the young Virgin Mary enters the Temple, that is, the great mystery of her who will be the Theotokos is revealed to us, she who will later become the living Temple for God Himself will dwell in her.
In one regard the feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple bears with it the message to all Christians that we are all called, upon entering the church, to never depart from it. That is, to take the liturgy with us upon our departing, that it be continually served in our hearts so that, as the Psalmist David says, “…the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, [may] be acceptable…” in the sight of the Lord all the days and every moment of our lives. Or, as St. Paul reminds us, “do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?”
And if this statement can be made about all of us, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, then how much more do these words apply to the Holy Theotokos who had the very Son of God, our Lord and Savior, in her Womb?
At the Vesper service on the eve of the feast we sing, “Let us believers exchange glad tidings…honoring his holy tabernacle, the living ark who contained the uncontainable Word…”. The image of the Theotokos as an ark instantly reminds us of Noah and the ark from the Old Testament. In the book of Genesis the word which is used for ark is tevah, a word which is found only one other place in all of Scripture.* Namely, it is used to designate that little box – which in some Bibles is translated as basket – in which the infant Moses floated on in the Nile. An interesting connection between these two Biblical figures is implied through the usage of word ark. Moreover, we see how the Most Holy Theotokos is attached to this same theme. For it was Noah who in that ark saved more than just his family. Indeed, he saved all of mankind and all the animals. While Moses, who was kept safe in the ark, would later become the deliverer of the Hebrews, saving them from slavery. In both cases the tevah, or the ark, is a floating container which kept them from danger. The danger in both cases being water. If we can interpret water here to mean the problems and difficulties and temptations of this life than I would suppose a whole sea of water would imply life itself.
If that be the case it is interesting how we sing in our church to the Holy Theotokos, that living ark, that hymn which is sung at the Parastos service, Zitejskoje more: I have looked upon the sea of life raging in turmoil with the storm of temptation and have fled to your quiet harbor, crying aloud to you: Deliver my life from corruption most merciful one.
It is during these days that we celebrate more than just a simple event from the life of the Holy Theotokos. Instead, we honor her who is that living ark, who will bear Him whose nativity – which in a month we will celebrate – will cause and bring joy to the world and peace and goodwill among men and salvation to our souls. Amen.
*Fr. Patrick Reardon, Creation and the Patriarchal Histories