This month’s synchroblog is on Advent, and I thought I wouldn’t have much to say on the topic, because in the Orthodox Church we don’t have Advent, at least not in the sense that Western Christians do. But here are a few random thoughts, most of them gleaned from or inspired or sparked off by Fr Tom Hopko’s excellent book The Winter Pascha, though the title makes little sense in our part of the world, since we are in midsummer with long days and short nights, and Christmas beetles (which I believe Americans call “June bugs”).
For Orthodox Christians the pre-Christmas season begins like Lent, with a 40-day fast. It starts on 15 November, the day after St Philip’s day, and the following day is St Matthew’s day (16th), and so the fast is almost immediately eased by fish, wine and oil being permitted (unless St Matthew’s day happens to fall on a Wednesday or Friday, in which case the fish is omitted). So it’s not as strict as the Lenten fast, but it is nonetheless a fast at a time when the secular world is having numerous “Christmas” parties. And Fr Tom Hopko tells us that the fast is sometimes called the St Philip Fast, because of the coincidence that it starts after St Philip’s Day. But after St Philip and St Matthew comes, on 21 November, the feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. It’s one that probably would make most of my Protestant friends a little uneasy, if they were aware of it (which most of them aren’t). You see, it isn’t scriptural. You can’t find it described anywhere in the Bible. For some Protestants, if it wasn’t in the Bible, it never happened, just as men never went to the moon, or nobody uses cell phones, so the Theotokos never entered the temple. If it had happened, the Bible would have said so. But though the event isn’t described in the Bible, you have to be pretty familiar with the Bible to understandwhat it is all about. In that sense, it is a thoroughly biblical celebration. So what’s it all about then?
According to Holy Tradition, the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple took place in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, Sts Joachim and Anna, praying for an end to their childlessness, vowed that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God. When the Most Holy Virgin reached the age of three, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. They gathered together their relatives and acquaintances, and dressed the All-Pure Virgin in Her finest clothes. Singing sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands, virgins escorted Her to the Temple (Ps. 44/45:14-15). There the High Priest and several priests met the handmaiden of God. In the Temple, fifteen high steps led to the sanctuary, which only the priests and High Priest could enter. (Because they recited a Psalm on each step, Psalms 119/120-133/134 are called “Psalms of Ascent.”) The child Mary, so it seemed, could not make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly went up the remaining steps and ascended to the highest one. Then the High Priest, through inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest entered once a year to offer a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore, all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence. After entrusting their child to the Heavenly Father, Joachim and Anna returned home. The All-Holy Virgin remained in the quarters for virgins near the Temple. According to the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1: 28; Luke 2: 37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters around the Temple, in which those who were dedicated to the service of God dwelt.
And you can read more here. This feast was celebated quite early by Christians, and possibly even before the Church began to celebrate Christmas itself, and it is an interesting reflection of the meaning of Christmas. This is where it gets biblical, for the Epistle reading for the feast, Hebrews 9:1-7, describes the Istaelite tabernacle, which was the precursor and pattern for the temple:
behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.
The virgin Mary, as a young child, entered the holiest part of the temple, where only the high priest was permitted to go, and then only once a year. What right did she have to do that? The theological point is that just as the temple in Jerusalem succeeded the tabernacle in the wilderness, so the virgin Mary would supersede the temple in Jerusalem, for she was the temple not made by hands. In the jar was the manna that had fed the people of Israel in the desert, the “bread of heaven” sent to them by God. But Mary superseded the jar of manna, for she contained him who said “I am the bread of life” (John 6:31-37). Heaven and the heighest heavens could not contain the uncontainable God, yet he deigned to be contained by her who became the new temple, not made by hands, for the dwelling of God was to be with man, and he was to be called Emmanuel, God with us. _______________ Here are the links to the other synchrobloggers who are blogging on this theme:
- John C. O’Keefe – The Season of Adventure
- George at The Love Revolution – The Weak Ghosts of Advent
- Peter at Emerging Christian – Expanding Our Experience of the Advent Journey
- Beth at Beth Stedman.com – Experiencing Advent With A Toddler
- Alan at The Assembling Of The Church – Walking Through Advent Today
- Steve at Emergent Kiwi – Am I Traveling Well?
- Wendy at View From The Bridge – Yearning For a Lived Theology
- Annie at Marginal Theology – Limping Along
- Christen at Greener Grass – Advent – Expecting and Un-Expecting
- Jeff at My Adventures – Journeys and Destinations
- kathy at carnival in my head – making room for the unexpected
- Sonja at Calacirian – Road To Nowhere
- Steve at Khanya – Advent Synchroblog
- Beth at The Virtual Teahouse – Clear-Eyed Gaze of a Stranger
- Phil at Square No More – O Antiphon #1 – This is the first of nine antiphones. Please check Phil’s blog Square No More regularly for additional updates with the additional 8 antiphones.
- Peggy at Abisomeone – Wandering With The Waiting Abbess
- Cathryn at Love Fiercely – An Advent Prayer
- Sonnie at A Piece of My Mind – Christmas WILL Happen
- Liz at Grace Rules – Advent – A Journey of Awakening
- Andrew at Tall Skinny Kiwi – God Came Near