The Temple of God’s Glory

by Rev. Romanos V. Russo

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Emmanuel! God is with us! The first-chosen Israel bequeathed to mankind not only belief in the one, true God but also that this one God dwelt among men. Though all transcendant, so holy that His name could not be uttered, His presence in the midst of the people served as the foundation of the faith of the Old Testament. The Temple of Jerusalem stood as the key symbol of this faith, for it contained the shekinah, the Indwelling. It was here that man could catch a glimpse on earth of the Glory of the God of heaven. Only here could sacrifices be offered to God. Only once a year on the Day of Atonement dared the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood of propitiation on the altar.

Today the temple stands no more, having been destroyed, several times in its history, by the violence of man. Only a fragment of the western wall remains where the remnant of Israel gathers to mourn. And yet, God’s presence is still manifest to the world as today’s feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple proclaims.

No trace in the canonical gospels serves as the legend for this holy day, but that should not surprise us. The Church often mines the apocryphal gospels for her liturgy because even these fanciful sources contain a lode of truth, if not always literal, then symbolic. The Nativity of the Mother of God and Her Dormition both trace their origins to “gospels” not accepted by the Church into the canon of her Scriptures.

On November 21 we celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s entrance into the Temple. The Protoevangelion of St. James is its basis. According to this charming collection of pious legends:

When the child was three years old, Joachim said, “Let us invite the daughters of the Hebrews, who are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them be lighted, that the child may not turn back again, and her mind be set against the temple of the Lord.”

And they did thus till they ascended into the temple of the Lord. And the high-priest received her, and blessed her, and said, “Mary, the Lord God hath magnified thy name to all generations, and to the very end of time by thee will the Lord show his redemption to the children of Israel.”

And he placed her upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord gave unto her grace, and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

To fulfill their vow to dedicate their child to the service of God, Sts. Joachim and Ann brought Mary to the temple when she was three years old. There “to continue in the temple as a dove educated there, and receiving her food from the hand of an angel.”

Though the Church rejects as a whole the source of this legend, she does accept this legend as true, at least in its symbolic sense. Let the liturgy of the Byzantine Churches unlock the mystery of this festival:

Today the living Temple of the great King enters the temple to be prepared as a divine dwelling-place for Him.

Today the Theotokos, the Temple that is to hold God, is led into the temple of the Lord.

O Virgin, fed in faith by heavenly bread in the temple of the Lord, thou hast brought forth unto the world the Bread of Life that is the Word; and as this chosen Temple without spot, thou wast betrothed mystically through the Spirit, to be the Bride of God the Father.

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Tags: Christianity Prayers/Hymns/Saints