A homily on the Presentation of Christ in the Temple by a parish priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
To the eyes of the world, the Meeting of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple is nothing more than a heartwarming family ceremony. Casual observers would see it as a ceremonial rite of passage, perhaps, or merely a happy "Kodak moment" for proud new parents. It is, many would say, a curious ritual of minor interest, but one without any real spiritual significance.
But to Orthodox Christians who read the Gospel with the eyes of faith, the Fortieth-Day Blessing of Jesus Christ constitutes a high and holy Feast of the Church every second of February. For on this day a great milestone is attained in the course of our salvation.
In the Law of Moses it had been decreed that the firstborn son who opened His mother's womb was to be brought to the Lord on the fortieth day in a solemn act of worship, to be sanctified unto God as His special possession (Exodus 13:2, Leviticus 12). And so, in conformity to the ancient commandment, the Most-Holy Theotokos and Joseph brought their child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Their intention was simply to fulfill the law of worship. But what took place was a transformation of the very nature of worship itself.
This should not surprise us who keep the Feasts of the Church: He who declared to His apostle John, "Behold, I make all things new," (Revelation 21:5) had as His saving mission the renewal of all created things.
By His Incarnation, by the descent of His divine person into the life of mortal man, Christ transformed the very essence of our humanity.
And at the Epiphany Christ entered into the Jordan and changed the nature of the waters, tranforming the tributary of the Dead Sea into a medium of blessing and new life by His Baptism, along with all the waters of earth.
And in the present Feast our Lord transforms the nature of worship through His participation in the worship of the Old Covenant, signaling the revelation of grace upon grace to come in the worship of the New Covenant in His blood. The aging eyes of Simeon behold the transformation as the Christ-child, by His presentation in the Temple, blesses and establishes the essence of our eucharistic worship as Christians. Thus does Simeon declare, "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for mine eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples" (Luke 2:29-31).
From time immemorial, the human race had worshipped through the offering of sacrifices as an expression of fear. Bulls and goats were laid upon altars, offerings of grain and libations of wine were poured out by trembling supplicants before the powers of divinity. These offerings were but a percentage of their possessions, a mere substitute for their souls, which they hoped to atone through the fires of sacrifice. In the same way, on this day the humble new parents from Bethlehem bring an offering of two doves (Luke 2:24) as propitiation to the God of Israel.
But something happens today that marks the end of the era of animal sacrifice and the advent of New Covenant worship. From henceforth we shall say in uttermost truth, "Thine Own of Thine Own we offer to Thee." For the offering unto God will be God Himself in the flesh, and the broken body and spilt blood will belong to the Lord alone, who in His own person establishes the reconciliation of God and man.
It is this mystery which is revealed in the events of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Mother of God, who is the supreme figure of the Church, places Christ in the hands of Simeon and receives Him back again. What is this but a foreshadowing of our own worship in the Divine Liturgy, week after week?
Like Simeon, every Orthodox priest receives Christ into his hands under the form of the amnos?the Lamb of God. He receives this Gift at the hour of his ordination, when the Church, who is the Mother of us all, by the hand of her hierarchs places into his palms the bread that is consecrated to be the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like Simeon, therefore, every priest bears up Christ within the holy place, with voice lifted up to bless the Most High God (see Luke 2:28). And like Simeon, the priest comes forth again from the holy place to give Christ back to the Church, to distribute His all-pure Body and Blood to the faithful, for the forgiveness of sins and for life everlasting.
In that one glorious moment the righteous Simeon beheld the revelation of God's plan of salvation in the face of the forty-day old child in his arms. He foresaw the end of blood sacrifices on altars of stones; He apprehended that the Son of God forever lives to make intercession for us (cf. Hebrews 7:25), to be both the Offerer and the Offering, the One who receives and is distributed to His people unto the ends of the earth. And having seen the revelation, Simeon believed, and therefore he spoke these words: "Mine eyes have seen your salvation, ? a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:30, 32).
This scene of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple contains the essence of our New Testament worship. No longer do we come to God's temple in fear bearing offerings of dead animals. Now we present a living sacrifice through the Eucharist in the person of the Son of God, who is with us whenever we are gathered together in His Name (Matthew 18:20, 28:20), and Who is given back to us, so that we too may become living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
And in turn, each one of us becomes another Simeon when we receive Christ in the person of the poor and needy, the sick and dying, the widows and orphans: whenever, in other words, we receiving the least of our brethren as though they were Christ Himself. It is our Eucharistic task, our liturgy after the Liturgy, to embrace them, to bring them into the Church, and to announce to them the love, mercy, and power of God. So doing, we transform every human encounter, every meeting with another person, into an act of worship, into a new Presentation of Christ.
And at the end of our life's calling, may we too also be inspired to say,
"My eyes, Lord, have seen your salvation. I have seen your light to the nations. I have seen the glory of your people . . . their consolation, and their redemption."
May Christ our True God, who condescended to be carried in the arms of the righteous Simeon for our salvation, bless and strengthen you, and may He always remember your service in His kingdom, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.