Sermon – The Forefeast of the Presentation of the Theotokos
The Forefeast of the Presentation of the Theotokos
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
The Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos is celebrated 40 days following the Feast of her birth (September 8). Two other Feasts, among the twelve major Feasts of the Church are: The Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th) and her “Dormition” (falling asleep), also called “The Feast of the Holy Assumption” (August 15).
The Feasts dedicated to the Holy Virgin are important because she represents the best of us: as a person who in her upbringing and personal choices was faithful, obedient and consequently chosen by God as one who was blessed; one who shared our human nature – made in God’s image, and therefore not only chosen as holy, but was holy because of her choices. Moreover her holiness stemmed from the choices of her parents. And so the lesson about her Feasts have much to say to us about your and my family relationships. And with this being the week of Thanksgiving when we hope, as families, to gather and give thanks, it helps us to understand something about our Traditional roots: Not for the purpose of deciding who among us are “old school” or “post modern” in our thinking, but to understand our traditional Christian values and teaching; how meaningful they are; but also: how we live them.
The life of the Holy Virgin is very unique. She was three years of age when her parents brought her to be dedicated to the Temple and presented to the high priest, Zachariah (who later to became the father of John the Baptist).
St. Theophylact of Ochrid says that Zachariah was so “moved by God” that he led the Virgin into the chief place of the Temple, beyond the second curtain. Many Syrian texts speak of Joachim and Anna dedicating the Holy Virgin to the temple in fulfillment of a vow they had made. They made sacrifices to God, according to the Law, received the priest’s blessing and returned home. Mary remained in their care for nine years. While her parents were alive, they visited her often. And when they passed from this life, the Holy Virgin longed to remain in the temple for the rest of her life without entering into marriage.
But this was not the case. She was confided at the age of twelve to Joseph (a widower), a kinsman of hers in Nazareth, so that she might, under the protection of betrothal, live in virginity, and thus fulfill both her desire and the demands of the Law, for it was unknown in Israel at that time for a girl to vow perpetual virginity. The Holy Virgin was the first to do this, and was later followed by the many who dedicated their lives to virginity in service of Christ’s Holy Church.
The Feast of the Presentation had its origin, we are told, in Syria where the writings of the Feast speak of its celebration honoring the beginning of Mary’s pious education.
The practice of making vows and dedicating a child to God begins with this very ancient practice. In Arabic this kind of commitment is called nidr or “vow.” It is what was practiced in certain communities where children (though much older than the age of 3 are dedicated to the service of God in monastic communities. Today this is not so common.
It boggles the mind to understand or to even accept such an idea in today’s world, when parents dedicate their child to the church. However, we live in different times. Today a young girl (or a young man) makes a personal commitment on her own. But can you imagine having an only child, such as in the case of Joachim and Anna, who was dedicated by her parents to God? We’re speaking about: placing her in the care of the Temple.
We are told that Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Holy Virgin, were childless for over 50 years. And it is very possible that their commitment to God was something that did not make it as difficult as we would think.
What follows in the life of the Holy Virgin is her being betrothed to Joseph. You know the rest of the story. It is something to be unfolded very soon in the coming Feast of the Holy Nativity.
There are definite challenges that the life of the Holy Virgin, and her parents present to us today. And Christians who take this seriously recognize that there are a number of assumptions in what we pray and believe. It would help to list some of them:
Marriage is consummated with the procreation of children and pray for this blessing. We hear it clearly repeated in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony …and that He would make them glad with the sight of sons and daughters, Let us pray to the Lord…
The blessing of a marriage and the institution of a family begins with a husband and wife (a man and a woman) who desire to have children, and do not marry with an agreement to avoid having children; otherwise, we’d have to edit the prayers of our Sacrament.
While the church blesses a second marriage for a widowed person and recognizes the divorce of couples, there is no “blessing” for a divorce; only God’s mercy.
Children of the faith are expected to be educated in the faith, and parents and Godparents are held responsible by the church to see that their children are nurtured and taught by the church and the faithful.
This last point is where we know there is much to be done; first because raising a child in the Christian faith presupposes that parents are practicing believers of the faith. It is not uncommon today for parents to expect the education of their children to be done by someone else. One of the honest reasons, I am told, is their own struggle with what they actually believe about a faith that they were “brought up with.”
Some of us have had the experience of being a part of “patriarchal families;” when the role of the father was being the “breadwinner” and mothers were considered “homemakers,” and the role of a child’s education was considered the primary responsibility of a mother. Today, that is not very common.
More than 15.5 million children today are living with a single mother and more than 3 million live with a single father. And there are many more facts. More than 400,000 children are in foster care. 135,000 children are adopted in the U.S. each year; 26% are from other countries. These are just a few statistics of the reality of our day. All of our families today face many challenges, even though, parents today are not having as many children as some of our grandparents did many years ago. My grandmother had nine siblings! Just think of what that was like. And in those days a house had no more than one bathroom!
I often hear from parents who tell me: “We didn’t learn so much about our Church teaching and Tradition as what is being made available today. Well, to that I must say, there is no reason why parents cannot learn with their children; and spend time praying with their children, and attending church with their children, just as many parents are today are more involved in their child’s education.
And so the great task for all of us today is: helping young and old, married, unmarried, educated, uneducated, rich and poor, to believe by first being believers and knowing what we believe! Second, to practice what we believe. If we don’t get past the believing part, the practice will be of no relevance.
In the early church, there was a Liturgical Tradition before there was a common creed and before there was a canon of scripture! The church’s Liturgical Tradition provided the framework for teaching the faith with the creed and the canon. This was based upon our Christian motto: Lex orendi, lex credence — We live (and pray) what we believe.
The more this is cultivated, the more it is realized, the stronger our families will become. Our families, and our family of families (called the Church), are the product what we call the holy and “unbreakable bonds of love” blessed by God with a purpose. It comprises husbands and wives, those who are celibate, parents and children, godparents and sponsors, spiritual Fathers and Mothers, all who comprise the people of God, — Christ’s church, called the Body of Christ. One of it’s beginnings is in what we celebrate today in the Presentation of the all-holy Mother of God who was presented by her parents, Ss. Joachim and Anna, in the Jerusalem Temple.
Through the intercessions of the all-Holy, Mother of God, the Theotokos, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us.