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The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

““We are the temple of the living God…”

Commemorating the presentation of St. Mary to the temple by her parents, this feast marks the transition of the dwelling place of God – from the inanimate temple to the first living, human temple of God – Mary the Mother of God.

Date: This feast is celebrated on November 21.

Background: Though the details of the birth and early life of the Virgin Mary are not recorded in the Holy Scriptures, these have been passed down to us from a 2nd century document known as the Gospel of James or Protoevangelion.

Elderly and childless, the devout couple – Joachim and Anna, vowed to God that the child God would give them would be dedicated to the service of God. In due time Anna bore a daughter named Mary.

Their daughter was raised in Nazareth till age 3 after which, fulfilling their vows, the parents took Mary to Temple in Jerusalem, where the priest Zechariah (the father of St. John the Baptist) received her, and she lived1 and served as a Temple virgin2 until the time she was betrothed to St. Joseph.

The Icon of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

Photo by Fr Ted is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The icon of the feast marks the moment when young Mary enters the temple for the first time. There we see the High Priest, Zacharias in his priestly robes standing on the step of the Temple. His arms are outstretched, ready to receive little Mary who is depicted with her arms reaching up to him.

Behind Mary stand her parents St. Joachim and Anna who came to offer their child to God’s service. Behind them are shown young maidens who escorted Mary from the village of Nazareth to the temple.

It is very symbolic that, at the upper left portion of the Icon, the Holy Virgin is shown seated on the steps of the Holy of Holies, and an angel is shown ministering to her who was chosen by God to bring the Savior into the world.

How the Feast is observed

Like the Feast of the Theotokos’s Nativity, the Feast of her Entrance into the temple is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy during which special Scripture portions are read that talk mainly about the prophecies related to the Theotokos.

Most of the readings from the Old Testament ((Exodus 40:1-5, 9-10, 16, 34-35; I Kings 7:51, 8:1, 3-4, 6-7, 9-11; and Ezekiel 43:27-44) talk about how the glory of God filled His temple several times in the past. The epistle reading is from Hebrews 9:1-7, and speaks of the tabernacle of the old covenant, which is now being replaced. Finally, as in all the feasts that relate to the Theotokos, the Magnificat of St. Mary is read from Lk 1.47–50.

The Orthodox also consider Psalm 45 as a prophecy directly linked to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the temple and her years of service there.

Significance of the feast

The feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple celebrates the end of the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. On this feast we celebrate that we too are called to be the house and tabernacle of the Lord. As St. Paul said

“We are the temple of the living God, as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor 6.16; Is 52.11).” (Acts 2:2–4)

In other words, this feast marks the transition of the dwelling place of God – from a manmade temple, to man himself as the temple of God – thus inaugurating the New Testament in which are fulfilled the prophecies of old that “the dwelling of God is with man” (Ezek. 37.27; Jn 14.15–23; Acts 7.47; 2 Cor 6.11; Eph 2.18–22; 1 Pet 2.4; Rev 22.1–4).

“Today is the prelude of the good-will of God, the first preaching of the coming of grace, the Virgin appears in the Temple of God. In anticipation, proclaiming Christ to all. Let us come and sing to her: Rejoice, O abode of heaven. Rejoice, O Temple of the living God who is our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

As this hymn sung on the feast reminds us that this a feast of anticipation. This feast is held just a month before the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas), and so it helps the Church by honoring St. Mary, to look forward to the Incarnation of Christ, and to remind ourselves that like her, we are called to be the temples of God.

1 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.

2Like the prophet Samuel, there were many consecrated children who were raised in the temple to serve God. But in the case of girls, the virgins could only serve until they reached the age of puberty, after which they were given off to be married and raise families.

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