The Seventh Day of Christmas Advent. The Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple
The Feast of the Entrance of the Virgin in the Temple is believed to be not among the most ancient festivals of the Church. However, indications that the Feast was observed in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of Palestinian Christians, which say that the holy Empress Helen (May 21) built a church in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, also mentions this Feast, along with Sts. Jerome and Epiphanius. St. Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740) had known about it and his hymns are found throughout the Service books for this Feast. Saint Germanos I, Patriarch of Constantinople from 715 to 730, wrote two homilies for the Feast. Saint Tarasios (+ 806), the Patriarch, introduced it at Constantinople a century later as an official Feast, though it had already been celebrated. St. George of Nicomedia (9th cent.) wrote three sermons on the subject which address every detail of the Feast, including a beautiful homily which addresses rhetorically the temple itself.
The festival blossomed forth from the Tradition of the Church, which made use of the second century apocryphal source, the Protoevangelium, in order to emphasize the fulfillment of the economy of the Creator and the self-consecration of the chosen Virgin to a life in the service of God. The Church breaks the silence of the canonical Gospels that we may behold the incomprehensible ways of Providence which prepare Mary, the receptacle of the Word and the Mother predetermined before the ages. She who was preached by the prophets is now introduced into the Holy of Holies, like a hidden treasure of the glory of God. “God has sanctified all things by her entry and has made godlike the fallen nature of mortal men” (Vespers Sticheron).
~From Mystagogy: The Weblog of John Sanidopoulos, (http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2009/11/on-entrance-of-virgin-mary-into-temple.html).
When the Most-Holy Virgin Mary reached the age of three, her holy parents Joachim and Anna took her from Nazareth to Jerusalem to dedicate her to the service of God according to their earlier promise. It was a three-day journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem but, traveling to do a God-pleasing work, this journey was not difficult for them.
Many kinsmen of Joachim and Anna gathered in Jerusalem to take part in this event, at which the invisible angels of God were also present. Leading the procession into the Temple were virgins with lighted tapers in their hands, then the Most-Holy Virgin, led on one side by her father and on the other side by her mother. The virgin was clad in vesture of royal magnificence and adornments as was befitting the “King’s daughter, the Bride of God” (Psalm 45:13-15). Following them were many kinsmen and friends, all with lighted tapers.
Fifteen steps led up to the Temple. Joachim and Anna lifted the Virgin onto the first step, then she ran quickly to the top herself, where she was met by the High Priest Zacharias, who was to be the father of St. John the Forerunner. Taking her by the hand, he led her not only into the Temple, but into the “Holy of Holies”, the holiest of holy places, into which no one but the high priest ever entered, and only once each year, at that. St. Theophylact of Ochrid says that Zacharias “was outside himself and possessed by God” when he led the Virgin into the holiest place in the Temple, beyond the second curtain – otherwise, his action could not be explained.
Mary’s parents then offered sacrifice to God according to the Law, received the priest’s blessing and returned home. The Most-holy Virgin remained in the Temple and dwelt there for nine full years. While her parents were alive, they visited her often, especially Righteous Anna.
When God called her parents from this world, the Most-holy Virgin was left an orphan and did not wish to leave the Temple until death or to enter into marriage. As that would have been against the Law and custom of Israel, she was given to St. Joseph, her kinsman in Nazareth, after reaching the age of twelve. Under the acceptable role of one betrothed, she could live in virginity and thus fulfill her desire and formally satisfy the Law, for it was then unknown in Israel for maidens to vow virginity to the end of their lives. The Most-holy Virgin Mary was the first of such life-vowed virgins, of the thousands and thousands of virgin men and women who would follow her in the Church of Christ.
~By St. Nikolai Velimirovich, taken from Mystagogy: The Weblog of John Sanidopoulos, (http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/11/entry-into-temple-of-most-holy.html