Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Entering the Holy of Holies

Since early days the Church has given to the Mother of God titles of holiness greater than those which are given to any saint. She is called the All-holy, Panagía. We venerate Her as One who is greater and holier than the Cherubim and the Seraphim, greater than the angels of God who, endowed with vision, can see, contemplate and adore, greater than the angels of God who are, as it were, the throne of the Most High. Because the ones as the others see, worship, serve God as their Lord, as their Master, and yet somehow they remain farther from Him than She, who in Her exceeding holiness has become the kin of God, has become the Mother of the Incarnate Word, who is the Bride, the perfect revelation of what the whole creation is called to be and to become.

The Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God to the Temple quite obviously raises historical problems. We know that in Israel no one was allowed into the Holy of Holies, that the High Priest entered it only once a year after having undergone purification by sacrificial blood. What the feast stands for primarily is described, enlarged on, in a sermon on prayer written in the 19th century by Theophan the Recluse. The Holy of Holies, he says, is the heart of hearts of human worship. It is the place where men in the Old Testament can meet God to the extent to which God can be met. It is the heart of the mystery of Israel. It is also the point which somehow is beyond the point of the sacrificed. The sacrifice opens the door to it. The sacrifice somehow remains this side of it. And to enter into the Holy of Holies means first and foremost to enter into that depth of adoration, into that depth of prayer which makes one present to the living God, which makes one stand face to face with the living God. The presentation of the Mother of God, apart from historical features, is extolled by the Church because it indicates to us where She stands in the whole of Her life, in the divine presence in complete surrender, in complete adoration.

Tradition has it that she was brought by Joachim and Anna. On the icons you can see young girls with candles bringing her to the temples. She was handed over to the high priest, who took Her into the place to which he had no access himself. Now I don't think there is any advantage in discussing the possible historicity of an event of that kind. From a purely historical point of view it is unlikely that it could have happened. But what matters is what it stands for, and it stands for a moment when, having reached the maturity of a young child, but the maturity of one who can already worship, serve, lend an ear, be ready to respond and to obey, She chose all that and went into that depth of obedience, of listening, of attention to what was God's will. By what I say I do not mean to say that it did or did not happen. But what matters as far as She is concerned is obviously this aspect of the thing much more than the historicity of the event as described in icons or in folkloric tradition.

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14


Tarheel Mama said...

I am in inquirer and have read your blog for the past two years. To be honest, your pursuit of Christ has kept me on the path of looking into Orthodoxy. But the past couple of posts about the veracity of the stories of the saints and this one about the story of the Theotokos strikes at the heart of things I struggle with. I agree with your thoughts in both of these posts and I do not know how to reconcile them with what I am seeing in Orthodoxy. Would you be kind enough to help me see how to embrace Orthodoxy when it embraces these seemingly fantastic views of saints and Mary. It seems to be the same passion Protestants have for Sola Scriptura. Please know I am not arguing, only wanting to understand.

Thank you for your thoughtful, pure posts which point to Christ.


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Dear Laura,

I have tried my best to respond to your questions. Forgive me, if I have muddied the waters even more. My response was too long to post as a comment, so I have published it as a post here:

If you like, we can communicate outside of the blog via email.

Thanks for your comment, Sister.

In Christ,