February 2, 2014

The Reception of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

This feast commemorates the bringing of Jesus Christ to the temple by the Most Holy Mary, after the fulfillment of the days of purification (Lk. 2:22-39), established in the law of Moses (Lev. 12:2-8; Ex. 13:2, 13; Num. 3:13, 8:16-18) with an offering for redemption consisting of 5 shekels. Although the Immaculate Virgin had no need of purification, she nonetheless came to the temple to fulfill the law. In the temple the Child was met by the righteous Symeon (Feb. 3). In sacred joy the holy elder sings praise and thanksgiving to God, having fulfilled the expectation of his heart, and, inspired with the feeling of unearthly blessing, takes the Child in his embrace and in the decline of his days utters the wonderful words, which the Holy Church repeats daily in the Vespers hymn at sunset: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel" (Lk. 2:29-32). Hearing these words, Joseph and Mary marveled at them for these words clearly witnessed that the mystery of God was already revealed to the righteous Symeon. Continuing then his divinely inspired prophecy, the righteous elder turned to Mary and pointing to the Child, said: "Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through Thine own soul also), that the thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk. 2:34-35).

While the holy elder uttered his prophetic speech about the Divine Child, the Righteous Anna was in the temple (Feb. 3). She also added her inspired voice to the voice of Symeon, giving glory to God and, as a prophetess, probably, prophesying about the Child in a prophetic sense. Having fulfilled in the temple all that was required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth with the Divine Child.

From the event of the Reception of the Divine Child by the righteous Symeon the feast received its name in the Orthodox Church. The Event of the Reception is celebrated on February 2 because this day is 40 days after December 25. The origin of the feast goes back to deep antiquity. Undoubtedly, this feast was known in the 4th Century in the Church of Jerusalem; from Jerusalem it passed to other Churches in the 5th-6th centuries. Actually the solemn commemoration in the Western Church and in the East did not begin at one and the same time. Western writers attribute the establishment of the solemn commemoration of this feast (actually the Litya) to one Pope Gelasius (in the year 496), and others to St. Gregory the Great (in the year 600), and they believe, that in this way the named Popes meant to destroy the pagan feast of Lupercalia which fell in February and during that period was still strong among the Romans. The solemn commemoration of the Reception began in the Eastern Church in the time of Justinian (to 541-542). At the end of 541 in Constantinople and its surroundings appeared a strong plague continuing for 3 months and by the end of each day from 5 to up to 10 thousand people died. This affliction was soon joined by a new one - an earthquake in Antioch that destroyed many buildings and destroyed a lot of people. During these afflictions on the feast of the Reception in Constantinople an all national solemn prayer, or Litya, was done for deliverance from evil, and the afflictions stopped. In grateful commemoration of the deliverance from afflictions the church prescribed the Litya on this feast before the liturgy in the monasteries (outside the dwellings). 

Celebrating the Reception of the Lord, the Holy Church, confessing and asserting that "Christ revealed Himself to the world not as an opinion, or a phantom, but in truth", accuses those ancient false teachers who rejected the human nature in Jesus Christ, considering this to be unworthy and untrue of God. Together with this example of the Savior and His Immaculate Mother, who did all that was required by the law, it inspires us to fulfill the rules and rites of the Holy Church and reminds us of our churching in the Church of Christ, about our consecration to God, to Whom we also should bring our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice, pure and full of grace. Besides this the Holy Church, singing of Sts. Symeon and Anna on this feast, inspires us to find according to the example of the righteous Symeon, graceful comfort and salvation in Christ, entrusting to Him a beneficial meditation on his life and death, and by the example of the Prophetess Anna, as often as possible, to visit the temple of God and thank the Lord with prayers and fasting. Finally, the feast of the Reception teaches us, in the afflictions that overtake us, to turn to the Lord God, the ever quick Helper and Protector of all who call on Him with faith and true repentance.