February 2, 2018

The Oldest Written Account of the Celebration of the Reception of Christ at the Temple

The oldest written account of the solemn celebration of the Feast of the Reception of our Lord dates back to the fourth century and is the work of a Spanish Nun, Egeria, who kept a diary of her pilgrimage to the Holy Land toward the end of that century (380's). In it she writes:

"The fortieth day after the Epiphany* is undoubtedly celebrated here** with the very highest honor, for on that day there is a procession,*** in which all take part, in the Anastasis,**** and all things are done in their order with the greatest joy, just as at Easter. All the priests, and after them the bishop, preach, always taking for their subject that part of the Gospel where Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple on the fortieth day, and Symeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, saw Him, treating of the words which they spake when they saw the Lord, and of that offering which His parents made. And when everything that is customary has been done in order, the eucharist is celebrated, and the dismissal takes place." (Egeria, Diary of a Pilgrimage, ch. 26)


* By Epiphany, read Christmas and Epiphany, which were celebrated together on January 6th, meaning that the Reception of Christ was celebrated on February 14th. It was later changed to February 2nd following the division of Epiphany and Christmas, when Christmas began to be celebrated on December 25th. It seems at this point, the feast had no specific name except The Fortieth Day After the Nativity, and later in the East, probably in the fifth or sixth century, it began to be called the "Reception" (Gr. Hypapante), since Christ was received by Symeon at the Temple, and in the West it became known as the "Purification", from Mary’s compliance with the legal purification prescribed by the Law (Lk. 2:22), or "Presentation", since Christ was presented as an offering at the Temple.

** By "here" Egeria means Jerusalem.

*** The Spanish Pilgrim Egeria made no mention of the use of candles in the procession in Jerusalem, since this custom was introduced later, toward the middle of the fifth century, by a Roman matron, Ikelia. Both Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) and Theodore of Ancyra (d. 446) mention the use of lights in the procession of this Feast in their homilies. The Chronicle of Theophanes attests to the candlelight processions in Constantinople in the sixth century. The use of candles for this Feast has also given it the name of "Candlemas".

**** The Anastasis was the main church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.