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November 21, 2020

The Entrance of the Theotokos as a Time of Preparation (Archimandrite Placide Deseille)

By Archimandrite Placide Deseille
This feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos, which is so close to the beginning of the Christmas forty-day fast, is a wonderful introduction to this period as we prepare to honor the Nativity of the Lord and celebrate it as a new incarnation of Christ in the manger of our hearts. For this will be precisely the grace of Christmas: that Christ may always be born more and more within us, that He always transform us more and more in Him in the depths of our hearts, so that this presence radiates to all of our being and in our whole life.

The Virgin Mary was so wonderfully prepared by God for her role as the Mother of God. Even as a child, she entered the Temple, she who would be the true Ark of the Covenant, the true place of the presence of God among men; she entered the Temple which was made by man, but foreshadowed, announced the final abode of God among men, which was not made by man, which would mark the time of the Gospel and the time in which we live.

Perhaps no Gospel passage would fit better on this feast than the passage we traditionally read on all the feasts of the Mother of God, that of Martha and Mary. It is certainly Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, but as the Church chooses to read it, we feel strongly how it distinguishes everything that refers to the Mother of God. It speaks here of her only under the veil of someone who was like her, who bore the same name, as if through a veil of silence. Because this  was the best, the only way, to reveal something unspoken.

The Theotokos always lived in obscurity. In the Gospels she maintains this invisible position. They do not talk much about her. Only through this image of Mary of Bethany sitting at the feet of the Lord is our mind transferred to the essence of the mystery of the Mother of God: to this hearing, a hearing that consents to the word by which Christ incarnated in her. With her answer to the word of God, the unheard-of mystery of the Incarnation could be fulfilled, the Word could be born among us.

Yes, and in all this time of preparation, which reminds us of today's feast, the Theotokos was already sitting at the feet of the Lord, in the sense that she had to study, ponder, internalize the Scriptures through which all the anticipation of the people of Israel was appropriated, all their desire for the coming of the Messiah. She welcomed this desire, she lived it deeply with all that poverty that was an expression of her soul, the poverty of the spirit that was her invisibility, with all that renunciation of all self-affirmation, with that withdrawal that allowed her to accept the word and to consent, and thus prepare for the supreme consent she would give on the day of the Annunciation.

At the same time, this feast allows us also to enter this mystery of the Theotokos, to participate in it and thus prepare with her for Christmas, for the Birth of Christ. We must do exactly like she did, to enter the temple, in this sacred wilderness of the Scriptures, away from all the worries and anxieties of the world.

Of course, it is impossible not to think of earthly things; we must also deal with them to some degree, depending on the duties and roles we have to perform within our community. But our thinking should not be anxious and troubled. All of this, worry, anxiety, panic, is what hinders the inner attention that prepares us for the coming of Christ. Our activities are not an obstacle, but provided that they do not turn into anxious worries.

All our thoughts, all our inner attitudes must be enlivened by faith and trust in God; this will allow us to engage in the tasks to which we must devote time, our necessary works, and at the same time perform them without anxiety, without turmoil, without it disturbing us, without becoming an obstacle to this inner attention, which is so essential, the essential of our monastic life.

Yes, this is how we must enter the temple of our heart, so that it becomes more and more a temple of the Lord. Entering the temple of the heart does not only mean avoiding inner anxiety, but - and from this we must begin - avoiding whatever brings curiosity, whatever brings distraction, that it is characterized by greed to see, touch, hear and taste outside things. To avoid them, so that I can be careful in the inner presence of the Lord, in this movement of my heart that brings me to Him Who is in its depths, because the Holy Spirit has registered Him there. And Who will leave us, to the extent that we become too extroverted.

Yes, during this preparatory period for Christmas, fasting is not important; it must of course be combined, but only to help our body, our whole being, participate in this inner posture, which is also the essential.

Yes, in these blessed days let us be careful as we enter this temple of our heart, in this sacred wilderness, I might say, separated from all that is in the world, in the bad sense of the word. In this way we will indeed be guided by the inner light of the Lord to meet Him, which we will celebrate at Christmas. "In Your light we shall see light" (Psalm 10:10).

To Him be the glory, together with His everlasting Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.