Friday, June 22, 2012
GOD COMES HUMBLY TO HIS PEOPLE: THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD IN THE TEMPLE
This is the icon of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. Obliged by the Mosaic Law Mary and Joseph go to the temple, the heart of the Jewish religion, to offer up the sacrifice of two doves, the offering of the poor. They have toiled their way up through the city to the Temple and up the long stairs and now God made man is carried into the temple built for His worship. The new Ark of the Covenant, the pure tongs who holds in her arms Christ the burning coal sent to purify man, stands on the temple mount. The true Holy of Holies is in the midst of the people of Israel, the Law-giver comes as a subject of the Law and hardly anyone notices.
The icon shows the moment when the Blessed Virgin handed over her Son to Simeon for circumcision. No mother wants her child to suffer but as a Jewess her heart also must have swelled with joy too, joy that her Son was to become an official member of Israel, the Chosen People. She stands near the altar which is covered by a ciborium, a dome on four pillars. This is a reference to the Mass, the Divine Liturgy, where Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross is offered to the Father and His Body and Blood are made present. She who gave God a body and blood now presents her Son so that He may offer His Body and shed His Blood for us.
Joseph stands at the left. In his hands are the two doves. Here is a man of silence. His words are nowhere recorded but the Father put His Son and the Mother of His Son into his care. There can be no greater tribute. The two doves were offered to 'redeem' the life of the first born. The Redeemer is redeemed with the sacrifice of the poor. He comes humbly and silently in the arms of a maiden.
Simeon bows to receive the Precious Son of God made man. In the Orthodox Liturgy for this feast he is said to tremble. Christ Himself is shown as the man-child, already aware of His Mission. Behind the Blessed Virgin, the Theotokos, stands Anna. In her hand is a scroll whose inscription I cannot decipher but it does not seem to be a quotation of Simeon's words. She is already spreading the word of the extraordinary event.