Today we celebrate the great feast of the Introduction of the Virgin, which by decision of St. Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church since 1929 is also celebrated as the Day of the Christian Family and of the Orthodox Christian Learning Youth; according to the original plan – a day for Christianization, for communion with Christ and His Church. The day was non-educational and began with the Holy Liturgy, in which the students partook. Unfortunately, after the communist rule, this holiday has today been emptied of its Christian content.
That’s the Bible story.
When the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, turned three years old, Her holy and righteous parents Joachim and Anna decided to fulfill the vow they had made – to give the child born to them in the service of God. They summoned to Nazareth, where they lived, all their relatives of the royal and the bishop’s family – because the righteous Joachim himself was of the royal family, and his wife, the holy Anna, was of the bishop’s family, and also a chorus of virgins. They prepared many candles and surrounded the Immaculate Virgin Mary with royal splendor, as the holy fathers testify.
St. James, Archbishop of Jerusalem, spoke on behalf of the righteous Joachim thus:
- Call the chaste Jewish daughters to take burning candles.
St. German, Patriarch of Constantinople, spoke on behalf of righteous Anna like this:
- I fulfill before the Lord the vow that I uttered in a state of grief and therefore I gathered a choir of virgins with candles, called priests, invited relatives, saying to everyone: rejoice with me, everyone, because I have become a mother and parent, and now I bring my Daughter not to an earthly king, but with God, the heavenly King.
Saint Theophylact, Archbishop of Bulgaria, spoke about the royal decoration of the Virgin Mary:
- It was necessary that the introduction of the most Divine Maiden should be worthy of Her, not to touch this very bright and very precious Pearl poor garment. It was necessary to clothe Her in royal robes, for the greatest glory and decoration.
Having arranged everything as it should be for the fair and glorious introduction, they set out on their way from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and traveled for three days.
Arriving in the city of Jerusalem, they solemnly entered the temple and led there the animated temple of God, the three-year-old girl, the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Before her walked a chorus of virgins with lighted candles, as testified by Saint Tarasius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who put the following words into the mouth of holy Anna:
- Begin (the procession), virgins who bear candles, and precede me and the Virgin.
The holy parents, standing on both sides of her, took their God-given Daughter by the hands and led her with tenderness and honor. After them joyfully followed the whole host of relatives, neighbors and acquaintances with candles in their hands and surrounded the Immaculate Virgin like stars in the bright moon to the astonishment of all Jerusalem.
With gaiety and great joy, the Maiden walked in the Lord’s house as in a palace, because, although young in age, she was perfect by God’s grace as foreknown and pre-chosen by God before the creation of peace.
Thus the Pure and Most Blessed Virgin Mary was introduced into the temple of God. At this, the high priest Zechariah did an extraordinary and amazing thing for everyone: he brought the young girl into the tabernacle itself, called the “Holy of Holies”, which was behind the second curtain and where was the ark of the Covenant, covered with gold on all sides, with Cherubim of glory, overshadowing the purgatory, where not only the women but also the priests were not allowed to enter, but only the high priest, once a year. There High Priest Zacharias assigned a place for prayer to the Most Holy and Pure Virgin. All the other virgins at the temple, according to the testimony of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Gregory of Nyssa, had a designated place for prayer between the church and the altar. None of these virgins were to approach the altar in any way, because this was most strictly forbidden by the high priests. And the Immaculate Virgin, from the moment of her introduction, was not forbidden to approach the altar, to enter the inner altar hourly, behind the second curtain, and pray there. This was done by the high priest by the mysterious guidance of God, of which St. Theophylact speaks thus:
- The high priest, being then beside himself, possessed by the Spirit of God, understood that this young woman was a receptacle of Divine grace and that she was more worthy than he to always be before God’s Face. Remembering what was said in the Law about the ark, that it should be in the Holy of Holies, he immediately understood that this was foreordained for this Maiden, he did not in the least doubt or stop, daring, despite the Law, to bring Her in in the Holy of Holies.
The righteous parents Joachim and Anna, as the blessed Jerome writes, having submitted their child to the will of the Heavenly Father, brought gifts to God, sacrifices and offerings. Having received a blessing from the high priest and the entire assembly, the priests returned home with all their relatives and arranged a feast there, rejoicing and thanking God.
From the very beginning of her life in the Lord’s house, the Blessed Virgin was given to the room for virgins, because the Jerusalem Temple, built by Solomon, then destroyed and rebuilt by Zerubbabel, had many living rooms, as the ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote. Outside, to the walls of the temple, were attached stone buildings, 30 in number, separated from each other, spacious and very beautiful.
The three-year-old virgin, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, was committed to the virgins’ quarters, where older virgins skilled in writing and needlework were attached to her, so that the Virgin from a young age could learn writing and needlework. The Bogotians Joachim and Anna often visited Her. St. Anne especially often came as a mother to see her Daughter and teach her. According to the testimonies of Saint Ambrose and the historian George, the Virgin soon studied the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures to perfection. And not only the Scriptures, but She also learned needlework beautifully, as St. Epiphanius speaks of it:
- She was distinguished by strength of mind and love of learning. Not only did she study the Holy Scriptures, but she practiced spinning wool and linen and sewing silk. She amazed everyone with her prudence. She mainly dealt with things needed by the priests for the service in the temple. She learned needlework so well that later, with her Son, she was able to earn a living with it. With her own hands, She made a chiton for the Lord Jesus, which was not sewn, but all woven.
The Immaculate Virgin, as well as the other virgins (says the same saint), usually received food from the temple. But She gave it to beggars and strangers, because she was fed with heavenly bread, as the Church sings. Saint Germanus says that She usually stayed in the Holy of Holies, where she received sweet food from an angel. Saint Andrew of Crete spoke thus:
- In the Holy of Holies, as in a hall, She received extraordinary and imperishable food.
Such is the calling of every one who is brought into the temple of God—not merely to enter and then to depart, but to remain forever. And something more – to become the home of Christ himself through Holy Communion and through every spiritual grace.
For some, the introduction to faith and the Church takes place at an early age. For others – in junior, and for many – even in advanced. For us Christians, it takes place through Holy Baptism, but not only. In addition to Baptism, instruction, transmission of faith and experience, training are also necessary. And if spiritual education is also necessary for adults, then what is left for children!
For many of us, the introduction to the temple comes down to one introduction. “We christened him – done!” – proudly and smugly exclaim the happy parents. And that’s it. This is the end of the spiritual care, this is the limitation of the fact that “we are a Christian family and by tradition – Orthodox”. From here on, only care for bodily satisfaction continues, often in excess. The aspirations for a good education also continue – a prestigious school, a computer… The trouble, of course, is not in this, but in the fact that the unwritten sign “Christian home” remains lonely, dusty and forgotten, hanging imaginary above the armored front door with modern locks and alarm systems…
Thus, one day, the only thing that the grown-up Christian remembers from his “introduction to the temple” is the sometimes heard: “you are baptized.” Because he himself cannot remember that moment. However, the consciousness that you were once baptized is not enough. Moreover, in the meantime, life (so as not to blame the parents) has wide opened other doors – to materialism or to “alternative spirituality”, i.e. sects, drug addiction, delusions. Modern intellectual Ariadne, besides being in a spiritual labyrinth, have before them a tangled web of dozens of threads. Which one should you choose?
God’s temple also stands open and awaits introductions. Many people enter it, everyone lights a candle, everyone says their prayer – nothing bad. Many are getting married – almost all of them have already gone through the “council”. There are also baptisms. And that’s good.
But introductions are few.