Mary: The Temple of God

“The most pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Bridal Chamber and Virgin, the sacred Treasury of the glory of God, is being brought today into the house of the Lord; and with her she brings the grace of the divine Spirit; of her God’s Angels sing in praise: she is indeed the heavenly tabernacle

Kontakion of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos (21st November)

The feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple seems like a strange festival. We have a story of a three year old girl, brought to the Temple of Solomon. Here the priest Zacharias, leads her into the Holy of Holies.
What is this all about and what can we learn?

This feast originated in the later history of the Church, in the so-called Byzantine era. Emperor Justinian built a Church dedicated to the Mother of God, in Jerusalem, in the place where the Temple of Solomon is said to have stood. This church was consecrated on November 20th 534AD and this event is remembered on November 21st every year. At the end of the seventh century and beginning of the eighth, this feast was linked to an ancient Christian tale. In this story, first found in the protoevangelion of James, the Virgin Mary at the age of three was bought by her priest to the temple by her devout parents, Joachim and Anna .and dedicated to God. In the icon of the feast she is usually depicted accompanied by other young girls carrying candles leading the virgin Mary in procession to the sanctuary the symbolism is. The symbolism is rich, Mary becomes a candle of God, His dwelling-place, His temple, and pure living worship

The symbolism of the temple is replete in this feast. It is not only the Mother of God who is seen as the temple of God, Christ calls himself the temple. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” …he spoke of the temple of his body.” (John 2:19-21) He is the Temple of God  “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). At the same time he is our temple as head of the Body of the Church, which we are invited to through holy baptism. In this way our baptism is our own entrance into the Temple of Jesus Christ, the very place where the mystery of our salvation takes place together with all the saints. Within the Church,  fallen and broken man is healed, illumined and sanctified.

So why do we have all these “entrances” in succession? Maybe they are to prepare us for our final entrance to the New Jerusalem, as the Book of Revelation says, ” I saw no temple there, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22)

The connection between the Temple of Jerusalem and this feast of the virgin contains rich symbolism. The importance of earthly temples was explained in an earlier post. All the ancient religions followed the view that God or the gods not only lived in heaven but had a dwelling place on earth within their sanctuaries and temples. It is in the temple that the difference between heaven and earth vision abolished. In this view ever entered the temple was also at the heavenly throne of God. In the temple the categories of heaven and earth are surpassed and the boundaries become relative. So in the mind of the ancients the temple was a part of the earth that reached up to heaven or a part of heaven which touched the earth.

It was notions such as these which prevented the ordinary laity from entering the temple. Thus, the only people to enter the inner sanctum of the temple in Jerusalem were the archpriests, who entered once again to sprinkle the blood of sacrifice that was offered in the courtyard. Jesus Christ abolished the segregation of space where divinity dwells and space where humanity dwells. God became man and came to live amongst men, and thus abolished every separation between divine and human.

When God became man the whole of the world became the temple in which all human beings have the possibility to commune directly with God. Thus, the universe itself is represented in the architecture of the Christian temple,i.e. the church building. Each part of it represents a part of the world. The floor represents a earth, the ceiling heaven, clearly shown by the image of the Almighty usually represented in the dome. The apse of the sanctuary unites heaven and earth, and in this part we usually have representation of the Mother of God. This is to show that through the actions of Mother of God heaven was united with earth.

The Temple of Jerusalem symbolizes God’s dwelling place, and the womb of the Virgin was indeed the dwelling place of God. If the Temple in Jerusalem symbolises the heavenly throne of God, the Virgin Mary was the true throne of God and thus we see in the hymns for this feast :

Rejoice Heaven and Earth
Beholding the Spiritual (Noetic) Heaven 
enter the House of God  
to be reared in reverence

With the abolition of the borders between heaven and earth, in the Incarnation of the Word and Divine Oeconomy of Salvation, we are all given the opportunity to become citizens of heaven. However to do this, we must be true temples of the living God, our lives must reflect this by not being part-time Sunday Christians but being Christians every hour of every day showing true praise and worship for God in our everyday actions and our everyday lives – in the decisions we make and the lives we lead.

We are called to shine our lights forth in the world, and to do this we must be prepared in all our actions to hear the call of God and say, “Behold the handmaid/servant of the Lord be it done to me according to thy word.”

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