Greetings For the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord

“At that time, the parents brought the child Jesus to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the LORD, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Symeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.”  (Luke 2:22-40)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings to you all on the after-feast of the Meeting of the Lord, and the Synaxis of St Symeon and Anna.

In the ancient west, the present feast marked the end of the festive season that began at the Nativity, sealed at the Presentation of the Christ-Child in the Temple with St Symeon’s words confirming the Infant as the “Light to enlighten the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people, Israel…”

Both Israel and the Gentiles, had already paid homage to the Saviour – Israel in the shepherds and the Gentiles in the magi – but this feast marks the recognition of the long awaited Saviour of both Jewry and ‘the nations’ in the heart and centre of Israel and the Jewish faith, in the courts of the Temple in whose sanctuary the Mother of God had been prepared for her role in the Incarnation by prayer and divine-communion, and where she was now purified on the fortieth day after the birth of the Saviour.

The festal hymns remind us that the seemingly mundane outward appearance of the presentation of just another first-born son in the Temple, was in fact the entrance of the Only-Begotten Son and Word of God, the Ancient of Days, God of God and Light of Light: the Creator, the Giver of the law, and the promised Messiah, spoken of by the prophets. 

“Tell us, O Symeon: Whom bearest thou into the temple in thine arms, rejoicing? To Whom dost thou cry aloud: “Now have I been freed, for I have beheld my Saviour! ” “He is the One Who is born of the Virgin! He is God the Word, Who from God became incarnate for our sake and saveth man! Let us worship Him!

Receive, O Symeon, Him Whom Moses beheld in the gloom on Sinai giving the law, and Who hath become a babe, submitting to the law. He is the One Who speaketh through the law; He is the One spoken of by the prophets, Who for our sake hath become incarnate and saveth man. Let us worship Him!”

Let us come and greet Christ with divine hymns, and let us receive Him Whom Symeon perceived as our salvation. He is the One Whom David proclaimed beforehand; He is the One spoken of in the prophets, Who for our sake hath become incarnate and speaketh through the law. Let us worship Him.”

(Vesperal stikhira on “Lord, I have cried…”)

In solidarity with the children whom He had created, Jesus the Great High Priest and New Passover Lamb, was brought into the Temple so that the Levitical priests could “redeem” Him, as the one Who had first opened His mother’s womb. 

In spiritual terms this could be seen as going beyond the ironic to the ridiculous – the Redeemer needing redeeming, as though He was just any other child and not the Lamb of God by Whom all would be saved, and through Whom all sacrifices would become obsolete, needless and abolished. 

Yet, this must be appreciated as a further sign of the condescending love of God, Who thought it not robbery to hide His Divinity to be clothed in human flesh and dwell among His sons and daughters, to save them as flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone: God-Incarnate for Whom no self-effacing, humble action was too much or too demeaning in seeking out His lost children.

As if the incarnation was not in itself a sufficient sign of the salvific and self-giving love of God, the Saviour allowed Himself to be circumcised in the flesh in obedience to the covenant and law, even though He was the giver of the covenant to the Patriarch Abraham and the Torah to Moses the God-seer. 

Even as a child only eight days old, in circumcision, He deigned to suffer the shedding of blood in a prophetic foretaste of His suffering and bloody-passion on Golgotha, showing the reality of His Incarnation, and the Church Fathers remind us that all of things which the Saviour deigns to endure for our salvation are to show us that He is trulyGod-Incarnate in the physical-reality and not just the appearance of flesh: a point borne out by the sessional hymn on the polyeleos of matins –

“Thou didst become a babe for my sake, O Ancient of Days, and didst partake of purification, O most pure God, that Thou mightest assure me of the flesh Thou didst receive from the Virgin. And Symeon, taught thereby, recognised Thee as God appearing in the flesh, and the elder kissed Thee, our Life, and, rejoicing, cried out: “Release me, for I have seen Thee, the Life of all!”

After His Nativity and circumcision, the God-Man further assured humanity of the reality of His flesh in His encounter with Symeon, who not only saw and held Christ – God-Incarnate – but kissed the Word made Flesh.

The ancient tradition of the Church is that Symeon was not simply a righteous elder, but one who had lived what seems to us an impossibly long life, like the forefathers of the Old Testament, living for centuries in anticipation of the Divine promise that he would see the Messiah before leaving this world.

However, having joyfully exclaimed “…mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people…”, he was not one who simply saw God Incarnate, but held the Messiah and Saviour in his own arms, as the culmination and fulfilment of the long life He was now content to leave behind as his life now had meaning and resolution, and his vigil had been fulfilled.

Having seen and held the Saviour, there was no more need for his old heart to beat, his bones to ache, or his weary flesh to struggle in life day by day. The crowning zenith of His life was to hold the Lord, and that moment task was done.

It is strange for us to imagine what it must have been like for him to hold the Christ-Child, knowing through the Holy Spirit, that this was the Saviour of the world. Yet, without ever denying the unimaginable magnitude of this wonderful moment, we need to recognise that whilst Symeon held the Saviour, he was of the Old Covenant and not called to the Divine encounter that we are granted through the sacramental life of the Church.

We refer to St Symeon as the God-Receiver, but in the waters of baptism each of us is called to be initiated into the death and resurrection of the Incarnate God, whom he held in his arms, and to put on Christ; by the operation of the Holy Spirit through Holy Chrism, each of is called to become His living temple, Whose seal and gift we are granted as the completion of the baptismal rite; in the wonder of the Holy Liturgy, each of us is also called to become a God-Receiver, receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood. Through the grace of the Holy Mysteries in the Church, we are called to become God-Receivers in ways that even Symeon, so holy, venerable and righteous, was not afforded.

St Symeon had waited year after year, decade by decade and perhaps even century after century for the moment in which he would behold the Messiah. Seeing child after child, generations born and generations dying, those long years would have been filled not only with expectation, but with prayer, fasting, and communion with God, in a long life of preparation for the brief moment in which he beheld and held Salvation as a person in his aged arms.

How do we struggle to become God-Receivers, called to receive and bear the same Christ that Symeon held at the Table of the Lamb, at which the Saviour continues to invite us to partake through His words, “Take eat; this is my body… Drink this, all of you; this is my blood… which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins…”?

It is no accident that the only place we liturgically read the Song of Symeon apart from vespers or great compline is in the prayers of thanksgiving after Holy Communion. Having received the Saviour in the Mysteries of His Body and Blood, we pray that, we may depart in peace, recognising that in Holy Communion we have received the same Lord Who was born in the Cave and laid in the manger; Who bled in His circumcision on the eighth day; Who was “redeemed” according to the sacrifices of the law on His fortieth day, as the “Light to enlighten the gentiles and the glory of His people, Israel.”

But, without prayer, fasting and repentance, how can any of us ever expect that it is possible to truly become a God-Receiver? Without continually striving to consecrate ourselves as holy temples to receive the Christ Whom Symeon met and received in the Temple, how can He be received and dwell in us.

Whilst the “Light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people, Israel” is the Light Who desires to enlighten all of humanity, dispelling the darkness of the fallen world, we must be desirous of everything He promises and brings in order to welcome Him, to spiritually embrace and hold Him as we receive Him as we confess, “I believe, O Lord, and I confess that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

One of the stikhira of the litia at vespers says that,

“Symeon bore the preëternal Word of the Father incarnate, and revealed to the nations the Light, the Cross and the Resurrection…” 

but this revelation can only be meaningful in us if we desire to embrace the Light, the Cross and the Resurrection, expressing this desire by the spiritual direction and impetus of our lives: only then will it be possible for us to even come close to being God-Receivers, as was the righteous Symeon.

The prophecy of Isaiah, the second reading of vespers, contains a warning, heard from the pre-incarnate Saviour –  dramatically contrasted to the Child held in the arms of Symeon in His appearance as…

 “the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of His glory. And seraphim stood round about Him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one cried to the other, and they said: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts! The whole earth is full of His glory!”

Isaiah is charged to –

“Go, and say to this people: ‘Ye shall hear indeed, but ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive.’ For the heart of this people hath become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”

We can so easily become like the Israelites in the time of Isaiah, through our carelessness, lack of attentiveness, laziness, and the continued postponement of spiritual labour and repentance. Despite the calling of our baptism, we do not embrace the Light, the Cross and the Resurrection… or somehow, mistakenly think that we can put things on hold. The reality is that there is no spiritual dormancy, only action or inaction. There is no neutral spiritual state of suspended animation.

Soon, the season of the Great Fast will be the yearly call to rise from our stupor and laziness, to awake and recognise that it is later than we think, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”

The words of the kontakion of the Great Canon of Repentance will challenge us,

“My soul, my soul arise! Why art thou sleeping? The end is drawing near and thou wilt be confounded. Awake then and be watchful, that thou mayest be spared by Christ God, Who is everywhere and fillest all things.”

…but this call to action is not to be put off until then.

As well as being the after-feast of the Meeting of the Lord, this coming Sunday is the Sunday of Zacchaeus, on which we will hear how the tax-collector’s repentance made it possible for him to become the friend of Christ, and to receive the Saviour, Who entered his home and more importantly transformed his life.

May our repentance become the means through which we welcome the Saviour and become God-Receivers, like the righteous Symeon, with Christ the Light of the World shining through our every thought, word and action, touching those around us and shedding the Light of Christ upon His world.

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark


Posted in Homily/Sermon.