In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear brothers and sisters, as we stand before the icon of the Meeting of the Lord in our celebration of this feast, we do not see the memorialisation of the Temple rituals of the Saviour’s Presentation and the Virgin’s Purification, with the priestly-offering of the doves that St Joseph bought, but rather the long-awaited encounter of St Symeon the God-Receiver with the infant Lord.
This is our abiding vision of the feast, not priests or figures of the Jewish religious establishment, but rather the elder and the aged prophetess Anna – two figures that had kept vigil in the temple, anticipating the long-awaited Saviour – their gaze, as also that of the Mother of God and St Joseph the Betrothed, centred on the Infant Saviour.
In the first stikhera of vespers, at ‘Lord, I have cried…’ we address the Righteous Elder as we chant:
“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!”
By the grace and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, Symeon recognised the Messiah, whom he held in his aged arms, declaring Him whom Moses beheld in the gloom of Sinai to be “the Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people, Israel.”
Gloom, darkness, and shadowy symbols and figures had passed: the Light of the world had come!
How and when St Symeon first realised that the ‘erchomenos’ (the expected One) was drawing near we shall never know, but the joy that filled that righteous old man and drove him forward to take hold of the Child and absorb the meaning of Him in that moment must have been beyond human expression.
The first ode of the canon poetically prompts and pushes him forward, as though we were there as witnesses, encouraging him and hurrying him on his elderly legs.
“Be strong, ye hands of Symeon feeble with age; and ye weary legs of the elder, move quickly and straight to meet Christ…”
…and in the fourth ode, we poetically encourage him not to be shy, but to press forward and take hold of his Light and Saviour:
“O Symeon, rejoicing take up Christ, the little Child, on Whom thou hast set thy hope, the Consolation of the Israel of God, the Creator and Master of the law, Who fulfilleth the order of the law; and cry aloud unto Him: All things are filled with Thy praise!”
As his eyes beheld the Messiah; as his elderly arms held him; as he touched and caressed the Child, can we even begin to understand what he felt in his heart; what joy and relief filled his soul; what awe and wonder possessed his mind; how his ancient frame trembled with what was finally happening?
Symeon’s immense joy and all-possessing sense of fulfilment, contentment and peace remain beyond our understanding, and may be easily overlooked as we chant his memorialised words at vespers, each day:
“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; To be a light to enlighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”
What spiritual light filled the soul of the Elder, and what mysteries did he perceive in the depths of his heart as he withdrew from the precincts of the Temple and from the world with the greatest sense of peace and contentment?
Perhaps he even felt relief that his elderly and frail body could find rest in the peace for which he prayed: the peace from above, for which we ask in the Great Litany.
We pray for that peace and for the salvation of our souls, and though Symeon received that peace, he would not live to see the unfolding of the Saviour’s works of salvation. Nevertheless, he was still able to say, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…” and in Christ’s victory of the Cross and the Harrowing of Hell, Symeon would once more see the “Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people, Israel” in the Lord as the Conqueror of death and hell and as his salvation.
And what of us?
The annual feast calls us to greet the Lord and to recognise Him, to see Him, as though through Symeon’s eyes, as our Light and salvation – for, as St Sophronios of Jerusalem wrote,
“Through Symeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves.”
All of the feasts call us to spiritual renewal and participation in the Christian Mystery, and as we celebrate the Meeting of the Lord, the same vesperal verses that usher Symeon forward to receive the Saviour also call us to go press forward:
“Let us come and greet Christ with divine hymns, and let us receive Him Whom Symeon perceived as our salvation.”
“Let us receive Him” not come as bystanders or onlookers, but rather as spiritual participators in the meaning of the feast: the Saviour’s manifest presence in the world as our God and Lord who has revealed Himself to us – not passively observing His presence, but receiving Him and become the very means of this indwelling presence in the world: not in our arms, as those of Symeon, but within our hearts.
As St Theophan the Recluse reminds us, “… all are called to have and carry the Lord in themselves, and to disappear in Him with all the powers of their spirit.”
Each of us must have and carry Him as God-Receivers, as was the Righteous Symeon and as Christ-Bearers like St Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast was celebrated only a few days ago.
We receive and bear Christ through living the Gospel in active lives of prayer, ascetism, fasting and participation in the Holy Mysteries, as members of His Body – the Church – in which we have been joined to Him in Holy Baptism, healed and renewed by Him through repentance and confession, nourished and consecrated by partaking of Him in the Eucharistic Mystery.
Through Christ-centred lives, each of us can say to the Lord, “mine eyes have seen Thy salvation…” and with confidence, we will be able to consciously say the words of St Sophronios:
“By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as He came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen Him present among us and have noetically received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence…”
S prazdnikom! Greetings for the feast!