"The Virgin Mary is not the great exception, she is the great example."
- *Adapted from "The Purification of
on the Ex occidente ad orientem <http://myorthodoxjourney.blogspot.com/>blog
Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of the Meeting (or Presentation) of
the Lord in the Temple on February 2. The Western church celebrates the
Purification of Mary on the same day; this feast is also referred to in the
West as Candlemas as this was the day candles were blessed.
While the East centers its liturgical focus on Christ meeting Simeon and
Anna (and being seen by Simeon as the Messiah incarnate), the West centers
its liturgical focus on Mary fulfilling the law by being purified from her
childbirth after 40 days. That said, neither focus is held to be
inherently more important than the other in either East or West. For
Eastern Christians, though, the term 'purification' implies at least the
possibility that the Virgin Mary did something wrong - something that
We know of no sin committed by the Virgin Mary (though St. John Chrysostom
mentions in his homilies that the Virgin was guilty of pride - especially
at the Wedding at Cana, years after the event commemorated by this Great
Feast, of course). But, we should not forget, as Fr. Alexander Schmemann is
known to have said: the Virgin Mary is not the great exception, she is the
great example. If Christ is the icon of salvation, the Theotokos is the
icon of the saved.
If this is true, from what then does the Theotokos come to be purified? Fr.
Thomas Hopko explains:
...the scriptures teach that all human beings who are inevitably caught up
in the falleness of the sinful world, are in need of "purification" when
they come into direct contact with God, and especially when they are
objects of direct divine action. God is always acting in our lives...These
are also the times of worship, such as when the priests go into the Holy
Place or when they touch the Holy Objects. thus, according to the Mosaic
law, mere human beings who were in direct tough with God through His
concrete divine actions were required to offer signs of ritual
'purification' to express the fact that being mere mortals and victims of
sin not to say sinners in their own right in virtually all cases) they had
also the objects of the holy actions of the Most High and Holy God. (The
Winter Pascha <http://www.svspress.com/product_info.php?products_id=281>,
Lest we forget at any time, the Virgin Mary inherited the same mortal
corruption as the rest of mankind. She still had to obey the law, she still
had to die, and she was in need of our Lord's crucifixion and death along
with the rest of us. The Feast of the Meeting / Presentation / Purification
reminds us Mary was in this way 'simply human' even though she had the most
direct, immediate communion with God Himself - and while the priests of
Israel (and we ourselves) can only commune with God in a mystical, less
direct way than the Birthgiver and Mother of God.
This is why the Theotokos, Mary, is deserving of all honor and all praise.
And this motherhood of/to the Divine is why she is so a powerful an
advocate for us with her Son: God.
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