THE MEETING OF OUR LORD
When the Egyptian king Ptolemy Philadelphus, founder of the glorious
library of Alexandria, wished to have the Old Testament books in the Bible
translated from Hebrew into Greek, the Jewish Sanhedrin (High Council)
chose 72 righteous men from among the Hebrews, six from each tribe of
Israel, who knew both languages well. Among these 72 men was a certain
elder named Simeon.
While translating the Book of Isaiah, he stopped at a prophecy well-known
to him: "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son?" (Isaiah 7:14).
Simeon had doubts about the word "Virgin," and after pondering for a while,
decided to replace it with the words "young woman," as being more
understandable and believable. But suddenly an angel appeared before him
and, staying his hand, said: "Believe in what is written. You shall see
with your own eyes the fulfillment of this incomprehensible prophecy." This
took place about 270 years before the birth of Christ.
And so years, decades and centuries passed. Simeon patiently waited for
the fulfillment of God's word, announced to him by the angel, and daily
visited the temple of Jerusalem. And thus, when the Most-Holy Virgin Mary,
in accordance with the law of Moses, brought the Infant Christ to the
temple on the 40th day after His birth, Simeon was divinely inspired to
recognize Them, together with the prophetess Anna who lived at the temple.
Piously he bowed down to the Infant and His Mother, and taking the Infant
God up in his arms, he turned to Him with the following moving prayer:
"Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace?" (Luke 2:29-32).
We read this prayer at the end of each vespers, at the end of the day,
which symbolizes the end of life, since sleep is the foreshadow of death.
Thus the holy prophet Isaiah's words came to pass, and the righteous
Simeon's expectation was fulfilled: in the temple he met Christ born of a
Virgin, and for this reason the holiday is called the Meeting of our Lord.
For many years afterwards the event of Christ's presentation at the temple
of Jerusalem was commemorated, but after a while the memory of this event
apparently began to fade. And then in 542 A.D. there was a terrible plague
in the Byzantine Empire, so that many thousands died every day, and the
bodies of the dead lay for a long time without being buried, while in the
city of Antioch another natural disaster was added ? a severe earthquake.
Many buildings were destroyed, burying in their ruins those who had
survived the plague. At that time a certain pious person received a
revelation from above that people should begin celebrating the day of the
Meeting of the Lord, as well as other feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos.
Thus, on the eve of the 40th day after the Nativity of Christ, i.e. the day
of the Meeting of our Lord, when the all-night vigil was served, followed
by a procession with the cross, ? the plague and the earthquake immediately
stopped. The joyful inhabitants gave glory, praise and thanks to the Lord
God and His Most-Holy Mother.
The meeting with the Infant Christ had great meaning for the elder Simeon.
But what meaning does it have for us and for our salvation?
To understand the deep significance of this holiday we must turn to the
service for this day, because the Holy Church has expressed its
understanding of Gospel events most fully in its services. "In the Law ? in
the shadow and in the Scriptures ? do we, the faithful, behold the symbol:
every male child opening the womb is consecrated to God?" (9th ode of the
canon). In the Old Testament law, which only served to foreshadow the
coming law, each first-born male from each family of the chosen people was
dedicated to God. This law was established at the time when the Lord smote
with death all the first-born of Egypt, sparing the first-born of the
ancient Jews, who henceforth began to be considered as God's property, and
whom their mothers were obligated to give over into full service to God,
i.e. consecrate to God, in other words ? make them their priests and
intercessors before God. However, since many families found it difficult to
give up their first-born for service to God, Moses, not without God's
approval, modified this law to some extent, replacing the first-born from
each family with a universal first-born from the entire people ? with the
tribe of Levy, which became totally dedicated to God and became the
priesthood of the ancient Jews. In order to authenticate this exchange,
each mother had to bring her first-born to the temple on the 40th day after
his birth, offer a sacrifice to God, and redeem her infant in order to
obtain the right to get him back, while transferring his obligations to the
Such is the origin and the meaning of Old Testament priesthood. However,
all these institutions, though established with God's approval, were only
human prerogatives and thus lacked grace, because they only served to
foreshadow the future. The service of the priesthood openly prophesied to
the people the forthcoming High Priest and the forthcoming salvific
Sacrifice. All Old Testament "gifts and sacrifices? were imposed on them
until the time of reformation? but Christ the High Priest, neither by the
blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood entered once into the holy
place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:9-12).
Faced with the Infant Christ, the entire Old Testament priesthood could be
considered as having fulfilled its temporary foreshadowing service and
could say to Christ together with the elder Simeon: "Lord, now lettest Thou
Thy servant depart?," and not only in terms of wishing quick deliverance
from earthly life, but also quick deliverance from its priestly service
which was inactive (i.e. lacking grace) in the face of the eternal High
Priest and the redeeming Sacrifice.
The content of the holiday service reveals to us the chief meaning of the
coming of the Son of God to earth, which lay not in a glorious
establishment of a universal earthly kingdom of the Messiah, as the leaders
of the Jewish people wished it, but in His service as a High Priest to the
world and in His priestly sacrifice of atonement. The elder Simeon speaks
of this to the Most-Holy Virgin Mary, as he prophetically views Her future
station at the Cross and likens it to a sword piercing Her heart. And the
elder himself, already seeing in the Divine Infant the beginning of the
redeeming sacrifice for which He had been born, expresses his desire to
descend as quickly as possible into hell, in order to proclaim to the
prisoners languishing there the great joy of the first rays of the Paschal
Sun (7th ode of the canon). Amen.
Protopriest Igor Hrebinka
Forty days after Christ was born he was presented to God in the Jerusalem
Temple according to the Mosaic Law. At this time as well his mother Mary
underwent the ritual purification and offered the sacrifices as prescribed
in the Law. Thus, forty days after Christmas, on the second of February,
the Church celebrates the feast of the presentation called the Meeting (or
Presentation or Reception) of the Lord.
The meeting of Christ by the elder Simeon and the prophetess Anna (Lk
2:22-36) is the main event of the feast of Christ's presentation in the
Temple. It was "revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see
death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Lk 2:26) and, inspired by the
same Spirit, he came to the Temple where he met the new-born Messiah, took
him in his arms and said the words which are now chanted each evening at
the end of the Orthodox Vesper service:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word;
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the
presence of all peoples, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and
for glory to Thy people Israel (Lk 2:29-32).
At this time as well Simeon predicted that Jesus would be the "sign which
is spoken against" and that he would cause "the fall and the rising of many
in Israel." He also foretold Mary's sufferings because of her son (Luke
22:34-35). Anna also was present and, giving thanks to God "she spoke of
Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lk 2:38).
In the service of the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, the fact emphasized
is that Christ, the Son and Word of God through whom the world was created,
now is held as an infant in Simeon's hands; this same Son of God, the Giver
of the Law, now himself fulfills the Law, carried in arms as a human child.
Receive him, 0 Simeon, whom Moses on Mount Sinai beheld in the darkness as
the Giver of the Law. Receive him as a babe now obeying the Law. For he it
is of whom the Law and the Prophets have spoken, incarnate for our sake and
saving mankind. Come let us adore him!
Let the door of heaven open today, for the Eternal Word of the Father,
without giving up his divinity, has been incarnate of the Virgin in time.
And as a babe of forty days he is voluntarily brought by his mother to the
Temple, according to the Law. And the elder Simeon takes him in his arms
and cries out: Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine
eyes have seen Thy salvation, 0 Lord, who has come to save the human race
-- glory to Thee! (Vesper Verses of the Feast).
The Vespers and Matins of the feast of the Meeting of the Lord are filled
with hymns on this theme. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated with the lines
from the canticle of Mary forming the prokeimenon and the words of Simeon
being the verses for the Alleluia. The gospel readings tell of the meeting,
while the Old Testament readings at Vespers refer to the Law of the
purification in Leviticus, the vision of Isaiah in the Temple of the
Thrice-Holy Lord, and the gift of faith to the Egyptians prophesied by
Isaiah when the light of the Lord shall be a "revelation to the Gentiles"
The celebration of the Meeting of the Lord in the Church is not merely an
historical commemoration. Inspired by the same Holy Spirit as Simeon, and
led by the same Spirit into the Church of the Messiah, the members of the
Church also can claim their own "meeting" with the Lord, and so also can
witness that they too can "depart in peace" since their eyes have seen the
salvation of God in the person of his Christ.
Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, Full of Grace! From you shone the Sun of
Righteousness, Christ our God, enlightening those who sat in darkness!
Rejoice and be glad, 0 righteous elder; you accepted in your arms the
Redeemer of our souls who grants us the resurrection (Troparion). By Thy
nativity, Thou didst sanctify the Virgin's womb. And didst bless Simeon's
hands, 0 Christ our God. Now Thou hast come and saved us through love.
Grant peace to all Orthodox Christians, 0 only Lover of man (Kontakion).