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THE MEETING OF OUR LORD

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2005
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      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
      priests.

      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"
      (Lk 2:32).

      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).
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