Presentation of Christ in the Temple
A Homily on the Presentation of Christ in the Temple
By a Parish Priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
From time immemorial, the human race had worshipped through the offering of sacrifices as an expression of fear. Bulls and goats were laid upon altars, offerings of grain and libations of wine were poured out by trembling supplicants before the powers of divinity. These offerings were but a percentage of their possessions, a mere substitute for their souls, which they hoped to atone through the fires of sacrifice. In the same way, on this day the humble new parents from Bethlehem bring an offering of two doves (Luke 2:24) as propitiation to the God of Israel.
But something happens today that marks the end of the era of animal sacrifice and the advent of New Covenant worship. From henceforth we shall say in uttermost truth, “Thine Own of Thine Own we offer to Thee.” For the offering unto God will be God Himself in the flesh, and the broken body and spilt blood will belong to the Lord alone, who in His own person establishes the reconciliation of God and man.
It is this mystery which is revealed in the events of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Mother of God, who is the supreme figure of the Church, places Christ in the hands of Simeon and receives Him back again. What is this but a foreshadowing of our own worship in the Divine Liturgy, week after week?
Like Simeon, every Orthodox priest receives Christ into his hands under the form of the amnos, the Lamb of God. He receives this Gift at the hour of his ordination, when the Church, who is the Mother of us all, by the hand of her hierarchs places into his palms the bread that is consecrated to be the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like Simeon, therefore, every priest bears up Christ within the holy place, with voice lifted up to bless the Most High God (see Luke 2:28). And like Simeon, the priest comes forth again from the holy place to give Christ back to the Church, to distribute His all-pure Body and Blood to the faithful, for the forgiveness of sins and for life everlasting.
In that one glorious moment the righteous Simeon beheld the revelation of God’s plan of salvation in the face of the forty-day old child in his arms. He foresaw the end of blood sacrifices on altars of stones; He apprehended that the Son of God forever lives to make intercession for us (cf. Hebrews 7:25), to be both the Offerer and the Offering, the One who receives and is distributed to His people unto the ends of the earth. And having seen the revelation, Simeon believed, and therefore he spoke these words: “Mine eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30, 32).
This scene of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple contains the essence of our New Testament worship. No longer do we come to God’s temple in fear bearing offerings of dead animals. Now we present a living sacrifice through the Eucharist in the person of the Son of God, who is with us whenever we are gathered together in His Name (Matthew 18:20, 28:20), and Who is given back to us, so that we too may become living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
And in turn, each one of us becomes another Simeon when we receive Christ in the person of the poor and needy, the sick and dying, the widows and orphans: whenever, in other words, we receiving the least of our brethren as though they were Christ Himself. It is our Eucharistic task, our liturgy after the Liturgy, to embrace them, to bring them into the Church, and to announce to them the love, mercy, and power of God. So doing, we transform every human encounter, every meeting with another person, into an act of worship, into a new Presentation of Christ.
~Adapted from the sermon: “A Light for Revelation” (anonymous) Department of Outreach and Evangelism [web site of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (goarch.org)].