By Fr. Robert Holet
The Feast of the Encounter (Presentation) of our Lord in the Temple (Feb. 2/15) presents a vivid image of sacred stewardship to us. The very act of Mary and Joseph coming to the Temple on the fortieth day, to consecrate their first born Son, who is the Son of God, back to God the Father, is filled with deep spiritual meaning. It shows, for the first time, how creation (literally embodied in Christ in the flesh), now is re-consecrated to God in a total way.
The icon of the feast is instructive to us about the nature of the Feast as an offering. Mary is the central actor – making the offering of her Son to Simeon the High Priest. It was through Mary that God the Son took flesh. The Father entrusted His divine Son to her, and now she offers in both a symbolic, but physical way, he Son back to the Father. It is the offering of Christ to the Father – made by the Mother of the Church, that shows us how everything precious is to be treated in this world. We must see it as coming from God, we must receive it from Him and offer back to Him.
The Fulfillment of the Covenant
In doing so, Mary is guided by the Law of the Lord, fulfilling the template of the Old Covenant and in so doing, initiating the New Covenant, by acting in obedience to the Law, ‘every first born male shall be consecrated to the Lord’ (Lk. 2:23, Ex. 13.2) The prescribed offering is made of the first-born son, but what accompanies the central offering is the accompanying offering of the two turtledoves. Joseph carries the two doves, also in fulfillment of the Exodus mandate – the turtledoves being a testimony to their poverty. But even though poor they still make the offering. And even if they were wealthy, it would not have been appropriate to offer a lamb, for it is Christ, the Lamb of God, that is being offered as the central action of this sacred event.
There is so much to behold and contemplate here!
Mary (and Joseph, who brings the doves) show us how our reception of God’s gifts are only sanctifying for us when they are seen as coming from God, and offered back to Him, at least in a symbolic way. This moment is filled with divine glory – the glory of God filling the Temple with the fulfillment of the Law, and the Beginning of the New Covenant. There is an interesting sense here of the completion and fulfillment of time here as well. So, it was nine months and forty days (almost a full year) earlier that the Annunciation took place, when Mary submitted to the revelation of the angel and the will of God and received Christ within her womb. With the fullness of time and the birth of the Lord, we see Christ as a child and now, consecrated to the Father by human hearts and hands. Is this not the very essence of the ministry of the Church – to lift up Christ in the flesh, in our human hands, in thanksgiving to the Father? This is indeed repeated – not only on the occasion of the Divine Liturgy of the Feast when the priest lifts up the Consecrated Lamb (on the discos), and His blood in the Chalice, and consecrates them to the Father, saying, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee”. The Church is perfectly the Church in this moment – there is nothing else of greater importance or significance at this moment. God fills the temple with His presence and grace when the offering is so made according to His will.
A Practical View
So this is a little of the theology of the Feast in relation to stewardship. But can we look for other aspects that are a bit more practical? Here are a few thoughts:
- First, we see in Mary our personal model of stewardship of our life. She truly fulfilled everything that God asked of her, completely and perfectly – the definition of a ‘good and faithful servant’ (Mt. 25:23). She received God’s Gift (beyond all gifts) and oriented her life completely toward this because she had oriented her heart and mind to the Lord. This is the great challenge that we face as well – to orient our hearts, minds and lives to the Lord. Doing so, we will receive our gifts from Him – which will be distinctly different from the Gift she received – yet we can fulfill His will perfectly and well.
- For parents, we see a practical, but spiritual activity by Mary – offering her Son to the Father. Parents are in a unique place to receive the precious lives of their children from God, and re-dedicate them to the Him. The Church’s liturgy has very powerful prayers and actions that affirm this action – with the ritual of churching of newborn children and ultimately, Holy Baptism, which is a prime guideline for every Orthodox parent to observe, initiating the child into the full life in Christ. What a great blessing and opportunity it is to so imitate Mary – doing the ‘best’ for their children by doing what our faith reveals! And yes, every time you carry your child in your arms into church, or drag them in kicking and screaming, you are duplicating this sacred action!
- Joseph’s offering of the turtle doves should not be ignored. I don’t know what the price of turtledoves was at the temple that day, but there was a price to be paid monetarily in the purchase of the doves, to literally go ‘up in smoke’. But this became a sweet-smelling offering to God, because it was done in faithfulness. If we were to begin to see how our monetary gifts can be transformed into something pleasing to God, we might go a long way toward restoring a right relationship with money and material things, when we use it in a manner that is pleasing to God. And yes, offering our money for spiritual purposes can be a way of drawing near to God.
Finally, returning for a moment to the ‘divine timing’ of this feast, we realize that with the arrival of this Feast in February, it takes place just as the Lenten season begins to unfold. Of course, the destination of the Lenten journey is Jerusalem, and what takes place there is the True and Total Offering of Christ on the Cross, for our salvation. As we celebrate this feast, we also catch a glimpse of Him Who is Offered, the High Priest and Savior of our souls.
Blessed Feast to you and yours!
Fr. Robert Holet
Fr. Robert is the Director of the Consistory Office of Stewardship of the UOC of USA and
Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Charlottesville, Virginia
Icon – By Michael Kapeluck, Archangel Icons.