The Stairs to Holiness: The Entry of Virgin Mary into the Temple

According to the Church tradition, Joachim and Anna, the pious spouses and the parents of Virgin Mary, fulfilled their pledge and devoted their child to God’s service. The tradition states that in the age of 3, Virgin Mary was brought from Nazareth, where She lived with Her parents, to the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. There She was met by the archpriest, and many Church authors state that it was Zachariah, the father of John the Forerunner. To everyone’s surprise, Virgin Mary, Who was only 3 years old, overcame that 15-stairs obstacle on Her way to the Temple and Zachariah’s arms, without any fear or parents’ support, being led only by the Holy Spirit.

Then, as certain Church authors write, on inspiration from above, Zachariah decided to bring Mary to the Holy of Holies, where according to the Law, only the archpriest was permitted to enter and only once a year after he had made sacrifices for his own sins and the sins of the people. Was it so for real? Could the archpriest violate the Law so seriously? He was not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies at the wrong time and could not bring a girl there: she was not just prohibited from entering the Holy of Holies, but even could not enter the sanctuary, which was a special place for priests in the Temple, and had to stay in the women’s yard? We do not know the exact answer. The Church tradition accepts the story about Mary’s entry to the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple, although the canonical Gospels say nothing about that. In general, the early years of Virgin Mary were summed up well by St. Jerome of Stridon: “If someone asked me about how the Holy Virgin spent Her youth, I would answer him: only God and archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian, know that”.

However, what does it all mean for us? Sure, the Holy Virgin had Her own great mission, and the Lord prepared for Her a very special way of life and a very special service in the work of the humankind’s salvation. Through prayer and obeying God’s word, Virgin Mary had to grow so high spiritually that she became worthy to be the Throne of the King, the Temple for God’s Spirit, the Ark of the Covenant, the One from Whom the Bread of life would grow – the Manna that would grant us immortality and resurrection.

We can take this ancient and great event as a lesson for us all. Virgin Mary ascended 15 stairs that led to the Temple of Solomon in order to become the Mother of the Word. While raising those stairs, ancient Jews were singing certain psalms, in which they glorified God and with which they prepared their souls for even more sincere prayer in the Temple.

The same we can say about us. We should not just wait for God’s gifts and grace, but we should do our best to come to God, to climb these stairs of virtues so that we can soften and prepare our hearts for God’s Spirit that wants to consecrate us. Let us lift up our hearts! This is the sense of the Orthodox teaching about synergy – the collaboration of the man and God in the work of our salvation. Virgin Mary was not just chosen from the beginning of ages to become the Mother of the Word. She had to work a lot living by God’s commandments: “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

The same concerns us, if we really want to fulfill God’s words: “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).

So, we all are called upon to become the vessels for the Word. Through following the Father’s will, through preaching Gospel with our own lives, through climbing the stairs of virtues that the Holy Theotokos has ascended in the beginning of Her life, we are called upon to give life to Christ in other people’s hearts, bringing them to the wonderful Light of Christ.

The word of St. Gregory Palamas:

“The High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within Her, wished to set Her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent Her mystical food, with which She was strengthened in nature, while in body She was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during Her youth, so that through Her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in Her miraculous birthgiving.

So it is, and this is why She, from the beginning of time, was chosen from among the chosen. She Who is manifest as the Holy of Holies, Who has a body even purer than the spirits purified by virtue, is capable of receiving … the Hypostatic Word of the Unoriginate Father. Today the Ever-Virgin Mary, like a Treasure of God, is stored in the Holy of Holies, so that in due time, (as it later came to pass) She would serve for the enrichment of, and an ornament for, all the world. Therefore, Christ God also glorifies His Mother, both before, and also after His birth.

We who understand the salvation begun for our sake through the Most Holy Virgin, give Her thanks and praise according to our ability. And truly, if the grateful woman (of whom the Gospel tells us), after hearing the saving words of the Lord, blessed and thanked His Mother, raising her voice above the din of the crowd and saying to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps Thou hast sucked” (Luke 11:27), then we who have the words of eternal life written out for us, and not only the words, but also the miracles and the Passion, and the raising of our nature from death, and its ascent from earth to Heaven, and the promise of immortal life and unfailing salvation, then how shall we not unceasingly hymn and bless the Mother of the Author of our Salvation and the Giver of Life, celebrating Her conception and birth, and now Her Entry into the Holy of Holies?

Now, brethren, let us remove ourselves from earthly to celestial things. Let us change our path from the flesh to the spirit. Let us change our desire from temporal things to those that endure. Let us scorn fleshly delights, which serve as allurements for the soul and soon pass away. Let us desire spiritual gifts, which remain undiminished. Let us turn our reason and our attention from earthly concerns and raise them to the inaccessible places of Heaven, to the Holy of Holies, where the Mother of God now resides.

Reflections in the Church liturgical tradition:

Kontakion — Tone 4:

The most pure Temple of the Savior;  the precious Chamber and Virgin; the sacred Treasure of the glory of God, is presented today to the house of the Lord. She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, therefore, the angels of God praise her: “Truly this woman is the abode of heaven.”

End of Part II

To be continued…

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