The Virgin today accompanies the Child in His first offering to the Father

Select hymns and prayers from the Antiochian Church’s Festal Orthros on the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (February 2)

From the Kathismata of the Presentation:

Let the ranks of angels be astonished with wonder, and let us raise our voices in praise, as we behold the ineffable condescension, the condescension of God; for He before Whom the powers of heaven tremble is carried today in the arms of the elder, and He alone is the Lover of mankind.

He that is with the Father on the holy throne, came down to earth, was born of the Virgin, became a babe for my sake; and is unbounded in time.

From the Kontakion and Oikos for the Presentation:

Let us hasten to the Theotokos, we who wish to see her Son brought unto Simeon. When the incorporeal powers looked on Him out of heaven, they were astonished, saying: Now do we see strange and wondrous things, incomprehensible and inexpressible. He Who made Adam is carried as a babe; the Uncontainable is held in the arms of the elder; he Who abideth uncircumscribed in the bosom of His Father is willingly circumscribed in the flesh, but not in His Godhead, and he alone is the Love of mankind.”

The Synaxarion:

On February 2 in the Holy Orthodox Church, we celebrate the Meeting (Presentation) of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple, wherein the righteous Simeon received Him into his arms.

Verses: The hands of righteous Simeon, as they bear Thee, depict, O my Christ, the bosom of Thy Father. On the second, Simeon received Christ in the Temple.

The Greek word for the feast is “Hypapante” [ee-pah-pan-DEE] which means “Encounter” or “Meeting.” However, this was not just some chance encounter. This feast, which closes the cycle of the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, reminds us that on the fortieth day after the birth of her first-born Son, Mary carried Him to the Temple in accordance with the Mosaic Law to offer Him to the Lord, and to ransom Him by the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons (Luke 2:22-3). In one of many acts of extreme humility, the divine Word thus lowers Himself and submits to the law in order to fulfill it. This lowering is also Jesus’ first official encounter with His people in the person of Simeon. It is not only an encounter, but also a manifestation. Simeon bears in his arms the One he knows to be the Salvation of the world, “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” His endearing prayer, as found in the Gospel of Luke, endures in the Orthodox Church to this day. The Church considers this celebration as a Feast of the Theotokos in praise of her role in this Presentation, and her connection in the work of her Son. “Adorn thy chamber, O Zion, and receive Christ the King. Welcome Mary the heavenly gate; for she hath appeared as a cherubic throne; she carrieth the King of glory” (Aposticha of Great Vespers). The Virgin today accompanies the Child in His first offering to the Father; she will also accompany Him even to the realization of His sacrifice for humanity.

Unto the very God be glory and dominion unto the ages. Amen.

Ninth Ode of Canon of Presentation of Christ in Tone Three [with 16 short verses and 4 refrains]:

1. That which came to pass in thee we in no wise comprehend, not the Angels, nor we men, O thous Virgin Mother pure.

8. Thou, O Maiden Mariam, art in truth the mystic tongs, who within thy blessed womb hast conceived the Ember, Christ.

Of old they offered a pair of turtle doves and a pair of pigeons. But instead of them the divine old man and Anna the pure prophetess were offered to Him Who was born of the Virgin, Who was offered in the Temple, Who is the Son of God. Wherefore, they served him magnifying.

the Magi worship

Stichera from the Vespers of the Nativity (Translated by Fr. Seraphim Dedes):

What shall we offer you, O Christ, because You have appeared on earth as a man for our sakes? For each of the creatures made by You offers You its thanks: the Angels, their hymn; the heavens, the Star; the Shepherds, their wonder; the Magi, their gifts; the earth, the Cave; the desert the Manger; and we, a Virgin Mother. God before the ages, have mercy on us.

Lines from Orthros hymns on the Leavetaking of the Nativity (Antiochian Orthodox):

They that worshipped the stars did learn there from to worship You.

Come, you faithful, let us see where Christ the Saviour has been born; let us follow with the kings, even the Magi from the East, unto the place where the star directs their journey. For there, the Angels’ hosts sing praises ceaselessly.
In that you did bear the Giver of Life, O Virgin, you did redeem Adam from sin, and did give to Eve joy in the place of sadness.

I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave a heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, and the manger a noble place in which has lain Christ the uncontained God.

When the Magi saw a new and strange star appearing suddenly, moving in a wonderful way, and transcending the stars of heaven in brightness, they were guiding by it to Christ.

The star declares, the Magi worship, the shepherds wonder, and creation rejoices.

Rejoice, O Living temple of God the King, in whom Christ having dwelt worked salvation. Wherefore, we with Gabriel do praise you.

 

Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Theophylactus, commenting on Saint Matthew’s Gospel, say that the star followed by the Magi was no ordinary star. Rather, it was “a divine and angelic power that appeared in the form of a star.”

Several lines in this selection of Nativity hymns represent the large body of very early Christian hymnography that is focused on the Magi. These foreign sages are the highest examples of human worship within the Nativity story. (Mary is the greatest example of co-operation with God; Joseph of faithful discernment and care; the shepherds of humble wonder and adoration; and the angles of the eternal and heavenly worship in which humans should participate.) As the ideal examples of human worship, the Persian Magi stand in for the conspicuous absence of the religious leaders among God’s people. The priests and scholars of Jerusalem have every opportunity to seek the Christ child and to worship him. However, they hang back and whisper in passive collaboration with the insane jealousies of King Herod. The religious leaders with their critical insider knowledge become complicit in the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem while the more uninformed pagans (who worshipped stars) brought the divine gifts that were due to this little baby. (As many scholars have noted, these gifts of the Magi are kingly and they also suggest care for the little child’s eventual death. However, the gifts are most importantly priestly and are connected to the Old Testament worship of God alone within the Holy of Holies.)

These two images below are from the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome which date back to the 1st or 2nd century (and which have long been believed to contain graves of Christian martyrs who had the Apostle Peter as their Pastor). One is a faded picture of the Magi worshiping the Christ Child as He is held by Mary. The other is a very early image of Mary and the Child Jesus (next to them is a prophet, possibly Daniel, holding a scroll and pointing to the Bethlehem star that heralded the birth of the King of Kings).

magi

maria and child

we know that we are dealing with material Paul chanted before he wrote it down

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

[Paul] is commonly—and not inappropriately—thought of as the Church’s earliest theologian. This persuasion, nonetheless, certainly does not mean that the Church had no theology prior to Paul’s conversion. Indeed, on the very day Ananias baptized the Apostle to the Gentiles, there already existed an authoritative body of Christian belief—a paradosis or “tradition”—of which Paul himself became both the appreciative heir and the ardent proponent. As we shall consider presently, his appeal to that authority was both prompt and insistent.

…In what forms did Paul receive this traditional information about Jesus? He received it, first of all, through the teaching ministry of the Church, beginning with the instructions he received from Ananias, the pastor of the congregation in Damascus, when he received Paul into the obedience and sacrament of faith (see Acts 9: 10–18; 22: 12–16). The living Church, this “house of the catholic obedience” (Venerable Bede’s beautiful expression), also conveyed the inherited faith to Paul through the words of her kerygmatic and catechetical material, her basic creedal forms, her hymnography, and her other prayers.

…Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions (paradoseis) you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thess. 2: 15)

But we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition (paradosin) which they received (parelabosan) from us. (2 Thess. 3: 6)

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions (paradoseis) just as I handed them on (paredoka) to you. (1 Cor. 11: 2)

I received (parelabon) from the Lord what I also handed on (paredoka) to you. (1 Cor. 11: 23)

I handed on (paredoka) to you, among the first things, that which I also received (parelabon). (1 Cor. 15: 3)

…The traditions of the Church were inseparable from the forms and content of her worship. Indeed, there is substantial evidence, from her earliest days, that the Church proceeded, at least implicitly, on the premise, “the norm of worship is the norm of belief” (lex orandi, lex credendi). The reasoning supportive of this axiom seems solid: If the Church’s prayer was an expression of her faith, then the words of the prayer must give a good idea of what the Church believed. How do we find this material?

…We don’t know how much non-liturgical poetry the earliest Christians wrote, but we do know they wrote hymns, and we know that many hymns are composed in common poetic forms. Now, if there was one thing perfectly clear about the early Christians, it was their disposition to sing the content of their faith—and not only to sing it, but to sing it together, to chant common texts they all knew by heart. Thus, we find Paul and his companions, in the dark of midnight, “praying, singing hymns (hymnoun) to God” in a Philippian jail (see Acts 16: 25). Whatever hymns they were singing, they were certainly singing them from memory.

…When we find traces of Christian hymnography in the New Testament literature, the discovery is particularly precious; in such instances we know that we are dealing with material Paul chanted before he wrote it down.

established our holy fathers as luminous stars upon the earth

From the hymns this morning. Troparion of the Holy Fathers, Tone VIII:

Most glorified art thou, O Christ our God, / Who hast established our holy fathers as luminous stars upon the earth, / and through them didst guide us all to the true Faith // Oh most merciful One, glory be to Thee.

Kontakion of the Holy Fathers, Tone VI:

The Son Who shone forth from the Father / was ineffably born, two-fold in nature, of a woman. / Having beheld Him, we do not deny the image of His form, / But depict it piously and revere it faithfully. / Thus, keeping the True Faith, // the Church venerates the icon of Christ Incarnate.