Saint Germanos, Archbishop of Constantinople – First Homily on the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.
The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple is believed to be not among the most ancient festivals of the Church. However, indications that the Feast was observed in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of Palestinian Christians, which say that the holy Empress Helen built a church in honour of the entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, also mentions this Feast, along with Saints Jerome and Epiphanius. Saint Andrew of Crete had known about it and his hymns are found throughout the Service books for this Feast. Saint Germanos I, Patriarch of Constantinople from 715 to 730, wrote two homilies for the Feast. Saint Tarasios, the Patriarch, introduced it at Constantinople a century later as an official Feast, though it had already been celebrated. Saint George of Nicomedia wrote three sermons on the subject which address every detail of the Feast, including a beautiful homily which addresses rhetorically the temple itself.
1. Every divine festival, whenever it is celebrated, spiritually fills those who are present from a treasury and divinely flowing spring. But even more and beyond other feasts does this recently hymned festival, brilliantly celebrated, attract the soul with holy joy and gives more joy in proportion to the preeminence of the excellent child of God. For the annual observation of this feast is coming, in which one must be pure to participate.
And let us be anointed with the perfume of her roses, as Solomon says in the beautiful verse of his Song: "Who is that who comes up from the wilderness, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchants?" (Song of Songs 3.6) - "Come hither from Lebanon, my bride; come hither from Lebanon" (Song of Songs 4.8).
So let us eagerly approach together this mutually beneficial, salvific feast of the Mother of God. And bowing before the unapproachable place [the Holy of Holies] let us watch the child going toward the second veil, Mary the all-holy Mother of God who put an end to unfruitful sterility, and exchanged the mere shadow of the letter of the law (cf Hebrews 1O.1) through the grace of her birth-giving.
2. Today, at three years of age, she goes towards her dedication in the temple of the law, she who alone is called the stainless and greatest temple of the high priest and the Lord of all, and in whose bright light is the radiance of divine light which illuminates the darkness of the Law.
Today a babe is handed over to a priest , the one who will dedicate the only high-priestly God made flesh as a child at forty days for us, having received in his welcoming arms (cf Luke 1.22) the uncontainable One who is beyond all human knowing.
Today a new, pure, unspoiled book which will not be written by hands, but written in gold by the spirit, hallowed with blessings according to the Law, she is brought forward as an acceptable gift.
Today Joachim, who has wiped away the reproach of childlessness, goes openly down the main road boastfully showing off his offspring, and again is shown as a functionary of hallowing according to the Law.
Today also Anna has exchanged the persistence of barrenness for fruitfulness, and becoming inspired by joy, proclaims to the ends of the earth that she has borne a child, embracing to her bosom the one who is wider than the heavens.
Today the gate of God's temple is opened to receive the entry of the eastward looking, sealed gate of Emmanuel (cf. Ezekiel 44.1-3).
Today the sacred Table of the temple joyfully meets and participates in the true divine table of the heavenly soul-feeding bread and by changing to the worship of the bloodless sacrifice begins to shine.
Today she who alone is called the new, god-like, purifying and mercy seat, not made by hands, (cf. Hebrews 9.11) for mortals who have drowned in floods of sin is presented to the mercy seat of the temple.
Today she who will receive the Holy One of the Holy through the hallowing of the Spirit is placed in the holy of Holies at a pure and innocent age; and she who is marvelously exalted above the Cherubim, makes more holy the holy of Holies by her presence.
3. Today Mary advances, about whom no matter how much we say, we cannot come close to our goal of adequately praising her. Her beauty far surpasses the power of every tongue and mind. For her greatness is a vast sea, as the Heavenly drop born from her has shown. And therefore her richness is unlimited in its infinitude, and her wealth is inexhaustible.
For while it is possible for everyone in everything else to be sated, it is not possible in this feasting to give too much sweetness in her hymns and festivals. And hence, the material is without limit of praises starting with her. And since the well is unfailing and not diminished by the drawing out (cf. John 4.14) but as much as is drawn out is refilled 100 or 10,000 fold, those who draw out cannot cease. For the mystery overflows and the plant grows taller even than the incorporeal minds, not to mention the incarnate minds, in the compassion of the all-rich and pure maiden!
4. And her own parents presented to God the one who had reached three years of age. But how great is the three-fold number and exceedingly honored and for everyone a cause of all security! With three stones David slew the infamous Goliath (cf. 1 Samuel 17.40), and Elijah the Tishbite, as by three circuits he brought thus the flame of fire onto water (cf. 1 Kings 18.34.), prepares [men] to believe. And for an equal number of days Jonah was carried about in the breast of the beast covered with water (cf. Jonah 2.1). He is declared an image of God who managed the whale. And in like time the children boldly walked about in the furnace nourished by the heavenly dew (cf. Daniel 3.49). And my Lord Jesus' ministry was for a period of three encircling years, cleansing me from the stain of my transgression and at another time healing every disease and weakness. And to a similar number of disciples he revealed the mystical appearance of His own glory upon the mountaintop (cf. Matthew 17.1). And by spending three days he raised the souls of those imprisoned in the shadows of hell from the ages [past]. And what more? See with me the number three even in the greatest things. For the cause of all and the divine source of perfection has chosen to be praised in three blessings, in three characters, that is in three natures, and if indeed we need to say the same thing with "in three persons" in one essence, as a perfect number without confusion, a collective unity; neither is the deficient poverty dishonored, nor either is a vain fantasy indulged by a greater number with many origins. Thus that Gregory [says] who is great in divine matters and accurate in theology [Gregory of Nazianzus].
When, at last, the One, All-Holy, unoriginate Trinity, deigned to be contained in the belly of the Virgin Mother, through good will of the Father and of the Son and by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, then it was necessary for her who had been glorified by the same number to be most brilliantly consecrated, and because of this she is brought into the temple at three years of age. Her Fashioner and Son puts all things finally and surely in order.
5. When she who is the nourisher of our lives had been weaned, her parents fulfill the commitment which they had promised. They call together, as it is reported, all the virgins in the region to go after her as torch-bearers. Delighted by the procession of the lamp-bearers, she walks without turning back.
And the barren and unfruitful Anna with foresight lifts her hands to God and says in a loud distinct voice, "Come with me, let us rejoice together, all women and men who rejoiced at her birth, even more now, as I dedicate to the Lord this divinely beautiful and holy gift recently received from my own womb. Come with me, chorus leaders, with singers and instrumentalists, and joyfully begin new songs in a new way, not as did Moses' sister Miriam (cf. Exodus 20-21) but with my daughter as the leader.
Come with me also, you neighbors and strangers and keep up with me in giving thanks with great joy for a good childbirth and even more in dedicating the fruit of my pains of childbirth to the holy places: sing with joy a divinely inspired song . Come with me also, company of the prophets, the assembly of the elect, ordering aright the resonating glorious hymns through the Holy Spirit of our God: let us sing a hymn. For there the word vibrates with prophetic sound, and thereby is severed all opposing evil speech.
6. But come with me, David the forefather and ancestor of God and make ever more harmonious music striking your harp in the giving of hymns on the strings of the spirit (cf. I Samuel 16.23) with your God-inspired voice, guiding more clearly her escort of virgin companions, as "The virgins after her are led along to the king, those who are with her are led along" (Ps 44:15, LXX). For behold the crowd leads the young women in song on the way. The daughter of the King is led to the holy house and with praises and songs into the holy temple, she who will accomplish Your word, the one you yourself called daughter, my regal child, for you said: "All glory is given to the daughter of the King who resides within [the temple] dressed in gold-fringed robes," of a pure and spotless virginity, and in the similar way you will have said, "embroidered with incomparable beauty" (Ps 44:14 LXX). Come here David bringer of dawn's light: "Who is this who shines out like the dawn, is as fair as the moon, and bright as the sun?" "How gracefully you walk in your sandals!" (Cant 7:2) "How beautiful and pleasant you are" (Cant 7:7) the one who shall be clothed in the Sun (Rev 12:1) and will bring forth a new wonder under the Sun! (cf. Ec. 1:9-10).
Come, loud-voiced Ezekiel, holding the divine scroll of the life-creating Spirit and crying your holy words to the eastward oriented and sealed gate (Ezekiel 44:1) which only God goes through; and anyone else in holy orders, or all the rest of the choir of spectators, raise your voices, having seen accomplishment of the thing that has been prophesied. But what? Our ancestors who are about to be released from the curse and again inheriting the residence in paradise from which you were cast out: should you not hymn the cause of your salvation, with a fitting encomium and great praises? Indeed you especially ought to shout out, and I with you and with us both all creation [ought] to sing out in joy.
7. Probably with these thoughts the chaste Anna, having accepted this course with her loving husband, sends forth her for whom she had felt the pangs of childbirth. With the lamp-bearing virgins they reach the temple, whose gates open to receive the mystical gate of God Emmanuel, and the threshold of the temple is blessed by Mary's footsteps. For, on the one hand, the house is brightened by the lamps, but even more, the house is brilliantly illuminated by the luminance of the true lamp. By her entry the temple's beauty is adorned. The vestments of the horn of the altar of sacrifice are made more royal by the purple-hued garment of her virginity. Zacharias rejoices that he is found worthy to receive the Mother of God. Joachim is glad, confirming the outcome of the oracles. Anna is joyful at the sanctification of her child. The forefathers jump for joy, escaping the captivity of condemnation. The prophets are delighted, and with them all who are yet to come in this age of grace also leap for joy.
8. And thus the child of God is led in [and) takes her place by the horns, as her parents offer their vows, and the priest gives his blessing. Once again, the forefathers call to the priest: "Receive her who will receive the immaterial and uncontainable fire. Receive her who will be called the container of the Son and Word of the only God and Father. Accept her who has destroyed the reproach of our bareness and sterility. Lead into the sanctuary her who will restore us to the ancient pasture of paradise. Possess her, who endures fear like ours in her own childbearing and will be victorious over the power of death and the tyranny of hell. Enfold her who covers our nature which was stripped bare in Eden. Take the hand of her who binds in swaddling clothes him who puts an end to our uncontrolled and impulsive audaciously spread-out hands. Return to God her who returned us, you who are the priestly celebrant of the expectation of our hopes."
"Behold, Lord, accept her whom you gave. Receive her whom you provided. Accept her whom you assigned to destroy our bareness , overcoming through her the barrenness of the Law, you have ransomed us through her fr om the terrible persistence [daily repetition of temple sacrifices?]. House her who so well has housed us, her whom you have chosen, and have foreseen, and have blessed. Draw to yourself her who leans on you and is attracted by your fragrance. You chose her as a lily out of the brambles of our unworthiness. Embrace her who is brought to you with a most radiant complexion. Behold, to you we offer her [as our intercessor] and dedicate ourselves."
9. These are the ham1onious [words] of the righteous [people], this is the dance of the God- loving couple, these is the beautifully arranged inscription of the ancestors of God. So then Zacharias having received the child, probably first addresses the parents saying: "0 causes of our salvation, what shall I say to you? What shall I call [you]? I am astonished seeing what kind of fruit you have brought forth, such a one as by her purity attracts God to dwell within her. For never yet has anyone existed or will anyone exist who shines forth in such beauty. You are seen as the two double rivers flowing out of paradise, (cf. Genesis 2.10-15) carrying a lamp more precious than gold and precious stones, who in the beauty of her blameless virginity and her dewy sparkling illuminates the whole earth.
You have been made known as shining stars as if fixed in the firmament, each of you being a torch-bearer enlightening the murky shadow of the letter and the law which was given in a stormy darkness and each of you surely and unstumblingly guiding the believer in Christ to the new grace of the new light. You have been made known as the shining horns of the new righteous, spiritual temple, holding in your breasts the holy, God-acknowledged, rational altar of the sacred victim. You, if it is not too early to say, have been made known as Cherubim flying around the mercy-seat (cf. Exodus 25.18) with the nourishment of the Priest who supports the universe. You appeared to cover the mystical and holy Ark of the new covenant of Him who on the Cross wrote the forgiveness of our sin, [forming] a covering which far surpasses the one which long ago was wrought of gold to cover the Ark (cf. Exodus 25.10).
Your rejoicing has become that of the cosmos. Your renown is the universal joy of all men. Fortunate are you who bear the title of parents of such a blessed child. Fortunate are you, who have brought such a blessed gift to the Lord! Fortunate are the breasts by which she was nursed and the womb that carried her (cf. Luke 11.27).
10. Come to me, child, child higher than the heavens. Come, you who are seen as a child but are known as God's workshop. Come hallow rather the gateway of the holy place, for you, so to speak, are not purified and hallowed by this [gate]: but instead you hallow it more.
Come gaze upon the Holy of Holies and the awesome treasury, You who will become the inexhaustible, unsearchable treasure. Come into the entry doors of the Bema, you who destroy the doors of death . Gaze upon the veil (cf. Exodus 26.31), you who enlighten through your lightning flash those who are blinded by their dull-sighted tastes. Give to me your hands as I lead you like a babe and hold my hand exhausted by old age and weakened by earthly-minded zeal in transgressing the commandment, and lead me to life. For behold I keep you as a staff in old age and a prop for the weariness that comes naturally with old age. Behold, I see you as one who will become a support for those who have descended to death.
Approach in order to venerate the table, you who are called the living, undefiled table, which has been spoken of in many symbols . Make your way through the courts of the whole sanctuary breathing out as an odor of incense (cf. Exodus 30.1). You have become more fragrant than myrrh, you who have been proclaimed by the God-chosen tongue of the spirit-filled prophet to be a censer. Go up, go up to the steps of the holy house. Daughters of Jerusalem taking pleasure in the beauty of your comeliness joyously compose a hymn . The kings of the Earth call you blessed . Your ascent of the steps is recognized as divine and delightfully shown as a God- supported ladder to the great patriarch Jacob (cf. Genesis 28.12). Sit down O Lady, for it is proper to you as the Queen glorified above all earthly kingdoms to be seated upon such steps.
This holy place is a fitting dwelling for you who are the throne of the Cherubim. Behold, as Queen of all I have attributed, as it is fitting to you, the most honorable throne. Do you yourself raise up those who have been cast down. And now with David I cry unto you: 'Hear O daughter consider and incline your ear; forget not your people and your father's house; and the king will desire your beauty.' (Psalm 45.11)"
11. And with this the old man restrained himself, although he had thoughts enough for many more encomia. And the parents went away, and the child having been consecrated to God remained behind. And angels did their duty of feeding with fear, and the maiden was fed by immaterial beings, whether with immaterial or material food.
Thus the fulfillment of the divine mystery was accomplished through an initiative from God. Thus the infant grew and was strengthened, and all the opposition which was given to us by the curse of Eden was weakened (cf. Genesis 3.16).
12. But come now, assembly dear to God, whatever power is in our childish thoughts, with one voice let us proclaim the "rejoice" to the Virgin (cf. Luke 1.28), not being able adequately to hymn her perfect feast; but excusing our weakness as far as possible, since God is pleased with what is within our power. For the only [woman] known as virgin and mother has surpassed all thought, and the cause is clear. For what virgin has given birth, or after giving birth has preserved her virginity undefiled, except you alone, who truly bore God in the flesh for us, all-blessed maiden?
13. Therefore rejoice, forgiveness of transgressions given by God for us filthy ones, who are denuded by the death-dealing and soul-destroying food of Eden, as you put on the sea-purple robe which represents God-given forgiveness today for your entrance to the Holy of Holies in your glorious garment not made by hands (cf. Genesis 3.17), O bride of God.
Rejoice, you who today call together all the prophetic assembly for the beginning of your most brilliant and venerable Entrance, with well-tuned cymbals as with musical instruments striking up the divine-sounding strain and dancing in spiritual joy.
14. Rejoice, you who by the rhythm of your footsteps trample down my terrible leader - that serpent with his crooked-minded, good-hating diabolical nature - who has counseled me toward transgression (cf. Genesis 3.1-13). But you controlling your changeable, visible, and corrupt nature continue to journey along toward the heavenly, holy and even eternal tent.
Rejoice, you who have radiantly shown this day of joy and gladness (cf. Psalm 45.15 LXX) of your torch-lit Entrance upon those who have been caught by the shadow of death and the abyss of infirmity - you who bear witness that the divinely-ordained destruction of darkness shall come about through you, O most wonderful Mary.
Rejoice, bright cloud (cf. Exodus 19.16) who continues to drop divine spiritual dew upon us (cf. Exodus 16.13), you who today by your holy entrance into the Holy of Holies have made to shine the all-brilliant Sun upon those who remain in the shadow of death. A fountain pouring out God, from which the rivers of divine knowledge pour out the bright clear water of orthodoxy and drown out the company of the heretics.
15. Rejoice, delightful and rational paradise of God, which today is planted in the east by the omnipotent right hand of his will (cf. Genesis 2.8), who have blossomed forth the beautiful lily and the unfading rose for those who in the west have drunk the bitter soul-destroying plague of death, on whom the life-giving tree has sprouted forth to the intimate knowledge of the truth . Those who have tasted from it are made immortal.
Rejoice, sacred, undefiled, most pure palace of the omnipotent God. You are wrapped in his grandeur and guide us all with your mystical joy. Right now you are being established in the court of the Lord, in his holy Temple, in which is located the decorated bridal chamber not made by hands of the bridegroom (cf. Psalm 19.5-6). Through you, the Word which was married to the flesh willingly wished to reconcile those wanderers (cf. Romans 5.10) who through their own private will had been separated.
16 . Rejoice, new Zion and holy Jerusalem, holy city of the great king - within his citadels God has shown himself a sure defense (cf. Psalm 47.3 LXX) - and [God] making kings subject to the veneration of your glory , and preparing all the world to celebrate in great joy the feast of your Entrance. Truly golden and brilliant ... You the seven-lighted lamp stand (cf. Exodus 25.31) enkindled by the unapproachable Light and filled by the oil of purity, and giving the rising of its gleam to the blind in the darkness of sin.
Rejoice, O fertile (Ps. 67.15-17 LXX) shady mountain (Hab. 3.3) in whom the rational lamb has been nourished, he who has set aside our sins, from whom the stone not made by hands was quarried (Dan. 2.34), he who has crushed the sacrificial idols and "the head of the cornerstone has become marvelous in our eyes" (Ps. 117.22, 23).
17. Rejoice, holy throne of God, the divine gift, house of glory, the most beautiful splendor and elect treasure and universal propitiation, and "heaven declaring the glory of God," (Psalm 18.2 LXX) the Orient who has raised the unapproachable radiant one, who sends forth from the highest heaven his warmth (Psalm 18.7 LXX) - that is to say his managing forethought -- from which no one ever can hide.
Rejoice, you who through your birth released the fetters of sterility, who scattered the reproach of childlessness, and sank the curse of the Law (cf. Galatians 3.13); and blossomed forth the grace of blessing - by entering the Holy of Holies you perfected the prayers of your parents and the foundation for forgiveness of our sins, fulfilling the perfection of harmony as the leader of the beginning of grace .
18. Rejoice, most blessed Mary (cf. Luke 1.28), the holiest of the holy ones, higher than the heavens, more glorious than the Cherubim and more honorable than the Seraphim, more blessed than all of creation. You are the dove who bears the olive branch to us in your glorious and splendid entry into the Temple announcing a saving refuge from the spiritual deluge (cf. Genesis 8.11). "The wings of a dove covered with silver, its pinions with green gold" (Ps. 67.14 LXX) struck by the lightning of the all holy and illuminating Spirit, the all-gold container (cf. Exodus 16.33) who bore Christ, the manna, the sweet sweetness of our souls.
19. But O most blameless and all-laudable, most holy one, offering to God greater than all created things, untilled earth, unplowed field (cf. Ezekiel 19.10), well-pruned vineyard, most joyous wine bowl, gushing spring (cf. Ezekiel 17.6), virgin birth-giver and husbandless mother, treasure of purity and ornament of holiness, by your acceptable and motherly-persuasive petitions to your son, born from you without a father, and the God Creator of all, following the furrows of good ecclesiastical order, steer us from the floods of heresies and scandals to the calm and harbor where ships do not sink.
Clothe the priests brilliantly with righteousness (cf. Psalm 131.16 LXX) and the joy of glorious blameless pure faith. [As for] those orthodox lords who have obtained you as a diadem and robe sea-purple and supremely golden dye, or pearl, or precious stone and the undefiled ornament of their own royalty, wielding their scepters in peace and stability; subject to them and spread under their feet the un-filial barbarian nations who blaspheme against you and the God [born] from you.
Guard [them] in the hour of battle along with the army which always relies on your aid. Confirm [them] to go obediently by God's command with the well-directed servitude of good order. Crowning with victorious trophies your city which holds you as tower and a foundation, protect [her], girding [her] with strength. Keep the dwelling-place of God always as the beauty of the temple. Preserve those who praise you from all misfortune and distress of soul. Providing rescue for the captives, appear as a succor to those who are strangers, homeless, and friendless. Stretch out your protective hand for all the world, so that in joy and gladness we may celebrate your festival with the rites which we are now most gloriously performing. In Christ Jesus the King of all and our true God, to whom [be] glory and power, along with the holy Father, the source of life, and the co-eternal Spirit, one in essence and sharing the throne, now and ever and to the ages of the ages. Amen.
Germanos of Constantinople, On the Entry into the Temple I, PG 98, 292C-309B. Translation Source
Troparion (Tone 4)
Today is the preview of the good will of God,
of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the temple of God,
in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice,
0 Divine Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.
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.”