How can we not praise and glorify the Most Holy Theotokos, through whom the greatest mysteries of God’s plan for the salvation of man were carried out? Today, as a three-year-old child, she is brought into the Temple at Jerusalem by her holy parents, Joachim and Anna, and is received by the high priest Zacharias, who receives her with fear of God and trembling as something most precious and brings her into the Holy of Holies where she is consecrated in the shadow of God’s glory. It is impossible for a human being to experience, let alone speak of, what the Most Holy Theotokos experienced in the Temple.
Moved by the love for the Most Holy One, our beloved Elder and Abbot, Bishop Partenij of Antania, celebrated the Holy and Divine Hierarchal Liturgy in her renowned Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos near Kičevo, where a part of our monastic community lives in obedience, sacrifice, and God-pleasing love. There, following the example of the first nun, the Most Holy Theotokos, with the blessing of our beloved Elder, the nuns tirelessly strive to become living temples of the living God and to imitate Bishop Partenij, our teacher in love, forgiveness, joy, truth, peace, and the good news of the Resurrection of Christ. A the same time, numerous faithful came to experience the joy of today’s feast day, especially the young souls of the Metropolitan Kozma Prechistanski Choir of Kičevo, who sang with their beautiful voices, enriching the beauty of the liturgy and making the festive celebration a true foretaste of The Kingdom of Heaven and the angelic doxologies to the Triune God in the Heavens.
Thus was the inspired sermon of Elder Partenij, given during the Divine Liturgy after the reading of the Holy Gospel:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Today is the prelude 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.
Today, my beloved, with festal songs and hymns, we celebrate the wondrous presentation of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Temple of Solomon. When she was three years old, the young Virgin Mary, the child of the righteous Joachim and Anna, was taken by her parents to the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem, to the high priest Zacharias, the father of St. John the Baptist.
As is known from the biblical account, Solomon’s Temple was divided into three parts: the porch or portico, the nave – the main part where the people gathered for prayer, and the place called the Holy of Holies, where absolutely no one was allowed to enter, except for the high priest, and at that only once a year, to offer a gift and a sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of the sins of the people. That place, the Holy of Holies, was separated from the rest of the Temple by a heavy curtain, on which figures of the cherubim were embroidered. Inside the Holy of Holies, the Jews kept the Ark of the Covenant, in which were placed the Tablets with the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses, and other holy things, such as the flowering scepter of Moses’ brother, the high priest Aaron, and a bowl with manna – the food with which God miraculously fed the Jews in the Judaean Desert.
What is remarkable about today’s feast? It is the fact that the priest Zacharias, while outside himself in divine ecstasy, brings little Mary right into the Holy of Holies, even though, as we said, no one was allowed to enter there. By inspiring the high priest to do this, God wanted to show that Mary, the pure girl from Nazareth, was the one who would bring the Son of God into this world.
From then on, the Most Pure Virgin remained in the Temple to be brought up, until, according to the law of the time, the priests turned her over to Joseph the Betrothed. While she lived in the Temple, she herself became a Divine Temple. Through her unceasing prayer and labor, she was preparing herself in her heart to become God’s tabernacle, the temple where the Uncontainable One would dwell. The Theotokos was completely given over to a mind and vision of God. St. Gregory Palamas says that “Chosen before all ages, she showed herself to be holier than the Saints and as the One whose body is purer and more divine than the spirits established in virtue. She contained in herself not only the form of the word of God, but also the incarnate and only-Begotten Word of the unoriginate Father.” She was also the first Christian ascetic and nun as according to Tradition, she was taught by the Archangel Gabriel how to strive ascetically to do good deeds and how to prepare herself to receive the eternal God and to save all humanity. Thus, the Most Holy One’s life in the Temple in Jerusalem was a constant preparation for her playing such a crucial role in the great mystery of the salvation of the world.
My beloved, today’s feast reveals to us the purpose of our existence, which is that we are here to prepare ourselves to become temples of the Godhead and to become God-bearers. Humanity’s main characteristic before Christ was its expectation of deliverance. That is why in the Troparion for today’s feast it is said that it is “the prelude of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.” All mankind was living in anticipation of something radical about to happen, something that was supposed to save man from the corruption of death, sin, and his immense despair. The Most Holy Theotokos brought the Messiah into the world, not only by God’s decision but also through her willingness and because of the podvig, love, humility, and extreme purity that she observed. This is why Christ chose to come and save us through her, giving us the most wondrous opportunity to become temples of God and inherit eternal life.
We often (rightly) say that life is short. The Lord says in the Gospel: “What good is it for a man if he gains the whole world and harms his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Consequently, it is very important to always keep in mind that the short time we have at our disposal should be used to unite with Christ. In this way, we will become real people. I say “truly” because nowadays, unfortunately, it is increasingly rare to encounter a person in the Christian sense of the word. We live in an era when the entirety of life and moral values, which are actually based on the good news of the Gospel of Christ, are trampled upon and destroyed. In many ways, our contemporary society already resembles the dark and hopeless condition that reigned among man before Christ came. The Lord Jesus Christ came to Earth to solve all the existential and spiritual problems that had plagued man for centuries. Before Him, neither the priests of Egypt, nor the philosophers of Hellas, nor the sages of Rome had found an answer to the question of the eschaton. This is why, in the end, their followers bowed down and worshipped at the Nazarene’s preaching of the resurrected Son of God. Humanity received Christ and thus Christian civilization was born, oriented toward the Kingdom of God.
Today, however, we see how that civilization is rapidly disintegrating before our very eyes, and people are frenziedly returning to the primitive ways of our pagan past. Thus, when you ever hear that the outlandish tendencies that we increasingly face in everyday life are considered “modern” and “advanced,” always keep in mind that they are, in fact, decadent, backward, and nothing more than a return to uncivilized primitivism. They can in no way be characterized as progress or an evolution toward the future. Something that was already practiced in the past cannot be progressive. It is enough for a person to look at the social history of humanity before Christ came to realize that this is not something unprecedented or new.
Christianity is health, not just mental and spiritual, but also bodily. Christ remains the only new thing under the sun, the only progress, and the only true evolution. Thus, let us love the Holy Gospel and the Person it tells us about. Most of us here were born into that most holy faith of Orthodox Christianity. Let’s open the Gospel, read the Holy Fathers, and come to know our beautiful faith which is the faith of God’s revelation that will help us to remain spiritually and morally healthy in this time of insanity. Let’s pray for this to the Most Holy Mother Theotokos, whom we can be assured answers our prayers every time we appeal to her with love and sincerity. She is the great Mother, given by God as a gift to all mankind. In her, we have our most reliable motherly support. That’s why church hymns frequently call her the Protector, the Shield of Christians, an Invincible Tower, and an Unconquered City. Here, in this Monastery, we are honored with the blessing of having her miraculous icon called Krninska, which has always been a great support to Christians of this region in all the upheavals and temptations of the past. The Most Holy Mother of God protected this Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos and its Christian people in this world. Let’s pray to the Queen Mother to give us grace so that in this difficult time we can remain faithful to the true values of the Holy Gospel.