Presentation of the Lord

Augustine Sokolowski

One of the Feasts of the Church and the decoration of the month of February is the Feast of the Presentation. It is one of the Great Twelve Feasts of the Orthodox Church. The Presentation is celebrated in the Russian Church on the 15th of February.

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord has different names: Bringing Jesus to the Temple; the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Candlemas,’the Liturgy of Light; and even the Meeting of the Lord in Russian and Greek Orthodoxy. Each of these names is associated with different meanings of the feast, which are gradually revealed in the story as described in the Gospel. 

The Feast of the Presentation bears a biblical origin. The Church's dogma on the Incarnation states that God in Christ Jesus truly became a man and lived a real human life. As the Messiah sent by God to save humanity, the Lord Jesus was a truly religious person. 

The religiosity of Israel during the time of Jesus Christ was built around certain constants, the most important of which was the Law and the Temple. Jesus Christ came to fulfil the Law and had to fulfil it. 

Following the Law of Moses, the birth of the first male child was accompanied by a triad of obligatory ceremonies described in the biblical book of Leviticus: Circumcision, Purification of a Woman and Dedication of the Firstborn.

Accordingly, the narrative of the event of the Presentation of Lord begins with the words about the circumcision of the child Jesus. For us 21st-century people, it is significant that the child was given the human name Jesus on the eighth day after birth (Genesis 12:3). This seemingly familiar event takes on incredible significance in light of the dogma of the Incarnation.  

It is crucial to remember that the word "God" itself, no matter what language you pronounce it in, is not the name of God but a conventional concept denoting the One who is above every name and merely cannot be named. In the biblical book of Exodus, God calls himself "JHWH" (Exodus 3:14). However, this is only an inaccurate translation. In Hebrew, the term means this: “He is the one who is what he (continually) becomes. Becomes what he should become. He is and will be.” Or more simply, “I will be.”  

But if for God the absence of a name is a sign of his majesty, then the giving of the name “Jesus” to the newborn divine child on the eighth day signifies the depth of God’s self-humility, which in theological language is called kenosis or exhaustion. After all, the born God-man remained nameless until the eighth day. He remained nameless to free man from all destructive anonymity and lack of a name, to fill our names with life.  

According to the same book of Leviticus that prescribes circumcision, a woman who gives birth to a male child is considered unclean for 40 days. After that, she must sacrifice a lamb and a dove or a pigeon (Lev. 12:6-8). Based on Luke’s Gospel testimony of “two turtle doves or pigeon chicks” we can conclude that Mary and Joseph were poor (Luke 2:22-24).

When the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him before the Lord, as prescribed in the Law of the Lord, so that every firstborn male baby must be dedicated to the Lord. The combination of these two rituals – the purification of the mother and the bringing of the first-born child – was, in turn, the reason why, according to the liturgical rule, the Feast is simultaneously dedicated to the Lord and the Theotokos.  

The feast of the presentation is the end of Christmas events. It is the meeting of God and man. It is the meeting of man and God. It is the meeting of man with God. For, according to the Bible, God became man so that man might become god. God became man so that man could know the divine in himself.