Since early days the Church has
given to the Mother of God titles of holiness greater than those
which are given to any saint. She is called the All-holy, Panagia.
We venerate Her as One who is greater and holier than the Cherubim
and the Seraphim, greater than the angels of God who, endowed with
vision, can see, contemplate and adore, greater than the angels of
God who are, as it were, the throne of the Most High. Because the
ones as the others see, worship, serve God as their Lord, as their
Master, and yet somehow they remain farther from Him than She, who
in Her exceeding holiness has become the kin of God, has become the
Mother of the Incarnate Word, who is the Bride, the perfect
revelation of what the whole creation is called to be and to become.
The Feast of the Presentation of the
Mother of God to the Temple quite obviously raises historical
problems. We know that in Israel no one was allowed into the Holy of
Holies, that the High Priest entered it only once a year after
having undergone purification by sacrificial blood. What the feast
stands for primarily is described, enlarged on, in a sermon on
prayer written in the 19th century by Theophane the
Recluse. The Holy of Holies, he says, is the heart of hearts of
human worship. It is the place where men in the Old Testament can
meet God to the extent to which God can be met. It is the heart of
the mystery of Israel. It is also the point which somehow is beyond
the point of the sacrificed. The sacrifice opens the door to it. The
sacrifice somehow remains this side of it. And to enter into the
Holy of Holies means first and foremost to enter into that depth of
adoration, into that depth of prayer which makes one present to the
living God, which makes one stand face to face with the living God.
The presentation of the Mother of God, apart from historical
features, is extolled by the Church because it indicates to us where
She stands in the whole of Her life, in the divine presence in
complete surrender, in complete adoration.
Tradition has it that she was
brought by Joachim and Anna. On the icons you can see young girls
with candles bringing her to the temples. She was handed over to the
high priest, who took Her into the place to which he had no access
himself. Now I don't think there is any advantage in discussing the
possible historicity of an event of that kind. From a purely
historical point of view it is unlikely that it could have happened.
But what matters is what it stands for, and it stands for a moment
when, having reached the maturity of a young child, but the maturity
of one who can already worship, serve, lend an ear, be ready to
respond and to obey, She chose all that and went into that depth of
obedience, of listening, of attention to what was God's will. By
what I say I do not mean to say that it did or did not happen. But
what matters as far as She is concerned is obviously this aspect of
the thing much more than the historicity of the event as described
in icons or in folkloric tradition.