According to Holy Tradition, the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple took place in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, Sts Joachim and Anna, praying for an end to their childlessness, vowed that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God.
When the Most Holy Virgin reached the age of three, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. They gathered together their relatives and acquaintances, and dressed the All-Pure Virgin in Her finest clothes. Singing sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands, virgins escorted Her to the Temple (Ps. 44/45:14-15). There the High Priest and several priests met the handmaiden of God. In the Temple, fifteen high steps led to the sanctuary, which only the priests and High Priest could enter. (Because they recited a Psalm on each step, Psalms 119/120-133/134 are called “Psalms of Ascent.”) The child Mary, so it seemed, could not make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly went up the remaining steps and ascended to the highest one. Then the High Priest, through inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest entered once a year to offer a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore, all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence.
After entrusting their child to the Heavenly Father, Joachim and Anna returned home. The All-Holy Virgin remained in the quarters for virgins near the Temple. According to the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1: 28; Luke 2: 37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters around the Temple, in which those who were dedicated to the service of God dwelt.
The earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos from Her infancy until She was taken up to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. “If anyone were to ask me,” said St Jerome, “how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, I would answer that that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian.”
But there are accounts in Church Tradition, that during the All-Pure Virgin’s stay at the Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, diligently read the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with handicrafts, prayed constantly, and grew in love for God. From ancient times, the Church has celebrated the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. 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 (May 21) built a church in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.
St Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, also mentions this Feast. In the eighth century Sts Germanus and Tarasius, Patriarchs of Constantinople, delivered sermons on the Feast of the Entry.
This being the basis of the feast what meaning does the entry of the Mother of God into the Temple have for us as Orthodox Christians?
The Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple foretells God’s blessing for the human race, the preaching of salvation, the promise of the coming of Christ. It does so by presenting to us the account of the PREPARATION of our Lady for her sacred and most momentous obedience, the conception of the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ in her womb.
Make no mistake, to bear God in this manner is no mean or slight thing. The glory of God consumes the wicked in judgement, purifies the repentant and deifies the illumined. The Ever Virgin Mary could not have assented to the Incarnation of the Word in her own body without being purified and illumined. This is what her sojourn in the Temple as a young girl means. She had to be readied to be herself the true Temple of the Word.
This remarkable transition from the Temple and the Ark being the vehicles of God’s Presence to Our Lady herself forever changes our understanding of the range and depth of that Presence. Not now confined to Jerusalem or one people only, the Virgin brings that Presence in herself to the whole world in the conception and birth of her Son. Rightly therefore do we call her blessed, pure, immaculate, deified, the true Temple of the Lord.
It is not enough though to regard these events with wonder from afar. The invitation of our Lady to have Christ dwell in her is repeated in a spiritual manner by our new birth in Him as He comes to dwell in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Ever Virgin Mary may have been the first to have been described as “birth-giver of God” but there have been countless other bearers of God in the Spirit since. The challenge and invitation to us is that we should by faith and love become newly born in the One born in us to the acclamation of the angels in heaven over even one sinner who repents. Let that be me; let that be you.