Beginning today with Great Vespers the Church commemorates an important event in the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 2:22-40). Divine Liturgy for the Feast takes place tomorrow, Feb 2.
Forty days after His birth the God-Infant was taken to the Jerusalem Temple, the center of the nation’s religious life. According to the Law of Moses (Lev. 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a male child was forbidden to enter the Temple of God for forty days. At the end of this time the mother came to the Temple with the child. At this time the righteous Elder Simeon (February 3) was living in Jerusalem. It had been revealed to him that he would not die until he should behold the promised Messiah. By inspiration from above, St Simeon went to the Temple at the very moment when the Most Holy Theotokos and St Joseph had brought the Infant Jesus to fulfill the Law. The God-Receiver Simeon took the divine Child in his arms, and giving thanks to God, he spoke the words repeated by the Church each evening at Vespers:
“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
St Simeon said to the Most Holy Virgin: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against. Yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
At the Temple was the 84-year-old widow Anna the Prophetess, daughter of Phanuel (February 3), “who did not leave the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day". She arrived just when St Simeon met the divine Child. She also gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:37-38). In the icon of the Feast she holds a scroll which reads: “This Child has established Heaven and earth.”
A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast at Great Vespers include – extracts from Exodus 12:15-13:16; Leviticus 12 and Numbers 8; Isaiah 6:1-12, and 19:1,3-5,12,16,19-21.
In the Orthodox Church, both baby boys and baby girls are taken to the Church on the fortieth day after their birth. This is done in remembrance of the Theotokos and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the Temple.
HYMNS OF THE FEAST
Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, full of grace! From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God. Enlightening those who sat in darkness! Rejoice, and be glad, O righteous elder; You accepted in your arms the Redeemer of our souls, Who grants us the Resurrection.
By Your nativity, You did sanctify the Virgin’s womb, And did bless Simeon’s hands, O Christ God. Now You have come and saved us through love. Grant peace to all Orthodox Christians, O only Lover of man!