November 21 marks the commemoration of the Great Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. The festal cycle of the Church sanctifies time. By this we mean that the tedious flow of time is imbued with sacred content as we celebrate the events of the past now made present through liturgical worship. Notice how often we hear the word “today” in the hymns of the Feast:
“Today let us, the faithful dance for joy ... “
“Today the living Temple of the holy glory of Christ our God, she who alone among women is pure and blessed ...”
“Today the Theotokos, the Temple that is to hold God is led into the temple of the Lord ...” (Vespers of the Feast)
Again, we do not merely commemorate the past, but we make the past present. We actualize the event being celebrated so that we are also participating in it. We, today, rejoice as we greet the Mother of God as she enters the temple “in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.” Can all - or any - of this possibly change the “tone” of how we live this day? Is it at all possible that an awareness of this joyous Feast can bring some illumination or sense of divine grace into the seemingly unchanging flow of daily life? Are we able to envision our lives as belonging to a greater whole: the life of the Church that is moving toward the final revelation of God’s Kingdom in all of its fullness? Do such questions even make any sense as we are scrambling to just get through the day intact and in one piece, hopefully avoiding any serious mishaps or calamities? If not, can we at least acknowledge that “something” essential is missing from our lives?
I believe that there a few things that we could do on a practical level that will bring the life of the Church, and its particular rhythms, into our domestic lives. As we know, each particular Feast has a main hymn called the troparion. This troparion captures the over-all meaning and theological content of the Feast in a somewhat poetic fashion. As the years go by, and as we celebrate the Feasts annually, you may notice that you have memorized these troparia, or at least recognize them when they are sung in church. For the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, the festal troparion is the following:
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.
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice, O Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation!
A great Feast Day of the Church is never a one-day affair. There is the “afterfeast” and then, finally, the “leavetaking” of the Feast. So this particular Feast extends from today, November 21, until Monday, November 25. A good practice, therefore, would be to include the troparion of the Feast in our daily prayer until the leavetaking. That can be very effective when parents pray together with their children before bed time, as an example. Perhaps even more importantly within a family meal setting, would be to sing or simply say or chant the troparion together before sitting down to share that meal. The troparion would replace the usual prayer that we use, presumably the Our Father. All of this can be especially effective with children as it will introduce them to the rhythm of Church life and its commemoration of the great events in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Do you have any Orthodox literature in the home that would narrate and then perhaps explain the events and their meaning of the Great Feast Days? Reading this together as a family can also be very effective. A short Church School session need not be the only time that our children are introduced to the life of the Church. The home, as we recall, has been called a “little Church” by none other than Saint John Chrysostom. Orthodox Christianity is meant to be a way of life, as expressed here by Father Pavel Florensky, who writes that “the Orthodox taste, the Orthodox temper, is felt but is not subject to arithmetical calculation. Orthodoxy is shown, not proved. That is why there is only one way to understand Orthodoxy: through direct experience ... to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once into the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way. There is no other way” (The Pillar and Ground of the Truth).