And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. - The Protoevangelium of James
Today is the prelude of God's good-will and the heralding of the salvation of mankind. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and she proclaimeth Christ unto all. To her, then, with a great voice let us cry aloud: Rejoice, O thou fulfilment of the Creator's dispensation! - Troparion. Tone 4.
The most pure temple of the Saviour, the most precious bridal-chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of the glory of God, is on this day brought into the house of the Lord, bringing with her the grace that is in the Divine Spirit. And the angels of God chant praise unto her: she is the heavenly tabernacle. - Kontakion. Tone 4.
Tomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple. The troparion and kontakion for the day really say it all. We are blessed to be able to share in the New Covenant in Christ through Baptism, and it is through Our Lady that this was made possible. As, under the Old Covenant, the Ark of the Covenant was fashioned to house the word - the Law - of God, which was a mere shadow of things to come, so Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, for she housed, nurtured and presented to the world the Logos, the Incarnate Word of God, Who is the fulfilment of the Law and the fruition of all things. For this purpose she was prepared and sanctified and through her desire to conform her will to that of God, the lowly Hebrew maiden became the Mother of her God.
The story in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James tells of her being dedicated to the Lord by her parents, the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, and her being presented to the Temple at the age of three years. We are told of how she lived in the Holy of Holies (the Debir, which is the part of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant would have been housed), where she was fed daily by Angels.
While the story itself may be a little fanciful (but not impossible!), it is permeated with the Truth of God. Whether or not a young girl would have been allowed into the temple - and in the Debir at that - is something about which I am not qualified to comment. We know that Our Lady was of a priestly caste and so it is possible that she grew up in the temple grounds with people of similar lineage, which may form the basis of the story. I simply do not know.
What I do know is that a mythical reading of the story robs it of none of its truth. I do see it as a myth - a story that may or may not be historically true, but the historicity of which is irrelevant to the deeper truth that is contained therein. And the deeper truth of this story is that Mary, a young Jewish girl, wholly gave herself over to the will of God, that she became the dwelling-place of the Most High, the Ark of the New Covenant, the precious bridal-chamber wherein heaven was wedded to earth, where eternity and the created realm of space and time were united, and where the divine Logos condescended to become human, that he may conquer death, show forth the Resurrection, and ultimately, take that human nature into the heavenly state at his glorious Ascension.
For this the Church gives thanks and praise to God and due honour to his blessed Mother.
Wherefore, let all faithful people
tell the honour of her name;
let the Church, in her foreshadowed,
part in her thanksgiving claim.
What Christ's mother sang in gladness,
let Christ's people sing the same.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!
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