"After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways .... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church." St. Philaret of NY 1985
Sermon: Entry of Theotokos
translated by Dimitra Frost
The Holy Church now celebrates one of her great feasts -- a radiant and joyous event in the life of the Church. This is the entry into the temple of the Most-Blessed Virgin Mary, when her holy and righteous parents brought her into the holy temple when -Vie was still quite a three-year-old little Maid, in order to dedicate Her there to God according to the promise that they had given. Many, of course, know in what the essence of this feast consists.
I will point out some details, which are perhaps not known to all: First, when they brought Her into the temple, there also went with her maidens, little girls, with candles, accompanying Her with the chanting of Psalms, so that there went through the streets of Jerusalem a ceremonial procession, to which doubtless also other people joined. Finally, when they came to the temple of God, the Chief Priest, Zacharias, himself went out to meet them, knowing about the promise of the righteous parents. But here all were struck by the fact that -- while he was still at the top of the steps of the temple, and the steps were many, and they were tall -- the holy and pure Child, without any support, all on her own, climbed up all the steps. And then, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the chief priest Zacharias did that which at [any] other time he never would have done: he brought the maiden Mary into the Holy of Holies. Now one must bear in mind that a person could not approach the Holy of Holies. Even the priests could not enter therein. And only one day a year, on the so-called day of atonement, did the chief priest enter with sacrificial blood, as though offering sacrifice on behalf of the whole people. But this was not the day of atonement; on this day the Chief Priest could not go into the Holy of Holies, but, illumined by the Holy Spirit, he went in -- and he brought therein the Maiden Mary, and She, as tradition says, remaining in the temple continually, stayed in the Holy of Holies and there an Angel brought Her food and conversed with Her. Therefore the holy fathers said that when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her -- an already nearly grown young woman -- in Nazareth with the word of the annunciation, not the very appearance of an angel frightened or disturbed her. She was used to converting with angels -- otherwise it was an unusual greeting with which the heavenly Messenger addressed her.
And so, after her ceremonial entrance, the Virgin Mary lived at the temple, the temple was Her home. But one must bear in mind that then there was only one (temple], the temple of the True God in the city of Jerusalem. Those who lived in Jerusalem, of course, had the opportunity to visit the temple often; but those who lived on the outskirts of the Holy Land, Palestine, came to the temple only from time to time, mainly, as say tradition and the Sacred scriptures, on the days of the great feasts: Pascha and Pentecost. (There are of course other feast days as well.) But we, who live in the New Testament and are being saved in the New Testament Church, are concerned with the fact that, as you all know, we have many temples of the True God. Moreover, our temples, as the holy fathers say, in their grace and holiness are higher that the Old Testament temple, for there all were prefigurings, related to the future, while here the grace of God and the Truth Himself, rests on the throne and is communicated to all who reverently are prevent and with faith pray in the temple of God. But do we visit our temples zealously enough? How often do we hear about the fact that people: rarely go to church, especially in the evening; "there is no time," others are afraid -- "it is terrible to go." But it is bitter and sorrowful to hear these excuses! Time and again right in this holy temple [I have heard] about the fact that many of those very people who say that they are afraid to go into the temple are at dances, theaters, and other establishments of entertainment...
What has become of the (Russian) Orthodox people in this regard? I shall detain your for a few more minutes and pass on to you a story about how a certain believing man was present at a Divine Service in Soviet Russia. Those who belonged to the Catacomb, secret Church became convinced of his trustworthiness and invited him to their place, to Vespers. The service was like this: he comes to quite a large, furnished room; it is full of young people -- they are all sitting down, conversing quietly... A little later a man dressed in secular working clothes comes in. A very radiant face of noble lines; they speak quietly to the guest: This is our Batiushka. Quietly and reverently all went up to him to get a blessing, he reverently and unhurriedly blesses, then everyone sat down again in their places, having placed books in front of him; in these books was the Divine Office of Vespers. The young people put, on a phonograph record that played so that people on the outside would think that the young people were having a party and dancing. The priest pronounced the last part of his prayer audibly, they answered him softly, and gradually, under the sounds of worldly music, they finished serving Vespers. They asked him to the liturgy, too, but they said that one could not serve the liturgy that way -- it would in the church. They brought him to the outskirts of town, by outward appearances to some sort of completely deserted, torn down barn, in which, inside, everything was arranged as in a church. And there they had the liturgy. He says that one must see how they prayed at this liturgy, all these unfortunate people. Now here one may also say that the deeper the affliction, the closer is God. We here are lazy and do not go to God's temple, where there is no danger at all, while there people at terrible risk go and pray to God. This man asked one of these young people, "Aren't you afraid? There have been incidents where they have uncovered such "Catacomb Christians" -- and there followed the most cruel punitive measures!" They calmly answered him, we are not afraid of anything; faith is dearer for us than everything. We are prepared to die for the Lord; neither unpleasantnesses, nor deprivations, nor oppressions, nor tortures, nor death frighten us -- nothing terrifies us. But the Lord keeps us."
But we, here -- living in freedom and having the opportunity to go to the temples of God as often we please -- regrettably, we do not take advantage of this mercy of God as we ought. Here we are today: a great feast, however, are there many people here in the temple? I repeat- if it's to go to a place of entertainment, then there will be a far more people there than here... But the Mother of God lived in the temple of God and this is our lesson, that parents and educators and all on whose conscience the upbringing of children lies, before all else accustom them to the temple of God. Bishop Theophan the Recluse very profoundly and touchingly used to talk about the fact that everything to do with the church is akin to the essence of a child's soul, it quickly becomes used to it [church] and clings to it. And blessed is that child who from his childhood continues to visit the temple of God, for here he will receive such a spiritual "seasoning", such spiritual wealth as he will receive in no other place. Therefore, brothers, we must not only go to God's temple ourselves, but 4..... and concern ourselves that our children be there as often as possible. I knew a fine family, where the children used to get up for the early liturgy earlier than their parents, and pressed them to bring them to church quickly. And this was not in the "good old days," but in most recent years, after the revolution we had, in the Par East.
Once more I say: Blessed is that child who has the opportunity in his childhood years to receive as many holy impressions, grace-filled sanctifications, and illuminations in the temple of God as possible. The house of God is the house of prayer; in it the Lord, by His grace, is closer to people than anywhere else; therefore we ought to take pains ourselves in going to church, and continually accustom our successors, our children, to this. Amen.