Let it be
“Today the Theotokos, the temple that is to hold God, is led into the Temple and Zacharias receives her… Let us cry aloud with Gabriel: Rejoice, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you, he who has great mercy.” So we sang at Vespers last night. The one who is to become the temple and palace of God is led into the temple.
In the readings last night, we heard how, of old, the tabernacle was constructed according to the command of God as the place where the ark of testimony was to be placed, covered with a veil, illumined by candlesticks and lamps, with incense offered on a golden altar, and with the tabernacle and all the vessels anointed with the oil of anointing.
We heard that when it was finished, the tabernacle was overshadowed by the cloud and filled with the glory of the Lord, so that no one, not even Moses, was able to enter the tent.
Now, today, the Theotokos is led into the temple of the Lord, to preach Christ to all, and to become the temple, the dwelling place of the glory of God, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit; and not only the dwelling place, as the tabernacle of old, but the one who gives birth to God, so that in her and through her, in and through a human being, the glory of God radiates to the world.
All aspects of the temple point to her; she is their fulfillment. She is the jar containing the manna, the ark of the covenant, the rod of Aaron which budded forth, and all the other images we use to praise her. As we sang: “The written law has passed away and vanished as a shadow, and the rays of grace have shone forth at your entry into the temple of God, O undefiled Virgin Mother.” All the Law and the Prophets point to her; the reality has come and the shadows have passed away.
She is, as we sing, the fulfillment of the dispensation of the whole economy, indeed, of the whole of creation. As St Nicodemus put it: the world was created for Mary… and she for Christ. The whole world was created for the one who would say, “Let it be!”—the one who gives space to God as his temple and so allows the creator to enter his creation.
The tabernacle made by hands finds its fulfillment in the temple that is Mary, and through her, God enters this world to dwell amongst us, no longer hidden in the inner sanctuary in the man-made temple in Jerusalem, but dwelling among us, and now us in him.
She is the gate, as Ezekiel says, through which the Lord has entered the world: “O Gate of the Lord, unto you I open the gates of the temple,” Zacharias exclaims. “I now know and believe that the deliverance of Israel shall come to dwell openly in our midst.”
For this deliverance to come about, however, we must go one step further into the temple. The epistle reading spoke of how the priests would go into the outer tabernacle to perform their ritual services, but the high priest alone would go into the Holy of Holies only once a year, to offer blood for himself and the errors of the people.
The apostle continues: Christ himself, the High Priest of the good things to come, entered the greater and more perfect tabernacle, the one not made by human hands, entering once for all, offering not the blood of animal sacrifices, but his own blood, so securing an eternal redemption for all.
It is by his self-sacrifice that Christ enters this more perfect tabernacle and does so once-for-all… so that the gate remains shut: “It shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut,” says Ezekiel.
His sacrifice is once and for all—for all people and for all time. It is an eternal sacrifice and an eternal redemption. The gateway remains shut, but salvation is available for all. Today, then, as the Theotokos enters the temple, preaching Christ to all, she becomes the one through whom the glory of God enters this world, by being the gateway through which the Lord enters the more perfect tabernacle, offering his eternal sacrifice and being the High Priest of the good things to come. She is the bridge, the passageway or the exodus from creation to recreation and redemption.
The Temple is both the place where God enters the world and the place where the sacrifice is made; and these two aspects—the womb and the tomb—cannot be separated. For all this to happen, of course, Mary had to say: “Let it be!” Not only “Let the power of the most high overshadow me,” but also, “Let the sword piece my heart, too.”
Yet these words of Mary—“Let it be!”—are glaringly absent from the hymnography for this feast. The reason for this is because, today, as we celebrate this feast, she is our “Let it be!” She is the completion or culmination of creation as it—as we—respond to the Word of God.
Mary is not simply brought into the temple; she is offered there, she is sacrificed by our “Let it be!” Joachim and Anna, the hymns said, “rejoice exceedingly, for they have offered to God, as a three-year old victim of sacrifice, the Queen without blemish.” Mary is the pure and blameless sacrifice to God on behalf of all human beings, “the dove without blemish and the ewe-lamb of God without spot.” This is what it means to say “Let it be”!
For our high calling, to be conformed to the image and likeness of God, for this to be realized, we too need to be able to say for ourselves: Let it be! God does not enter into this world except by our offering him space, not a geographical space somewhere else in the world, but our own place—ourselves and our own time, today—the sacrifice of our own sense of self, our attempts to construct our own identity, to set limits and boundaries on how much we are prepared to accept, to say “let it be,” but only on my terms.
No! Our own terms need to be sacrificed if we are to say: Let it be! We must sacrifice ourselves, becoming ourselves temples of God, sacrificing ourselves on the altar of our heart, so that he can now be present in us and through us; we must decrease so that he might increase.
This has been accomplished in our offering of the virgin child Mary. In a month’s time we will sing of how we offer her at Christ’s Nativity and for his Nativity; today we offer her as the temple and the Gate of the Lord, so that High Priest can, by his own once-for-all sacrifice enter the Holy of Holies. We too, even we, can be refashioned—pass through from the creation to the new creation, but only if we can say for ourselves, “Let it be!”
As we present the Theotokos into the temple today, saying to God “Let it be,” let us not misunderstand what it demands of us as ourselves temples of God. May we have the strength to say with her: “Let it be!”
On September 4th, Faith Build held its sod turning ceremony for the duplex that we will soon be building. Faith Build is a group of Yorkton area Churches that have joined together to raise the funds and to build a house for a family. Faith Build is working under the umbrella of Habit for Humanity. After 3 years of planning and raising funds, we are excited to see this project moving forward and nearing completion. The families are excited to have stability in their accommodation situation.
St. Mark is part of the Faith Build and is forming work crews to help during the build. We are looking forward to helping out a family in our local community. This gives us the opportunity as Christ commanded us, to go and help our neighbors. Come and join in the build. All help is appreciated.
Update: The walls are up and soon the roof. We are making good progress.
Volunteers are needed to help out. Contact Gwen at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a
message on her phone 306-782-4093 if you can help.
September 14, Feast Of the Holy Cross “O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries and by virtue of Your Cross, preserve Your habitation.” Each year on September 14 the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of “The Elevation of the Honorable and Life-giving Cross.” This is one of the great feasts of the Church year, and one which has an important historical background. Although one or two of the hymns for the day refer obliquely to the vision of the cross in the heavens, the actual commemoration is not that of Constantine’s vision before his battle with Maxentius on October 28, 312. On that occasion, while he was in doubt about the outcome of the impending battle for Italy, he saw in the heavens the arms of the cross stretching far and wide, and the words. “In This Conquer.” The battle won, he begin to aid Christians, and ended by being baptized himself.
When Heraclius was crowned Emperor on October 5, 610, after the overthrow of the unworthy Phocas, the provinces on all sides were overrun by the Persians, Avars, and Slavs. He started on a series of internal reforms, such as canceling the dole of grain, which enabled a great many able-bodied loafers in Constantinople to spend their time attending the circus and games instead of doing something useful, and in trying to improve the finances of the government. He embarked on a series of campaigns in due course of time to re-establish Byzantine rule in the neighboring parts of the Empire. The Persians had for some years been harassing Syria and Asia Minor, and in 613 they attacked the city of Damascus. The next year they took Jerusalem, and left a garrison in charge of the city. The population revolted as soon as the main body of the invading army left, and slaughtered the garrison. This brought back the conquerors, who are said to have killed 90,000 of the inhabitants, sparing only the Jews who aided them in the conquest. They took the Patriarch Zacharias and the case containing the relics of the cross back to Persia with them.
This event was regarded by all the Christians as the greatest possible disaster, since they regarded the sacred relics as the palladium of the city. Added to this was the insolence of Chosroes, King of the Persians, who taunted the Christians with their religion and their Lord, who so obviously had failed to deliver them. For the next eight years Heraclius was busy with the Avars, and was not able to go out against the Persians until 622. He waged six campaigns between 622 and 627, and finally defeated Chosroes and his generals decisively, but at great cost. The Empire was in great danger: in 626 the Persians were in Asia Minor right across the Bosporus from the City, while their barbarian allies were encamped on the north in Thrace. But Heraclius managed to fight them all off, and restore some control.
He brought back to Jerusalem the Patriarch and the relics of the cross, which had not been molested. The populace demanded to see and venerate the relics, and accordingly they were solemnly elevated for all to see and reverence. The Emperor took a part of the sacred wood back to Constantinople with him. From the time of the finding of the cross by the Empress Helena, small bits of the wood were sent all over the world as most sacred relics, and the part which remained, although large, was still portable.
The hard-won peace of 626 left both the Persian anti Byzantine empires exhausted. At this very time a new danger appeared on the horizon: both Chosroes and Heraclius received letters from the Arab Mohammed, who invited them to adopt Islam, his newly founded faith. They both declined, but their contacts with the Moslems were to be many and difficult. In 629 Arab attacks on the empires began, and in 635 Damascus was taken, and Jerusalem in 637. Heraclius went back to Jerusalem and removed the sacred relics to Constantinople for safe keeping, but the Patriarch remained behind to greet the new rulers.
The ceremony of Elevation as performed in Church is actually a patriotic one, with prayers for the Rulers and their people, for Church and State, and for their establishment and preservation. The key to the observance is to be found in the Hymn for the Feast, the Troparion, which runs as follows:
“O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance.
Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries
and by virtue of Your Cross, preserve Your habitation.”
To the Byzantines, their Empire was the civilized world, the Oikoumene, the habitation of law and order; outside the pale were the barbarians, the people who spoke some other language that no one could understand, and whose ways were violent and strange. The Christian religion was a part of this, the vehicle of salvation and civilization. This is the heritage that was transmitted down through the ages by the Byzantine Empire, the struggle for civilization against the power of the destroyers. When we celebrate the feast today, we should have this in mind; it is apt that the Feast of the Cross is always a Fast. This paradox is striking, but accentuates the understanding our ancestors had that victory comes hard, and that nothing good is achieved without sacrifice.