3. CHRIST'S INTRODUCTION INTO THE TEMPLE
Forty days after the Birth of Christ, Joseph and the Theotokos went up to the temple in Jerusalem , in order to comply with two demands of the Mosaic Law. One was the sanctification of the Child, and the other was the cleansing of the Theotokos.
We know from the Old Testament that the tenth plague of the Pharaoh had forced the Egyptians to set the Israelites free. This occurred, after the massacre of all the firstborn " from the firstborn of the Pharaoh... to the firstborn of every beast " (Exodus, 12, 29). The firstborn of the Egyptians, man and beast, were mas-sacred. Those of the Israelites, however, were saved with the help of God.
This shocking event was not to be forgotten. That is why the Jews had to sanctify their firstborn, that is, they had to consider them dedicated to God; they belonged to Him. God's commandment was explicit: " Sanctify unto me every firstborn that first opens every womb, amongst the sons of Israel , from man to beast; they are mine " ( Exodus, 13,2 - Luke 2,23 ).
When the first male child was born in the family, forty days after its birth the parents had to present it to the temple, that is, to offer it to God. They could buy it back, only if they deposited a certain amount of money.
The second obligation of the Holy Family was the cleansing of the Theotokos and the offering of an appropriate sacrifice. Given that Joseph and the Holy Mother were poor, their offering was two turtledoves or two young doves, as instituted by law for people of their rank.
The Holy Family's ascent to the temple and the Lord's obedience to the law and everything that it commanded for every Israelite (Jesus had already received circumcision), confirm that which the Apostle Paul said about the Lord's condescension and humiliation: ".... God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, so that He could redeem those living under the law, and so that we may savour the adoption.." (Galatians, 4, 4-5). Meaning: God sent His Son to earth, becoming a human through a woman, and in compliance with the Mosaic Law, in order to redeem those who were under the curse of the law, so that we might receive the adoption that God promised us.
As expressed in a Vespers hymn of the feast day of Christ's Introduction into the temple (2 nd February), the Lawgiver - whom Moses saw on Mount Sinai - becomes an infant and submits itself to that law. ("... The One whom Moses witnessed giving the law from inside the dark fog, became an infant, subordinating to that law ...).
Luke the Evangelist narrates what happened in the temple, when the Divine-Human entered it.
" And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and pious, living in expectation of Israel's liberation ( the consolation that the Messiah would bring to Israel ), and the Holy Spirit was upon him; and it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death, before he had seen the Christ, God's chosen One. And he came to the sanctuary in the Spirit... and he received Him in his arms, giving blessings to God, and said: Now you can release your servant, my Lord, according to your word in peace, as my eyes have seen the salvation, which You prepared before all peoples; the light that will reveal the true God before all nations, and the glory of your people, Israel.... And there was a prophetess, Anna... And she spoke of Him..." (Luke 2, 25-38).
Description of the icon (pic.6) The hagiographer of the icon of the Intro-duction, places the scene - according to the preceding information - inside the temple, in front of the inner sanctum of a Christian church. We can see the portal to the sanctum, the Holy Altar, the arched canopy that is supported by four columns. It has been observed that " the columns appear above the halos in a way that emphasizes the forms and at the same time, give a continuance to the upright trend of the composition ". The Theotokos, " slender as a young cypress tree ", stretches out her arms to receive the Infant from Simeon. With both arms draped with his robe, he holds the Infant, who has its right arm outstretched and is looking at the Holy Mother, longing to fall into her embrace. Simeon's venerable and holy form is impressive. " His head is long-haired and tousled, with locks of hair twisted like snakes; his beard is ruffled, his face is truly august and patriarchal; his legs are bent: he is standing on the altar step, staggering. His eyes seem to be tearful, and he seems to be saying: " Now you can release your servant, my Lord".
It is worth noting, that although the scene portrayed occurs only forty days after the Birth of Christ, the infant is not portrayed in swaddling cloths. It has a halo; it is holding a scroll in its hand; it has a regal and divine appearance. This is not without reason. The Child is Emmanuel, the "God amongst us", the Divine-Human. He is the timeless Logos of the Father, who acquired a "beginning" in time without departing from His Deity; He is " the one carried on chariots of the Cherubim and praised in song by the Seraphim ", as the Vespers hymns of the feast day tell us.
Standing behind the Theotokos is the prophetess Anna. Her stance betrays her prophetic charisma. Her one hand is raised - indicating speech - and the other hand, her left one, is holding a scroll with small black capital letters saying: "This Infant made firm the heavens and the earth." Her head, purposely slanted, is turned towards Joseph " ...who is behind her, as though she were addressing those prophetic words to him, while looking towards the observer".
Joseph, at the far left of the icon, proceeds forward holding - in the folds of his garment (in other icons in a cage) - the two turtledoves or doves. These birds, according to the following excerpt of a Vespers hymn of the feast, symbolized the Judean and the national Christians, as well as the two testaments, the New and the Old, whose leader is Christ. " The one carried on chariots of the Cherubim and praised in song by the Seraphim, today is being offered unto the holy altar according to the law, and is enthroned in a venerable embrace; He divinely accepts the gifts from Joseph: the immaculate Church and the newly drafted nationals like a pair of turtledoves; and two young doves, being the head of the Old and New Testaments...". The Fathers of the Church say similar things about the symbolism of these birds.