Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fr Alexander Schmemann on Candlemas

Anticipation and Encounter 
with the Lord in the Temple

How striking and beautiful an image, the old man holding the child in his arms, and how strange are his words: “For my eyes have seen thy salvation . . .” Pondering these words we begin to appreciate the depth of this event and its relationship to us, to me, to our faith. Is anything in the world more joyful than an encounter, a meeting with someone you love? Truly, to live is to await, to look forward to the encounter. Isn’t Simeon’s transcendent and beautiful anticipation a symbol of this? Isn’t his long life a symbol of expectation, this elderly man who spends his whole life waiting for the light which illumines all and the joy which fills everything with itself? And how unexpected, how unspeakably good that the long awaited light and joy comes to the elderly Simeon through a child! Imagine the old man’s trembling hands as he takes in his arms the forty-day-old infant so tenderly and carefully, his eyes gazing on the tiny being and filling with an outpouring of praise: “Now, You may let me depart in peace for I have seen, I have held in my arms, I have embraced the very meaning of life.” Simeon waited. He waited his entire long life, and surely this means he pondered, he prayed, he deepened as he waited so that in the end his whole life was one continuous “eve” of a joyful meeting.

Isn’t time that we ask ourselves, what am I waiting for? What does my heart keep reminding me about more and more insistently? Is this life of mine gradually being transformed into anticipation, as I look forward to encountering the essential? These are the questions the Meeting poses. Here, in this feast, human life is revealed as the surpassing beauty of a maturing soul, increasingly liberated, deepened and cleansed of all that is petty, meaningless, and incidental. Even aging and demise, the earthly destiny we all share, are so simply and convincingly shown here to be growth and ascent toward that one moment when with all my heart, in the fullness of thanksgiving, I say: “let me now depart.” I have seen the light which permeates the world. I have seen the Child who brings the world so much divine love and who gives himself to me. Nothing is feared, nothing is unknown, all is now peace, thanksgiving, and love. This is what the Meeting of the Lord brings. It celebrates the soul meeting Love, meeting the one who gave me life and gave me strength to transfigure it into anticipation.

Fr Alexander Schmemann, Celebration of Faith: The Church Year Pp. 72-73

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The illustration is The Presentation of the Lord, by John August Swanson (Go HERE for further information.)

Mary and Joseph take the child Jesus to the temple with the offering of two doves. This was the offering of the poorest. It was a symbol of thanksgiving for their firstborn. At the entrance they meet Simeon and Anna who are both old and waiting and praying in the temple. They both approach the family and honour the new born Jesus.

In this scene are the gates, courtyard, steps, temple entrance, and the dome. It is night. People are carrying their offerings of candles and doves. The walls have intricate carvings of narrative scenes.  Angels open and guide the pathways and entrances. 


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