The House of God. Homily on the Day of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple
Let us faithfully praise the Virgin Mary,
for she is brought into the Holy of Holies,
to be raised in the Lord.
Ekos from Matins
On this day, my brethren, the holy Church celebrates the solemn Entry into the temple in Jerusalem of the three-year-old child, Mary—the blessed daughter of righteous parents, Joachim and Anna—to be in instructed in the Lord. Zacharias—the elder and high priest—meets her with priestly splendor; and as he was instructed to do by the Spirit of God, he brings her, accompanied by young maidens, into the most interior part of the temple, the Holy of Holies, where the high priest himself enters but once a year, and where the Holy of Holies, the Lord Himself dwelt—for she was to become the Mother of His flesh.
How did the most blessed Virgin spend her time in the temple? Taught the Hebrew written language and prayer by the Holy Spirit through the maidens, she spent her time in prayer, reading of the word of God (as you can see on the icon of the Annunciation), in divine contemplation, and handiwork. Her love for converse with God and for reading the word of God was so great that she forgot about food and drink, and an Archangel brought her heavenly food at God's request, as the Church sings in the stichera for today's feast.
What an excellent example for fathers, mothers, and their children; for Christian maidens and youths! They are obligated as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, as servants of the Heavenly Queen, the Mother of God, and Founder of Spiritual Instruction (meaning the Church to which they belong), to emulate as well as they can her fervent love for God, her zeal for reading the word of God, for prayer, for divine contemplation, self-restraint, and love of labor! If we do not want to be falsely called spiritual members of Christ's Church—that holy House of God, the Queen and Mother of which is the Most Holy Virgin—then we should also have the same thoughts as She has. May her children by grace be of one spirit with Her! Let them learn from her how to love the Lord, our Creator, more than anything else in the world, more than father and mother, more than anyone dear to us; how to avidly study the word of God—something unfortunately not seen amongst the disciples of Jesus Christ; learn with what warmth of heart and love we must pray to the Lord; how we must dedicate ourselves to him wholeheartedly; how to entrust our fate to His wise and all-good Providence; with what purity, meekness, humility, and patience we must always clothe and adorn ourselves and not with the vain embellishments of this adulterous and sinful world which knows no bounds of luxury and elegance in bodily clothing; how to love a life with God and the saints more than to dwell in the tents of sinners (Ps. 83:11).
Since the Most Holy Virgin was brought into the temple to be instructed in the Lord, let us talk now about the benefit and necessity of going to the church of God as the house of God and place where we are raised for the Heavenly Fatherland. We are called Christians, and we are all called by Jesus Christ to the Heavenly Fatherland, to be heavenly citizens, Divine inheritors, co-inheritors with Christ. Our calling is very high, our duties are also just as important; our spirit should be very exalted, holy, meek, and humble.
Who will show us what makes up our Christian calling and duty, of what spirit we must be, and how we should behave ourselves in various life situations? Who will give us the strength to live in the spirit of Christ—holy? The Church gives us all this. We can receive these spiritual powers in the temple of God through the Sacraments. Here a heavenly, unearthly spirit hovers; here is the school of Jesus Christ, in which future heavenly citizens are educated. Here you will receive heavenly lessons from the Divine Teacher, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Here is heavenly food and heavenly drink, spiritual, heavenly garments, and spiritual armaments against the enemies of salvation. Here you will receive the peace that is a foretaste of heaven, so necessary to our spiritual activity and education, and strength for spiritual labors and struggle with sin. Here we partake of sweet conversation with our Heavenly Father and the Most Holy Queen and Mother of God, with the angels of the Lord and saints. Here we learn how to pray, and for what to pray. Here you will find examples of all the Christian virtues in the saints who are glorified each day by the Church. Here, gathered together in the house of God, as children of one Heavenly Father, as members of the mystical body of Christ, we learn how to love one another—member loving member, as members of Christ, as Christ Himself.
See how beneficial, how necessary it is for a Christian to visit God's church. It is a school of faith and piety founded by God, a sacred treasure According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), the treasury of all the Mysteries of Christ! But the benefit and necessity for the Christian of attending God's church is more clearly revealed by comparing the church with the vain world, to which we prefer to go instead of church. What do you find in the world, and what in church?
In the world, at every step there is vanity, delusion, and vice; in the church is truth, sanctity, and every kind of virtue. In the world is corruption, sin, and death; in the church is the incorruption of the saints and eternal life. Outside the church you see objects of worldly vanity that feed on the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). You see the things that constantly entice and captivate people, and cause them to neglect the commandments of God, the Creator and Savior of all. For example, here in this building were kept fabrics of every sort and color. Those fabrics are the object of adoration of the daughters of men. They lived for them, were inspired by them, rejoiced over them, but not over God. Here the sparkle of various items of silver and gold stunned and enticed the gaze of those who worship everything glittering and beautiful. In a word—no matter where you direct your attention in the world, you will see only decay, vanity, and sin; everywhere is the earthly and worldly. Empty, vain conversations, vain activity that gives almost no reminder of heaven, God, and the other life. Only in pious homes do the icons of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Most Pure Mother, and His saints remind the thoughtful that we, Christians and members of Christ, members of His kingdom, look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come, in which we shall unite with the Lord and the saints, having cleansed ourselves of all defilement of flesh and spirit.
Thus, do you see what a difference there is between the temple--the house of God, and the world? Do you see how beneficial and necessary it is for a Christian to visit the temple of God in order to educate himself for the Heavenly Fatherland, in order to bring the spirit of Christ into himself, to engender heavenly, saintly manners? For, where else besides God's temple will you hear the word of God; where, beside in church, will you receive the mysteries of faith; where will you obtain the strength to live in a Christian way? All of this is in church and from church.
Love going to God's church, and prepare a temple of your own selves for God: Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). Let parents, teachers, and relatives take or send their children to church often, every Sunday and feast day without fail, and not to the theatre, where they will only learn what the young should not know. In church, they will hear the name of the Lord more frequently; they will learn the great truth of the creation of the world and mankind; they will come to know the Savior, the Mother of God, and the names of the saints. They will learn about the resurrection of the dead, the future judgment, the future life, and the eternal torments of sinners. They will learn from the Spirit of God to be good Christians; and that is more valuable than anything in the world. Amen.
St. John of Kronstadt
translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)