Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Purification of Mary

While the Orthodox celebrate the Feast of the Meeting (or Presentation) of the Lord in the Temple on this day, the West celebrates the Purification of Mary. This feast is also referred to in the West as Candlemas because this was the traditional day when candles to be used in the church throughout the year were blessed. Though the East centers its liturgical focus on Christ meeting Simeon and Anna and being seen by Simeon as the Messiah incarnate and the West centers its liturgical focus on Mary fulfilling the law to be purified from her childbirth after 40 days, both East and West will not that one focus is inherently more important than the other. For the Eastern Christians, though, the term purification may throw some people into thinking that the Virgin Mary had done something wrong that required purification.

We do not know any of the sins of the Virgin Mary, though St. John Chrysostom mentions in his homilies that the Virgin was guilty of pride (especially at the Wedding at Cana, but that was years later, of course). But what we should not forget is that the Virgin Mary is not, as Fr. Alexander Schmemann is known to have said, the great exception but the great example. If Christ is the icon of salvation, the Theotokos is the icon of the saved. So, of what then does she come to be purified? Fr. Thomas Hopko explains:

...the scriptures teach that all human beings who are inevitably caught up in the falleness of the sinful world, are in need of "purification" when they come into direct contact with God, and especially when they are objects of direct divine action. God is always acting in our lives...These are also the times of worship, such as when the priests go into the Holy Place or when they touch the Holy Objects. thus, according to the Mosaic law, mere human beings who were in direct tough with God through His concrete divine actions were required to offer signs of ritual "purification" to express the fact that being mere mortals and victims of sin not to say sinners in their own right in virtually all cases) they had also the objects of the holy actions of the Most High and Holy God.--The Winter Pascha, p. 176

Lest we forget at any time, the Virgin Mary inherited the same mortal corruption as the rest of man. She still had to obey the law and still had to die and was in need of our Lord's crucifixion and death as the rest of us. This feast reminds us that Mary was simply human although she had direct communion with God whereas the priests and us, while we live, can only commune in mystical fashion. Such is why she is deserving of all honor and all praise as Theotokos. And such is why she is a powerful advocate for us before the dread judgment seat of Christ.

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