Friday, February 15, 2008

Nunc Dimittis

Today the Orthodox Church celebrates the Meeting of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia offers a succinct description of this feast, which we draw from his introduction to the Festal Menaion:
This festival, known in the west as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple or the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the east bears the title 'Meeting' Gk. Upapanti; Slavonic, Sretenie) – the meeting, that is, of Christ with His people. Our Lord, brought to the temple by His mother and by Joseph, now meets His chosen people in the persons of Simeon the Elder and Ann the Prophetess. This feast forms the conclusion of the Nativity sequence, which opened some eighty days earlier with the beginning of the Christmas fast.

At the Meeting, as at Christmas and Theophany, the Church thinks about the kenosis, the deep self-emptying of the Incarnate Word. He who is Giver of the Law is Himself obedient to the Law: 'Today He who once gave the Law to Moses on Sinai submits Himself to the ordinances of the Law in His compassion becoming for our sakes as we are' (Vespers, Lity). The texts for this day are based for the most part upon Simeon's Son, Nunc Dimittis: they speak of the slavation that Christ has come to confer, of the glory and light of revelation that have been granted through His Incarnation.
For a more allegorical reading of this feast, one that relates it directly to our own life in Christ, let us turn to Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, from his book, The Feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts and Orthodox Christology:
According to St Gregory of Nyssa, we must offer to God, to the altar above, in place of a pair of turtle-doves, the purity of soul and body, and in place of the two young pigeons we must offer much prayer not only before the fact of God, but also before the face of mankind. And just as Christ did all that the law required and returned to His fatherland, filled and advancing in wisdom, so we too are to return to our true fatherland, which is the heavenly Jerusalem, becuase we are to live spiritually according to divine law and advances in wisdeom and joy and reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, perfected in the inner man and having become dwellings of the Holy Spirit.

According to St Athanasius the Great, it is our task to liken ourselves to righteous Symeon and the Prophetess Anna. We too must meet Christ with wisdom, purity, guilelessness, forgiveness and in general with love for God and mankind. No one can meet Christ, the true life, in any other way.

The meeting of Christ shows that Christ is the life and light of men and than man should aim to attain this personal light and personal life. The Church sings, by way of exhortation, "Illuminate my soul and the light of my senses, that I may see Thee in purity; and I will proclaim that Thou and God." In order for anyone to proclaim God, he must see Him clearly. Only those who see God or at least acceptthe experience of those who see, can become teachers. But in order to see God one must previoulsy be illuminated, shine in soul and bodily senses. Then the feast of the Meeting of Christ also becomes a feast of the meeting of every believer.

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