Torch-bearing virgins 
joyfully accompany her 
who is always a virgin. 
They foretell in the Spirit 
of a truth what will happen. 
For the Mother of God, 
is the temple of God, 
as a child is led 
with virgin glory 
to the temple.
The commemoration of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple is on 21st November. It has been kept at least from the 7thC. in the Orthodox tradition. Emperor Justinian built a splendid church dedicated to Mary in the Temple area in Jerusalem. It was dedicated on November 21, 543 but was destroyed by the Persians within a century. Many of the early church Fathers such as St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople and St. John Damascene, his contemporary, preached magnificent homilies on this feast referring to Mary as that special plant or flower which was being nurtured for better things. "She was planted in the House of God, nourished by the Holy Spirit and kept her body and soul spotless to receive God in her bosom. He Who is all-holy rests among the holy." 
In the Byzantine Church this feast is considered one of the twelve great feasts of the liturgical year, called the Dodecaorton. By the 9thC. it is celebrated in the monasteries of southern Italy which had been influenced by the traditions of the Byzantine churches, and by the 14thC. it had spread to England. However it was not until 1472 that Pope Sixtus IV extended its celebration to the Western church. 
To-day the temple of God's dwelling, 
the Mother of God, 
is brought into the Lord's temple 
and Zechariah welcomes her. 
Today the most holy place rejoices, 
and the angel host keeps mystic festival. 
We too celebrate with them to-day, 
and with Gabriel we cry out: 
Greetings, favoured one! 
The Lord is with you, 
who has abundant mercy.
The source for the presentation is the Protoevangelium of James. Like Hannah, Anna has promised that any child she had would be offered as a gift to the Lord and presented in the Temple to serve Him. Tradition tells us that the Anna and Joachim took Mary to the Temple when she was three years old. In the Orthodox icon for this day the high priest Zachariah in his robes greets Mary and her parents at the doorsteps of the Temple. Behind Zachariah is the veil of the temple hiding the ark of the covenant. Mary is on the first step, and he takes her through the veil. From now onwards she will be the living ark. So in the scene in the upper left corner of the icon Mary is seated in the place of honour where only the ark should rest, alone as though in anticipation of the same throne where in more familiar icons she will be holding the Christ child on her knees. Her parents are in the outer courtyard making the traditional offering, but the whole focus is on the child who in the main part of the icon is stretching out her arms in willingness to perform whatever duties the Lord has entrusted with her. Mary is accompanied by twelve virgins carrying their lamps. Zachariah is shown to be both priest and prophet, for he sees what God intends for her. Her name will be blessed by all generations, and through her redemption will be revealed.
Mary served in the Temple where she was fed miraculously by the angels until she was twelve. Then Zachariah, prompted by the message of an angel, betrothed her to one of the widowers who was indicated by the Lord.

Come, all believers, 
and praise her who alone is without blemish, 
whom the prophets foretold, 
who was brought into the temple.
From all eternity she was predestined to be Mother. 
And in these last times 
she has been revealed as Mother of God,
Lord by her prayers give us your peace 
and abundant mercy.
Marianne Dorman
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