The Meeting of our Lord with Simeon and Anna
The feast of the Meeting of the our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, which commemorates the presentation of our Lord by his parents in the Temple iin Jerusalem on the fortieth day from His birth, concludes the cycle of winter feasts that are sometimes called the "Feasts of Light". These feasts -- the Nativity, Theophany, and Meeting - have a common focus: the coming of the Messiah into the world, and the beginning of His work of redemption.
This feast is celebrated on February 2 — forty days after the feast of the Nativity (December 25) — and is counted one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the church. In the Byzantine Catholic Church, it is a solemn feast-day. It is known as Hypopante in Greek, and Sritenije in Slavonic; both words mean "meeting". It is sometimes called the Presentation of the Lord, or (among Latin-Rite Catholics) the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Candlemas.
Meaning of the Feast
Forty days after His birth, the child Jesus was taken by his parents to the Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem, as described in the Gospel according to Saint Luke:
When the day came to purify the child and mother according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem so that he could be presented to the Lord, for it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every first-born male shall be consecrated to the Lord.” They came to offer in sacrifice “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accord with the dictate in the Law of the Lord.
According to the Mosaic Law, a woman who gave birth to a son could not enter the temple for forty days, at which time a sacrifice made at the hands of a priest would return her to her place in the assembly; and every first-born male belonged especially to the Lord: male animals to be offered in sacrifice, and first-born male children to be redeemed by an offering to the Lord. This is why the Holy Family went up the Jerusalem.
Thus, the feast of the Meeting emphasizes the obedience of Mary and of Jesus to the law, and the fact that Jesus was truly a man-child born of a woman. In a broader sense, the offering of the child Jesus in the Temple anticipates the sacrifice He was to make on the Cross. His destiny centers on the city of Jerusalem.
The Gospel account continues:
There lived in Jerusalem at the time a certain man named Simeon. He was just and pious, and awaited the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed of the Lord. He came to the temple now, inspired by the Spirit; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him the customary ritual of the law, Simeon took the child in his arms and blessed God in these words: "Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace; you have fulfilled your word. For my eyes have witnessed your saving deed displayed for all the peoples to see: a revealing light to the Gentiles, the glory of your people Israel."
The child's father and mother were marvelling at what was being said about him. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother: "This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed - and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword - so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare."
There was also a certain prophetess, Anna by name, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She had seen many days, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She was constantly in the temple, worshipping day and night in fasting and prayer. Coming on the scene at this moment, she gave thanks to God and talked about the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
In this feast, Simeon and Anna are representatives of the people of the Old Testament who looked forward eagerly to the coming of the Messiah. Recognizing Him, they praise God. The words of the elder Simeon have become a fixed part of the service of Vespers in the Byzantine (and Compline in the Latin Rite), hailing the coming of the Lord as a light in darkness. This light is the seen as the light of spiritual illumination, and revelation - particularly the revelation of God's saving plan to both the people of Israel, and the people of "the nations" outside Israel.
The Icon of the Feast
Liturgical Services of the Feast
The feast of the Meeting is counted among the feasts of the Lord, with one pre-festive day and an eight-day post-festive period. The hymns of Vespers for the pre-feast portray the Temple itself as awaiting the arrival of the Lord, and the troparion of the pre-feast describes the expectant longing of the angels.
Vespers of the feast
At Vespers on the evening of February 1, the lamp-lighting hymns of Vespers address the elder Simeon, asking him to explain the feast we are beginning:
O Simeon, tell us whom you are joyfully carrying into the Temple.
To whom are you saying:
Now You may dismiss your servant, O Lord, because my eyes have seen my Savior.
He is the child born of the Virgin.
He is the Word and God of God.
O Lord, who for our sake was incarnate and saved the word,
to You we bow in worship.
After the festal entrance, there are three readings from the Old Testament.
The first is a composite of verses from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, summarizing the commandments of the Mosaic Law that we see fulfilled in the presentation of our Lord in the Temple. The reading from Leviticus includes a detail omitted in the Gospel account from Saint Luke: the sacrifice made by a mother upon the birth of a son was a yearling lamb and a pigeon or turtledove; but if she could not afford a lamb, the Law prescribed a sacrifice of two doves or pigeons.
The second reading (Isaiah 6:12) describes the prophet Isaiah's vision of the glory of God in the heavenly temple, and contains the words, "Yet my eyes have been the King, the Lord of hosts."
The third reading (selected verses from Isaiah 19) describes the coming of the Lord, the destruction of the idols of Egypt, and the conversion of the peopel there. This reading can be seen as a commentary on Simeon's description of the child Jesus as "a light of revelation to the Gentiles" (that is, non-Jews).
A solemn processin, or litja, is appointed, and the hymns of the procession form a theological description of the events of the feast:
He who is ancient of days and young in the flesh is being brought into the Temple by his virgin Mother. He fulfills the promise of his own law. Simeon receives Him and says: Now you may dismiss your servant, according to your word, in peace; for my eyes have seen your salvation, O Lord.
He who rides on the Cherubim and is praised by the Seraphim
is now being brought into the Temple according to the Law.
He is sitting in the arms of an old man as though upon a throne,
From Joseph He receives God-pleasing gifts, a pair of turtle-doves,
and from the newly-chosen people of the Gentiles, and undefiled Church.
The two doves indicate that He is the head both of the Old and New Testaments.
As for Simeon, when he saw what had been revealed come to pass,
he received the child and blessed the virgin Mother of God,
pointing out to her the sufferings that she would bear.
He asked the Lord to be released from this life, saying:
Now you may dismiss me, O Lord, as you have promised,
for my eyes have seen You, the eternal Light,
the Lord and Savior of all Christian people.
At the end of the procession, the singing of the Canticle of Simeon is especially meaningful on this day.
At the end of Vespers, we sing the troparion of the Meeting: (listen)
Rejoice, O Theotokos, Virgin full of grace;
for from you has shone forth the Sun of Justice, Christ our God,
enlightening those who are in darkness.
Rejoice also, you just elder;
you received in your arms the liberator of our souls,
who grants us resurrection.
Matins of the feast
At the festal Matins, the themes of light, revelation, obedience to (and fulfillment of) the Law are continued. Many of the hymns address the Mother of God and the elder Simeon. The Gospel chanted at Matins is a small portion of the story of the feast from the Gospel (Luke 2:25-32).
At the beginning of the ninth and final ode of the canon of the feast, in a hymn which replaces the usual magnification ("O my soul, magnify..."), we beg the protection and help of the Theotokos: (listen)
Virgin Theotokos, the hope of Christians,
protect, watch and save those who have placed their hope in you.
And then the irmos of the ninth Ode: (listen)
O faithful, let us recognize the figure of Christ foreshadowed in the letter of the Law which says:
Every child who opens the womb is sanctified to God.
Therefore, the first-born Word and Son of the Father without beginning,
the first-born Son of a mother who had not known man:
Him, let us extol.
We will hear these hymns again at the Divine Liturgy.
This Divine Liturgy for this feast day show signs that the feast is in honor of BOTH our Lord, and his Mother. For example does not have its own antiphons, as is usual for a feast of the Lord. But it does have its own Entrance Hymn:
The Lord has made his salvation known;
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
The entrance hymn is followed by the troparion (quoted above), and the kontakion of the feast: (listen)
Christ our God, in your birth you sanctified the Virgin's womb
and blessed the hands of Simeon as was proper.
Now you have come and saved us.
Give peace to nations at war and strengthen our government.
You alone love us all.
This hymn echoes the feast of Theophany: just as Christ's baptism in the river Jordan cleansed the river itself, the birth of Christ blessed his mother's womb, and Simeon (who blessed the infant Christ) was himself blessed in return.
The prokeimenon of the feast is the usual prokeimenon for feasts of the Mother of God: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior."
The epistle reading (Hebrews 7:7-17) speaks of the priesthood of Christ, comparing it to that of Aaron (the priesthood of the Old Testament); the Gospel reading (Luke 2:22-40) provides a complete account of the events commemorated in the feast, ending with words that relate the "hidden life" of Christ until the beginning of His public ministry:
When the pair had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee and their home town of Nazareth. The child grew in size and strength, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
The Alleluia that precedes this Gospel reading is NOT the one for the Theotokos, but is proper to this feast:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
V. Now you make dismiss your servant, O Lord, in peace according to your word.
V. A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.
As mentioned above, a proper magnification and irmos are sung in place of "It is truly proper." The Communion Hymn for the day is the one usually appointed for feasts of the Theotokos:
I shall take the chalice of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The Blessing of Candles
Church historians describe processions with candles on this feast day as early as the fifth and sixth centuries. Eventually, candles were blessed on the feast-day itself - from the 11th century in the West, and the 17th century in Ukraine. This blessing can be found in certain Slavonic euchologia, and are typically adapted from the blessing of candles in the Roman Rite.
The blessed candles are kept in the home, and lighted and placed before a holy icon in times of serious sickness or danger. They are also used in the rites of baptism and anointing of the sick, and may be placed in the hands of dying Christians as the prayers for the departure of the soul are said.
The Post-festal Period
From February 3 through February 9. the Church celebrates post-festive days of the Meeting; however, this post-festive period is shortened if Great Lent begins on or before February 9. On each day of the post-festive period, the dismissal of the feast is used:
May Christ our true God, who for our salvation deigned to be held in the arms of the righteous Simeon...
February 3 is the feast day of the elder Simeon and the prophetess Anna.
- The Blessing of Candles on the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. Byzantine Leaflet Series, No. 12. (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press, January 1979).
- Father Thomas Hopko. The
(Crestwoord, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press,1984).
An excellent account of the feasts of the Nativity, Theophany, and Meeting.
- Father Basil Shereghy. The Liturgical Year of the Byzantine-Slavonic Rite.
(Pittsburgh, PA: Byzantine Seminary Press, 1968.)
Chapter VII, The Immovable Feasts.
- A Monk of the Eastern Church (Father Lev Gilet). The Year of Grace of the Lord.
(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001.)
Chapter III, Christmas and Epiphany.