January-February 2022

The services related to Christmas conclude with the Presentation, or Meeting, of the Lord on February 2. On his fortieth day, the infant Jesus is brought to the temple by His parents, according to custom (a custom continued in the Church through the 40-day blessing that mother and child receive). At the temple, they are met by an elderly priest named Symeon, who, on seeing Jesus, says the following:

Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples. A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. (Lk. 2:29-32)

The story behind these words is that St. Symeon had been promised to live until he had seen the Lord's Christ, His anointed. One of the hymns at Vespers for the feast of the Presentation speaks of Christ and St. Symeon in this manner: “His Mother, who was a virgin, brought Him into the Temple and presented Him to Symeon the Priest, who was elderly and righteous, to whom it had been revealed that he would see the Messiah.” 

As he beheld Jesus brought to the temple, it was revealed to him that this promise was being fulfilled. St. Symeon takes the child in his arms (and is therefore known as the God-receiver) and rejoices in the blessing that he has received. 

The words St. Symeon uses are important. In particular, St. Basil the Great notes:

Now, it is a custom in Scripture to call the Christ of God, salvation, as Simeon says: “Now let your servant depart in peace, O Lord, because my eyes have seen your salvation.” Therefore let us subject ourselves to God, because from him is salvation. He explains what salvation is. It is not some mere active force, which provides us with a certain grace for deliverance from weakness and for the good health of our body. What then is salvation?

“For he is my God and my Savior: he is my protector, I shall be moved no more (Ps. 61:3).” The Son, who is from God, is our God. He himself is also Savior of the human race, who supports our weakness, who corrects the disturbance that springs up in our souls from temptations. 

St. Basil notes that salvation is not something abstract, not an impersonal force. Salvation is Christ Himself. Having seen Him, having held Him in his arms, St. Symeon is at peace. The Church calls us to a similar encounter with Christ. The entire life of the Church is shaped so as to guide us to this encounter. Its center and pinnacle is the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharist, the same Christ whom Symeon received in His arms comes to dwell within us. But just as many saw Jesus without also seeing that He is Christ, their salvation, so it is possible to receive the Eucharist without encountering Christ as St. Symeon did. 

This brings us to the rest of the life of the Church. Everything else in the Church—the prayers done in solitude, the church services and sacraments, the moral teachings, almsgiving, and fasting—are meant to prepare us so that our spiritual eyes may be opened. In this way, when we come to receive the Eucharist, we may indeed have an encounter with Christ and see that we partake of our Salvation. And, of course, this preparation for the Eucharist is also preparation for the Kingdom, when we will be in the presence of Christ, seeing Him clearly and worshiping Him unto the ages of ages. The Church, meditating on the mystery of the Presentation, tells us that St. Symeon looked forward to that eternal worship.

On Mt. Sinai long ago, Moses beheld the back of God * in His glory as He passed, and he was granted to hear * the divine voice in darkness and gloom and storm indistinctly. * But Symeon has held in his embrace God himself * incarnate now for our sake immutably. * And he rejoiced and he happily hastened * to depart for the life that never ends. * And so he said, "Now You are dismissing * Your servant in peace, O Master." (Mid-ode Kathisma in Orthros for the Presentation of the Lord).

The Song of Symeon, a beautiful hymn of faith and thanksgiving, is an ever-present part of our services, read or sung at every Vespers. It reminds us each time of the identity of Christ, of the possibility to encounter Him in our own lives, and of the eternal life in and with Him that we hope to reach by His grace.

May our Lord, through the prayers of the God-receiver, grant us the righteousness and faith of St. Symeon.