Dear brothers and sisters,
The Christmas-Theophany season will come to an end on February 2nd, exactly 40 days after Christmas, with the celebration of the feast of the Encounter of our Lord, also know as the Presentation of our Lord.
At the very moment when Mary and Joseph entered the Temple, carrying the Lord Jesus, they were met by the old man Simeon and the old woman Anna. It is from this meeting in the Temple that the feast gets its name in the Eastern Church.
According to the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus was brought to the Temple on the 40th day after His birth in obedience to the Old Testament Law, which He as the Messiah had come to fulfill.
This meeting is spiritually and theologically significant. It tells us that the Old is over and that the New has come. It tells us that the two covenants have now met: Israel has accomplished its God-given task in bringing forth the Messiah. The promises made by God to Abraham are being fulfilled. Jesus is now encountered in the world as the “light of revelation to the Gentiles.” In Him, the whole world is illuminated and saved. The New Testament has come.
The old man and the old woman who meet Jesus in the Temple and recognize Him for who He is symbolize in their oldness the passing away of the ancient laws, rituals and customs, which were “but a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb 10:1).
So, when and where did the celebration of this feast begin? There is good evidence indicating that the feast originated in Jerusalem in the second half of the fourth century. From Jerusalem the feast spread throughout the entire East and was officially adopted as a major feast in the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century, under the rule of Emperor Justinian (527-565).
From the East, the feast eventually spread to Rome in the fifth century, and from there to France and Spain in the seventh century, and then to Germany in the eighth century.
In his inspired hymn, St. Simeon referred to Jesus as the “Light to the Gentiles.” This prompted Christians to carry a lighted candle or lamp in the procession on the day of the feast, to symbolize the mystical presence of the “True Light,” Jesus. The solemn procession itself symbolized the journey of Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Law.
There is good evidence that the custom of carrying lit candles in procession at the feast was introduced and practiced in the fifth century in Alexandria (Egypt), and in Ancyra (Asia Minor).
In time, this custom was introduced in Rome, and from Rome, spread to Jerusalem and other cities in Palestine. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius (c. 641), speaks of this custom in his sermon on the feast of the Encounter.
Blessing candles on the day of the feast became a custom only after the tenth century. It was introduced in the Kyivan Church sometime in the seventeenth century.
Christ is Born!