This chapter is titled The Prelude of God's Good Will. Fr. Hopko talks about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos* into the Temple (which is today - November 21). For those of my readers who are not familiar with this feast I will briefly explain. Tradition teaches us that at the age of three the Virgin Mary was taken to the temple by her parents to be dedicated to the Lord. She was born to them after they had been barren for many years and so they wanted to give thanks to God for blessing them with a child. When they brought her, tradition tells us that the priest Zachariah (the father of John the Baptist) brought her into the Holy of Holies where only the high priest was allowed to go, and that only once a year. The Church teaches that he did this under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as a prophecy that this young girl was to become a living temple of God when she bore Jesus within herself. This feast is celebrated on November 21 each year, and while part of its purpose is to commemorate the historical happening of Mary's dedication to the temple, Fr. Hopko points out that,
Its purpose is not so much to commemorate an historical happening as to celebrate a dogmatic mystery of the Christian faith, namely, that every human being is made to be a living temple of God.
The hymns of the feast proclaim this with great joy:
Today, let us the faithful dance for joy,
Singing to the Lord with psalms and hymns,
Venerating His consecrated tabernacle,
The living Ark which contains the Word which cannot be contained.
For she, a young child, in the flesh
Is offered in wondrous fashion to the Lord,
And Zacharias the priest receives her with rejoicing
As the dwelling place of God.
This event is so powerful, because it gives us a glimpse of what good things are to come. We are all created to be temples of the Holy Spirit and Mary is the one who shows us the way. Fr. Alexander Schmemman liked to say that Mary is not the great exception, rather she is the great example.
She is a perfect example of what a Christian should be in all things. What stands out the most to me, as I have been thinking about all this, is that her love for God was so strong and so unwavering, that she accepted His will without question or complaint. When the angel Gabriel came to her and announced that she would bear and give birth to the Son of God, she didn't ask all kinds of questions about what it would mean, or how it might affect her or even why. She simply said yes:
Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.
What if I were to say yes to God in everything? Am I willing to do it? Am I even capable, given my sinful passions, of loving God so much that I would say yes to His will no matter what? My love for God is weak, and often fails altogether. But I have the desire to love Him, and if I look to His Holy Mother as an example, then perhaps, through her prayers, and by His grace, I might begin to make some progress. I can, at the very least, try to act upon what I've heard and possibly make a small beginning by doing my best to say yes to God.
Today is the prelude of the good will of God,
Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the temple of God,
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her:
Rejoice, O Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.
*Theotokos is a Greek word which literally means "the one who gives birth to God".