Today I had planned to consider this witness to the Church’s belief of Mary as the Ever-Virgin:
a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bare, and a Virgin she remained — St. Leo the Great Sermon XXII on the Nativity
However, that is not going to happen. Since tomorrow is the Forefeast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple and on Saturday we celebrate the feast itself, I cracked open the Menaion and promptly got lost in the hymns — the beauty of the poetry and how steeped in scripture our hymnody is. Instead, I want to share this gem, which the Church sings tomorrow morning:
O David, now lead the way into the temple of God, and leaping with joy and gladness, there receive our Queen, and cry aloud unto to her: Enter in the temple of the King, O my Lady, enter, whose glory is perceived in a mystery; for from you, Christ the Light shall make milk and honey flow forth for all.
The first line of this hymn refers to 1Chr 15:25-29; 16:1-2 when David dances before the Ark of the Covenant as it is brought to Jerusalem. This is then juxtaposed to the story of Mary entering the temple at the age of 3 to remain there until her betrothal to Joseph. In Exodus 25:21-22 God tells Moses:
You will put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and inside the ark you will put the Testimony which I am about to give to you. There I shall come to meet you; from above the mercy seat, from between the two winged creatures which are on the ark of the Testimony, I shall give you all my orders for the Israelites.
God, in the person of Christ, comes to dwell within the Virgin Mary to take on His humanity. In other words, the Church equates the Theotokos with the Ark of the Covenant — the place where God comes to be with us.
Note how this hymn has King David calling Christ King.
Christ’s incarnation is then juxtaposed with Exodus 3:7-8:
Then the Lord said, ‘I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying for help on account of their taskmasters. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. And I have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.’
The poetry of this hymn equates the story of Passover to that of Pascha. Egypt becomes the fallen world. The taskmasters are our passions and sins. God comes down to lift us up out of this fallen world and into a land flowing with milk and honey — Christ takes our humanity to the Cross and the Tomb so that He might raise our humanity on the third day and take it with Him as He ascends to sit at the right hand of the Father in glory.
In one short hymn we see the Church understanding that this one feast — the celebration of the young Mary entering the Temple — participates in the greater story of salvation. Not only does this reveal that the Church sees Scripture as a whole — not merely a collection of several books by several authors in several contexts — but it reveals that when we take part in the life of the Church, we participate in the larger story of salvation. Amen.