On November 21 the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Isodia Tis Theotokou, the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple.
This is the second greatest feast commemorating Panagia, following Dekapendavgoustos, as today is the celebration of Panagia’s entrance as a child into the Jerusalem Temple. As the feast of her nativity, this feast of the Theotokos is without direct biblical and historical reference. But like the nativity, it is a feast filled with important spiritual significance for the Christian believer.
The texts of the service explain how Panagia was brought as a small child to the temple by her parents in order to be raised there among the virgins consecrated to the service of the Lord until the time of their betrothal in marriage. According to Church tradition, Panagia was solemnly received by the temple community which was headed by the priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. She was led to the holy place to be “nourished” there by the angels in order to become herself the “holy of holies” of God, the living sanctuary and temple of the Divine child who was to be born in her.
There is no doubt that the verses of the Old Testamental Psalm 45, used extensively in the services of the feast, provided a great inspiration for the celebration of Panagia’s consecration to the service of God in the Jerusalem Temple.
The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.
When Panagia was three years old, Joachim and Anna decided that the time had come to fulfill their promise and to offer her to the Lord. Joachim gathered the young girls of the neighborhood to form an escort, and he made them go in front of Panagia carrying torches. Captivated by the torches, the young child followed joyfully to the Temple, not once looking back at her parents nor weeping as she was parted from them.
The holy Virgin ran toward the Temple, overtaking her attendant maidens and threw herself into the arms of the High Priest Zacharias, who was waiting for her at the gate of the Temple with the elders. Zacharias blessed her saying, “It is in you that He has glorified your name in every generation. It is in you that He will reveal the Redemption that He has prepared for His people in the last days.”
Then, Zacharias brought the child into the Holy of Holies—a place where only the High Priest was permitted to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. He placed her on the steps of the altar, and the grace of the Lord descended upon her. She arose and expressed her joy in a dance as wonder seized all who saw this happen.
Panagia dwelt in the Temple for nine years until reaching an age for marriage, she was taken from the Temple by the priests and elders and entrusted to Joseph as the guardian of her virginity.
The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple signifies her total dedication to God and her readiness for her future vocation as the Mother of the Incarnate Lord. This is a feast of anticipation. As honor is shown to Panagia, the faithful are called to look forward to the Incarnation of Christ, celebrated in a little more than a month by the Feast of the Nativity on December 25.