Thursday 1 February 2024

Icon of the Meeting of the Lord

In the shadow and letter of the Law, let us the faithful contemplate a prefiguring: Every male child that openeth the womb is holy unto God. Therefore do we magnify the first-born Word, the Son of the Father Who is without beginning, the first-born Child of a Mother who hath not known Wedlock.

Irmos of the Ninth Ode*

On 1st January, we celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ on the eighth day after his birth. On the 40th day, Christ continues to fulfil the ordinances of the law being Himself the Author of the Law and is presented in the Temple by his parents. The Church this feast on 2nd February. This feast is called Ὑπαπαντή in Greek which means ‘meeting’, but is often referred to as the ‘Presentation in the Temple’. We hear the account of the Meeting in the Gospel reading of the Feast (Luke 2: 22-40):

When the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law. Then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people;  A light to lighten the nations, and the glory of Thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which  were spoken of Him.  And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.  And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him.

The iconography of the Meeting was well established by the 9th century. Earlier icons are simpler in design and place Christ more centrally, but the principle figures shown remain the same. The Temple is represented in iconography by a canopy covering a Holy Table. In some icons the canopy is fitted with a curtain representing the veil of the Temple. In this icon, the sanctuary doors are shown closed.

Saint Symeon is shown descending the steps and receiving Christ in his arms with his hands covered by his garments out of reverence. The Theotokos is placed centrally in the icon, having handed the Christ-child to Saint Symeon.  In some icons she is seen still holding Christ, as Symeon opens his arms to receive Him. Saint Joseph the Betrothed is shown holding two young pigeons or turtle-doves which the Law commanded to be brought as an offering. These symbolise the Church and the newly-chosen people of the Nations, and also that Christ is the Author of both Covenants: Old and New.  

In some icons, a golden censer is depicted on the altar table, in others, a Gospel Book is shown. The golden censer is a type of the Theotokos, of which Saint Paul writes in his Epistle to the Hebrews (9: 1-4):

Even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary.  For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lamp stand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary;  and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant;  and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. 

In this particular icon, the jar of manna is depicted on a pillar on the right hand side; it is possible that the structure forming part of the roof of the left-hand pillar is a representation of the Ark of the Covenant, which was carried using two wooden handles.

Saint Anna the Prophetess is shown behind the Theotokos, pointing to Christ. In her hand she holds a scroll, on which is written ‘this Child established heaven and earth.’ In some icons she is shown standing with the Elder Symeon, indicating Christ, whilst holding a closed scroll.

Saint Symeon, as we mentioned above, receives Christ with great reverence. He is shown with long, uncovered,  hair and feet shod with sandals - thus indicating his life of ascesis and his prophetic ministry. The feast of the Meeting, then, marks the necessary fulfilling of the Law, but is also a meeting of the two covenants. For, as we hear in the Service of Vespers, the Elder Symeon was granted to bear in his arms Him Whom even Moses was not granted to behold face to face, and reveals unto us Christ, the True Light of the Nations.

*Holy Transfiguration Monastery, The Great Horologion (Brookline: HTM, 1997) p.408

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