Embracing Our Salvation
by Archpriest Steven Rogers
During the recent holiday season, my wife and I eagerly awaited the return home of our two daughters and our son-in-law. Upon each of their arrivals we joyously embraced them, wrapping our arms around our loved ones who had been absent from us. How joyous it is to embrace a loved one whose arrival we have been eagerly anticipating! To hold in our arms that person we have longed for is one of life's greatest joys.
We have all felt that embrace and know its joys. Imagine for a moment what it would be like if that person we were embracing, that longed-for person so eagerly awaited, was God himself — our very life and salvation! How would it feel to embrace God?
On February 2, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This great feast, which commemorates that event at which Mary presents herself and her child in the temple for purification prayers forty days after the birth of her Son, is the culmination of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Once again, this feast reminds us of the Incarnation of God. As a man, Christ is submitting Himself to the Law that all might be fulfilled. We are confronted again with the amazing truth of the Incarnation -that God lowered Himself to become a man so that man might be lifted up out of his sin. Christ was truly a man, "like us in all respects save sin," says St. Paul.
While remaining fully God, He submits Himself to the Jewish law as a man, "For I come not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it." Upon their arrival at the temple, Mary presents the Christ Child to the Elder Simeon. It is this "meeting" that the feast celebrates. The second person of the Trinity "meets" his people as represented by Simeon, allowing mankind to embrace its creator and the author of its salvation.
Simeon knew it was his salvation he embraced and for him, life was now complete. "Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou has prepared before the face of Thy people; a light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel."
How many times have we heard those words uttered in church? Countless times, no doubt, for they are uttered at every Vespers service and at the churching of infants. Perhaps we have heard them so many times that the words flow right past us.
But listen! Do you really hear what is being said? Simeon the Elder, he who originally spoke these words, certainly knew their import. In fact, Simeon is asked to explain in one of the hymns of Great Vespers preceding the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord: "Simeon, tell us: whom dost thou bear in thine arms, that thou dost rejoice so greatly in the temple? To whom dost thou cry and shout — Now I am set free, for I have seen my savior?" And Simeon responds: "This is He who was born of a Virgin: this is He, the Word, God of God, who for our sakes has taken flesh and saved man. Let us worship him." (Great Vespers sticheron.)
It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had beheld "the Lord's Christ."
Simeon knew what he beheld. Simeon knew he could now "depart in peace," for he had encountered his salvation, the source of his eternal peace. He knew once he had embraced His savior, that life was fulfilled and death was nothing to be feared. Upon meeting Christ, his joy was complete.
In Simeon, we see the response of a man who has encountered his salvation. Let us ask ourselves, what do we encounter when we enter the Temple? Who is it we expect to see? Who is it we embrace as Christ is presented to us?
Each time we enter Christ's Church, we are offered the opportunity to embrace our Savior. Through the services and the sacraments, He is a living reality, the savior of our souls, the granter of eternal peace.
Do we receive Him? Or do we allow the distractions of life to cause Him to pass by unnoticed? Simeon shows us the way — He is faithful, he is patient, he is obedient to be where he needed to be in order to embrace his salvation.
Like Simeon, let us embrace our salvation. Like Simeon, let us be at peace with God, with all men and with ourselves. God has come in the flesh and allowed us to embrace Him. So intimate is his love for us that He allows us to carry Him within us, even as Simeon carried Him in his arms. Christ is among us! "Let the choir of angels be amazed at this wonder and let us mortal men raise our voice in song, beholding the ineffable condescension of God. Aged arms now embrace Him before whom the powers of heaven tremble, He who alone loves mankind" (Orthros of the feast).
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America