The ecclesiastical calendar marks November 21st as a major feast day known as the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. We are reminded of the commitment made by not only the Theotokos herself, but by her pious parents as well. Her parents, Saints Joachim and Anna, were childless and like other Biblical figures prayed fervently for many years for a child. As part of their prayers they vowed to God that if He were to bless them they would in turn dedicate that child to the Temple. God heard their prayers and blessed them with a daughter. Though it was unusual, Saints Joachim and Anna followed through with their commitment and brought their daughter (the Virgin Mary) to the Temple. It is said that the procession took place with much grandeur and she remained there for twelve years.

During those twelve years, Mary was trained in the religious ways of the Jewish faith. According to Saint Ambrose of the fourth century, Mary became a master of the Hebrew Scripture and it was the high priest, Zacharias, who was responsible for her training. Holy Tradition tells us that Zacharias allowed Mary to go beyond the second veil of the Sanctuary even into the Holy of Holies. To go beyond the Holy of Holies was an act reserved for the high priest of the time, who happened to (always) be male. According to Saints Cyril of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa, the other maidens living in the Temple area were permitted to enter into the area between the Temple and the Altar but never allowed to go into the inner place. For a female to go beyond the second veil into the Holy of Holies, was scandalous to say the least. However, no scandal was brought about when the Holy Virgin was allowed to kneel in prayer in the Most Holy Place.

Why was the Theotokos permitted to enter the Holy of Holies by Zacharias the high priest? What gave that man the courage to allow the Holy Virgin into the room housing the holy things of God: the golden urn holding the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded and the tablets of the covenant? Could it be that Zacharias recognized the awesomeness in the figure of the Theotokos? Saint Theophylact, Archbishop of Bulgaria writes, “At that time, the High Priest was in ecstasy, filled with the Spirit of God, and understood that the maiden was the dwelling place of divine grace and more worthy than he to stand always before God’s countenance.” He remembered that the Law commended the Ark be placed in the Holy of Holies and straightway perceived that this ordinance pertained to the maiden.

Indeed, Zacharias recognized something awe-inspiring and very special about the Theotokos. He recognized, through the grace of God, that she was set apart, sanctified and consecrated – truly. However, even though the Virgin Mary was set apart, sanctified, she, her parents and Zacharias had to commit to God in order to stay the course of God’s saving plan, for it to become reality. They, like us and all humanity were and are born with free will. Thus, by their actions, they chose to commit their whole life to God and then kept that promise and fulfilled the vow. In other words, they followed the many Scriptural references and fulfilled their vow unto the Lord. As Christ followers, as Orthodox Christians, are we not asked to do the same? Of course, we are. We are commanded to make our vows unto the Lord and keep them and many times during the Divine Liturgy we hear, “let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.” Thus, let us take this opportunity to reevaluate, recommit, and return ourselves to Christ and His Church. Amen.