On February 2nd, the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches celebrate the Great Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.
On this day, Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple in fulfillment of the Law of Moses that every male child that opens the womb shall be dedicated to God. According to the Prolog of Ohrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, the High-Priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist was on duty and placed Mary not in the courtyard with the other mothers, but in the courtyard with the other virgins, as Mary has remained a virgin.
As part of the tradition of presenting your child in the Temple, and offering of an unblemished lamb was to be made. The law also makes provision for those who could not afford a lamb by being able to offer two turtle doves and two young pigeons. The Gospel of St. Luke mentioned that Mary and Joseph chose to present the turtle doves, but they also offered Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God, thus fulfilling the requirement of the Law of Moses.
Also celebrated on this day is Candlemas. This celebration seems to have largely fallen out of use, but on this day candles are blessed. These are the candles that will be used throughout the year in the Church and are also given to the faithful for use in the home.
Candles are an essential part of our worship, and we use candles for a variety of services. Candles are given at Baptism to symbolize the movement from darkness into light, and we use candles at the Pascha service to show that we have moved from darkness into the light. We take those candles into our homes to remind us that we are to be the light of the world. That we are called at our Baptism to be that light that so desperately needs to shine in this darkened world.
When a man or women is tonsured into the monastic life, among the items that are presented to him, is a candle. The candle is to remind the new monk that they are to strive, by purity of life, good deeds, and good demeanor to be the light of the world. The following prayer is read by the abbot or bishop when the candle is presented:
Take, brother, this candle, and know that from henceforth you must, through a pure and virtuous life, and through a good character, be a light unto the world. For the Lord said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who art in heaven.
The candle is placed in the new monks Icon corner and will be buried with him at the time of his death.
Growing up along the coast of Massachusetts as I did, you become very familiar with light houses. These light houses are dotted all along the coast of New England and, although serve mainly as decoration now, were extremely vital in the life of sailors as they approached the coast. It is said that the coal of a cigarette can be seen for more than 5 miles out to sea, so the light of the light house was used to guide the sailors into the safe harbor on the worst of nights.
As important as symbols are in worship, these candles cannot simply remain a symbol without meaning or application. We do need to be, what the candle signifies, the light of the world. We need to be the ones, who by our words and deeds, to be the light of the world and lead people to safety. We need to be, like the light house, that bright shining light in the midst of the storm to lead people to the haven of safety, the Church.
But these candles also need to be a reminder to us that we need to chase away the darkness of our souls and of our hearts so our spiritual eyes might be made clear and that we will be able to see all that is good and necessary for our salvation.
When we bless the candles, we use five prayers. One of those prayers speaks specifically to this idea of removing the darkness from our own lives:
O Lord Jesus Christ, the True Light that enlighteneth every man that comes into the world: Do Thou pour out Thy blessing upon these candles, and sanctify them with the light of Thy grace. And be pleased, O Merciful One, that as these lights, kindled with visible fire, drive away the darkness of night, so may our hearts, kindled with invisible fire, and illumined with the brightness of the Holy Spirit, banish the blindness of every sin, that, by the cleansing of our spiritual eyes, we may be able to see that which is well-pleasing unto Thee and necessary for our salvation; and that having triumphed over the dark forces of this world, we may be counted worthy to attain to the everlasting Light. For Thou art our Savior, and unto Thee do we send up glory, together with Thy Father Who is without beginning, and Thy Most-holy, Good, and Lifegiving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.