OLPH Church
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite

The Feast of the Encounter with Simeon (Presentation)

 

The Feast of the Encounter of our Lord is celebrated forty days after Christmas on February 2. The event which the Church commemorates on this feast is described in the Gospel of St. Luke (2:22-28). From the words of this Gospel and of the Liturgical texts pertaining to the feast, we can identify a threefold character in it; the purification of Mary, the dedication of Jesus as the first-born son, and the meeting with Simeon and the prophetess, Anna.

According to the Mosaic Law, a mother who had given birth to a boy was considered unclean for seven days, and for thirty three days was excluded from public worship. When the appointed forty days were past, she was expected to offer a sacrifice for her purification. Here, in the Gospel of St. Luke, is described the sacrifice offered by Mary, two young pigeons. Mary, since she was not bound to this law, being the chaste spouse of the Holy Spirit, was yet still inspired by the Holy Spirit to comply with the law in fulfilling the will of God.

Secondly, the prescription of the Mosaic Law ordained that every first-born son was considered to belong to the Lord. This son was to be brought back to the temple as an offering to God. Jesus was presented in the temple according to the command of God saying, “Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” (Luke 2:23). The Mother of God brought our Lord to the temple to fulfill the command of the Word of God, her own child Jesus.

Simeon was an old man who lived in Jerusalem and longed to see the Messiah. He went to the Temple at the time that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus. Mary welcomed him through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who assured Simeon that he would see the Christ. The canticle, “Now you can dismiss your servant, 0 Lord, according to your word in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation...” sung at our Vespers service, reechoes the word of Simeon about the truth of life. The prophetess, Anna, was there in the temple to meet our Lord and she was not disappointed.

This feast was celebrated by the Church of Jerusalem in the early years of the Church and spread to the entire Church. Celebrated on different days of the year, finally it was transferred to the second of February, the present date of the feast. On this day candles were carried in procession. Later it became a custom to have the candles blessed on this day beginning in the eleventh century. Candles are significant as a symbol of Christ who is the light of the world. The candle is given to us at our Baptism with the words, “Receive the Light of Faith.” We are to carry that faith throughout our lifetime and shine forth with the light of Christ in us to all People.