For this week’s icon we briefly move from our usual presentation of the Theotokos with the Christ Child, to the commemoration of a major Marian feast: the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, which falls on November 21st.
According to tradition (taken from the Protoevangelion, or, The Infancy Gospel of James), in recognition of God’s blessing, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, promised to dedicate their offspring to God. And so, when Mary reached the age of three, the Protoevangelion tells us that her parents brought her to the Jewish Temple.
Rather than cry at being parted from her parents, we can see in the icon that the young Mary has her arms outstretched toward the High Priest Zacharias, who is seen blessing her saying, “It is in you that He will reveal the Redemption that He has prepared for His people in the last days.” As he blesses her, in the background her parents and the female Temple attendants look on.
After giving her this blessing, Zacharias brought her to the steps of the altar (which as high priest, he was only permitted to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement). So filled with the divine grace was Mary, that she began to praise God with a dance.
The Virgin Mary lived in the Temple for a further nine years, after which Joseph was betrothed to her as her guardian. We can see this in the upper left-hand corner of the icon, as an older Mary is depicted living in the Temple, being ministered to by an Angel.
Coming as it does in the first week of Advent, we are meant to view the feast as foreshadowing the saving work of Christ’s Nativity on December 25th.