We read in Luke 2:22–40 that the parents of Jesus, following Mosaic law bring their firstborn son to be dedicated to God in the temple at Jerusalem forty days after his birth. We pray in the hymnography of the feast: “the creator of the law fulfills the law.” This brings us to Feb. 2, the Feast of the Encounter (meeting, presentation) of Our Lord in the Temple, which concludes the Christmas cycle of feast days. We see the parents of Jesus as they offer their child. The Theotokos, her head bowed, holds her hand in offering as she dedicates herself along with her Son to God. This hand gesture should be familiar to us. We see it in most of the icons of her and Christ. Throughout her life and throughout eternity, in all humility, she deflects our gaze towards her Son.
Behind the Theotokos, stands Joseph. His hands are covered, indicating his humility and reverence before God. Most icons of the encounter also show him holding sacrificial turtledoves as required by the law. St. Simeon is central to the icon along with the Christ child. He receives the awaited child holding Him as if on a throne.
The canopy behind them depicts the altar of the Temple. Simeon together with the prophetess Anna who stands behind him, represents all that is good and God-seeking in the Old Testament. They have been awaiting the Messiah for many years. It was promised that he would not die before seeing the Messiah Lk 2:25–32.
He has devoted His life to God and has allowed the Holy Spirit to guide his life. On this day he has been led by the Holy Spirit to the temple. His body is bowed and his hands are covered in reverence; recognizing whom he holds. This is the defining moment in his life an in salvation history as, recognizing the Messiah, he reaches for the infant. The Old Testament covenant is now fulfilled and the New Testament covenant begins.
The icon reminds us that even as an infant, only 40 day old, Jesus is Our Lord, the high priest. His right hand is held in blessing. The nimbus (halo) surrounds His head bears a cruciform containing the Greek letters omikron, omega, nu “I am He who is” the name of God in Ex 3:14. Outside the nimbus (halo) are the Greek letters ICXC – the Christogram (an abbreviation of Jesus Christ).
The Prophetess Anna looks on. She is identified as a prophetess by the scroll that she holds in her hand. She also immediately recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the awaited Messiah. In Scripture we read that she “spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” She is an eager evangelist pointing all to Christ just as all the Old Testament Prophets did. This is indicated by her hand pointing to the Christ child in Simeon’s arms who will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles Lk. 2:32.
Righteous Simeon and Anna awaited the Messiah, praying and dedicating their lives to God. This allowed them the vision to see what others could not. The Messiah had come. As we contemplate this icon, we pray that we might dedicate our lives to God and open ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as they did so that our eyes may be open to see His presence all around us.