The Entrance of the Theotokos

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Download our printable packet containing a variety of teaching activities.

Interactive online activities

Under the current COVID-19 circumstances, we have been creating online games and activities to complement our more traditional material, in order to facilitate online teaching. We are happy to offer you a variety of such games to explore. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Entrance fabric Learning Set

We have created a felt-board-type fabric learning set to complement this lesson – a hands-on teaching resource for young learners that can be used either in class or at home.

The Great Feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple is celebrated on November 21. It is the first major feast of the Nativity Fast (which starts on November 15), and the second major feast honoring the Theotokos in the Church year (which starts on September 1). The Church has been celebrating the Mother of God since the very early years; the feast of the Entrance, however, was established in the 6th century A.D., and only in the East. In the West, it was introduced after the Great Schism, as late as the 14th century. According to the hymnography of the day, the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple is the “prelude” of God’s plan for Salvation, namely the Incarnation.

Τhe story of the feast is not found in the Gospels, which do not generally include the early life of the Theotokos (with the exception of St. Luke’s Gospel where we do we find a few instances such as the Annunciation and the meeting with St. Elisabeth). Nevertheless, the Holy Tradition of the Church kept an account of the life of the Theotokos, passed orally from generation to generation. These stories have been found written in some non-canonical books such as the Protevangelion of James, a pseudepigraphal work from the second century, and the Evangelion of pseudo-Matthew, of the 3rd century, both parts of the “New Testament apocrypha” (a number of early Church writings that describe our Lord’s earthly life and His teachings or the lives and teachings of the Apostles).

Fr. Lawrence Farley of OCA, offers the words of Fr. Constantine Callinicos, author of Our Lady the Theotokos, to help us navigate these sources: “If the reader asks if he is to accept these narratives according to their letter or according to their spiritual depth, we must answer: according to their spiritual essence”, which means not being too concerned about the, sometimes, seeming discrepancies and/or errors. For the feast of the Entrance, this essence is, according to Fr. Farley, that “the young girl who once entered the Temple was destined to become the Temple of God. […] Mary’s first entrance into the Temple as a little child, though unremarkable and unnoticed historically at the time, was a prophetic snapshot, a revelation of the Temple’s eschatological purpose”.

Main points

  • The Theotokos had been in God’s plan for man’s salvation since the beginning of the world. She is the reference of God’s words to the Serpent: “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15). Additionally, throughout the Old Testament there are symbolic references to the Theotokos, both in the Prophets’ accounts, and in the sacred objects of the Ηebrews. This is reflected in the readings of the feast.
  • The feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple foretells God’s blessing for the human race, the promise of the coming of Christ.
  • It is in the Theotokos’ own free will that God’s plan was put into place. Even at the very young age at which she was presented to the Temple, she went freely, without tears and without looking back.
  • The Theotokos lived in the Temple until she became a teenager, at which age she was betrothed to St. Joseph. From a very young age, she loved God so much that she identified her will with God’s will. By her own choice, she never sinned, either in body or in spirit. If she had ever sinned, then God could not be incarnate in the Person of Christ in her, because sin can never be blessed.
  • Being God’s Mother, the Theotokos is also the Mother of all the people. She is the first of all the Saints, and stands highest of all the angels.

PLANNING THE LESSON

Objectives

Younger children

At the end of the lesson, younger children should be able to:

  • Pronounce the names of the Theotokos, Ss. Joachim and Anna, and the feast of the Entrance.
  • Explain that “Theotokos” means “Mother of God“.
  • Explain that the term “Entrance” refers to the entrance of the young Theotokos into the Temple.
  • Point to the Theotokos, her parents, and the High Priest in the icon.
  • Briefly retell the story of the Entrance of the Theotokos using the icon as visual aid.

Older children

In addition to the above, older children should also be able to:

  • Spell the words “Theotokos”, “Entrance”, “Temple”, “Holy of Holies”.
  • Explain why the feast of the Entrance is called “a prelude” to our salvation.
  • Explain the Theotokos’ part in God’s Plan: Of her own free will, she went into the Temple joyously despite her young age.
  • Point out additional details in the icon:
    The maidens accompanying the young Theotokos.
    – The young Theotokos being fed by the angel in the Holy of Holies.
    – The color of the Theotokos’ garments: Red on the outside, blue on the inside.
    Three stars on the Theotokos: one on her forehead, one on each shoulder.
  • Discuss the importance of avoiding sin in our own lives, just like the Theotokos did. God always gives us the option to say “no” to His will, but, when we choose to do so, we move away from Him.
  • With the help of the teacher, and from their own experience, come up with examples of sin in everyday life, and explain what God would want us to do in each situation.

Possible lesson outline

Are you teaching remotely?

Visit our post on remote religious education for tips on how to use our material in an online session.

Using our material, a lesson on the Entrance could go as follows:

  • Present the story using our paper puppets – details can be found in the printable packet. Follow by reading it from an Orthodox-approved children’s text. The children could then act out the story using the puppets.
  • Explain the icon. The paper puppets can be useful again, as they include all the details we want the children to observe in the icon.
  • Discuss the Theotokos’ eager entrance into the Temple, her being taken care of by the angel, and the importance of avoiding sin with examples from real life.
  • Do some reinforcement work utilizing our printable packet and/or our interactive activities.

PRINTABLE ACTIVITY OPTIONS

Our printable packet contains a variety of activities for different ages. They are:

  • Icon worksheets, for younger and older children.
  • A cut-and-glue activity to work on the troparion of the day.
  • A crossword puzzle on basic concepts of the lesson.
  • A cut-and-glue scene based on the icon.
  • One additional more elaborate craft that is detailed below.

CRAFT OPTION: Glass magnet

We had introduced this craft in our previous post about the Theotokos feast of the Annunciation. Presently, we are including a similar template of the Entrance, so you can, once again, make a glass magnet for the feast. We plan on making similar images for the rest of the Theotokos feasts when we get to work on them. That way, one could gradually build a collection of Theotokos feast magnets.

Our template is measured for making large glass button magnets (diameter: 5cm). We are including below links to the products we used to make this craft, but you can use any similar products you might already have or are able to find. *Please note: We are not receiving any kind of financial compensation for mentioning the specific products. We are only including them to share our experience in case it is helpful to our readers.*

Materials

  • Printed page from our packet.
  • 5 cm round dome cabochons.
  • Round disc magnets – we used magnets that also included peel-and-stick adhesive dots, but any similarly sized magnet will work and can be glued using a drop of glue.
  • Water based glaze/glue. The particular brand we used produced excellent results – it is super clear, dries fast, and forms a very strong bond.

Cut out the printed circles. Spread a thin layer of glue on the flat side of each cabochon. Glue the printed circle on the cabochon, so that the image shows through the glass dome. Let dry for a few minutes. Glue the magnet on the back and let dry completely. Ready!

BACKGROUND

The Story

The story of this special event in the life of the Theotokos, her Entrance into the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, begins with her parents, Saints Joachim and Anna. Both were of a noble family line, they loved each other, and were very faithful. Unfortunately, they were barren for years, despite their fervent prayers, acts of kindness, and sacrifices to God. However, even though they were socially humiliated because of their barrenness, they never lost their faith in God; they kept on their prayerful life and made a promise to consecrate their child to God, should He ever bless them with one. 

One day, in the couple’s old age, their prayers were answered through an angel who conveyed God’s message: God had blessed them to have a child who would become the divine vessel for the Salvation of the world. With ineffable happiness and awe, Joachim and Anna got together as a couple and nine months later they had a baby girl, whom they called Mary. 

Three years after the miraculous birth of their daughter, the elderly parents fulfilled their promise to God and brought little Mary to Jerusalem in order to consecrate her at the Temple of Solomon. From that moment on, the Temple was to become Mary’s new home. 

The family, accompanied by a group of young women, the “undefiled maidens of the Hebrew people”, started the journey toward the Temple. For young Mary’s sake, the girls were carrying lamps, singing and dancing to celebrate the special event in her life. When the retinue arrived at the Temple, they were welcomed by the elderly high-priest in charge, St. Zacharias the father of St. John the Forerunner, who was waiting for them dressed in glorious high-priestly vestments. Little Mary was put on the step of the Temple and she immediately stretched her arms toward the high-priest with excitement. By God’s Grace, Zacharias recognized the divine will in that child, that she would become the Theotokos, the Mother of the Incarnate God. He stooped down toward little Mary, and lifted her up saying the prophetic words: “the Lord has magnified your name in all generations; in you in the last of days the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel” (Ps. 45, 10-17). He then led her to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. 

The young Theotokos dwelled in the Holy of Holies, for twelve (some say nine) years. Young maidens taught her the necessary household chores, like cooking, sewing, and spinning. Tradition has it that, in the Holy of Holies, she was miraculously fed by an angel. Most importantly, by God’s Grace, the young Theotokos was ‘nourished spiritually’ by fasting, praying, and reading Scriptures. This way she prepared herself for becoming the living Temple of the Most-High, the Mother of the Son of God. 

Celebration of the Feast 

A Great Vespers service is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. On the morning of the feast, the Orthros (Matins) service is conducted, followed by the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.

Scripture readings for the feast are the following: 

The celebration of the feast of the Entrance starts on November 21st and ends on November 25th, when the service for the Apodosis (leave-taking) of the feast is celebrated during the Divine Liturgy, with the same hymnology as on the day of the feast. 

Greek traditions of the feast

There is a lovely folk tradition in many areas of rural Greece for celebrating the feast of the Entrance. It is called “Polyspória” (many-seeds) or “Mesospória” (mid-season seeds), and it consists of preparing a special lenten dish to celebrate the mid-season of the fall harvest. Because of this custom, in some places, the Theotokos is also called “Polysporítissa” (Theotokos of the many-seeds) or “Mesosporítissa” (Theotokos of the mid-season seeds). 

The Polyspória dish is simple, plentiful, and sweet: all kinds of legumes, wheat, and/or corn, are slowly boiled together until a thick soup is made; roasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts), sesame, and raisins can then be added, along with some sugar, salt, and pepper. The dish is prepared on the eve of the feast and brought to church to be blessed on the morning of the feast. It is then consumed after the Divine Liturgy, in the company of neighbors, friends, and relatives. Participants wish each other “many years” and a plentiful harvest, and cooks often exchange samples, comparing the different variations of the dish. 

CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The feast of the Εntrance of the Theotokos is especially celebrated on Mount Athos, the holy monastic mountain in Northern Greece, also called “The garden of Panagia” since she is considered its protectress. The Athonite fathers note an analogy between the feast of the Entrance and the start of the monastic life: The monastic is devoted entirely to God, leaving all traces of his/her previous self behind in order to strive for absolute communion with Him – just as the Theotokos did throughout her own life, beginning with her Entrance into the Temple.

Icon of the Feast

Wall painting by Michael Alevizakis. Used with permission.

The Icon of the Entrance appears as an image of a true celebration. The central figure is the child Theotokos, who is depicted as a small adult, with the serious grown-up expression in her face as shown in her icons as the Mother of God. She is dressed in her signature red-over-blue garments, also bearing the three stars of her ever-virginity. This depiction symbolizes the Theotokos’ divine calling as the Mother of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, and by extension, the Mother of all humankind.  

On one side of the icon, we see the holy prophet Zacharias, dressed in his glorious high-priestly vestments. He is standing on the steps of the Temple, welcoming the child Theotokos with reverence and awe. The child Theotokos is also standing on the steps of the Temple looking straight at Zacharias with complete trust, spreading her little arms toward him, as if she knows that the Temple is her new home and that she will belong to God from that moment on. 

Behind the child Theotokos, but not on the steps, follow the Theotokos’ elderly parents, Saints Joachim and Anna. In some icons St. Anna is turning toward St. Joachim as if being hesitant to leave her three-year old child behind, while St. Joachim encourages her with a gentle gesture, reminding her that they have to fulfill their promise to God. 

The retinue of young maidens is accompanying the child Theotokos. The women are holding lit candles or lamps, and they are moving their heads as if they are dancing and singing merrily to celebrate the big event. 

In the background we see a set of buildings belonging to the Temple of Solomon. Sometimes there are red draperies over the buildings which means that the main scene is taking place indoors – although in reality lay people were not permitted to enter the Temple. 

In a way typical to Orthodox icons, where many scenes that took place at different times are often depicted together as if they are taking place simultaneously, there is usually an additional scene, showing the child Theotokos sitting in the Holy of Holies and receiving divine food from an angel. The Holy of Holies is symbolically depicted as a high tower, although in reality it was the last chamber of the Temple hidden behind a thick veil. The veil is also shown on a different part of the icon, as a red curtain, drawn back.

Hymns of the Feast

The Troparion

Today is the preview of the good will of God, 
of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. 
The Virgin appears in the temple of God, 
in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all. 
Let us rejoice and sing to her: 
Rejoice, O Divine Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation. 

The Kontakion

The most pure Temple of the Savior, 
the precious Chamber and ­Virgin, 
the Sacred Treasure of the Glory of God, 
is presented today to the house of the Lord. 
She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, 
which the angels of God do praise. 
Truly this woman is the Abode of Heaven! 

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