Russia Religion Subjects Jesus Christ The Presentation in the Temple

The Presentation in the Temple

The Book of Luke describes how Jesus was presented in the temple of Jerusalem on the fortieth day after His birth, in accordance with Hebrew law. The law was given to Israel by Moses and required that all first-born males be consecrated to the Lord (Exodus 13:2; 22:29). Jesus was met at the temple by Simeon and the prophetess Anna. The Presentation thus symbolises the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of the birth of the Messiah. “And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord); and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:22–38).

The Presentation is one of the twelve major festivals of the Russian Orthodox Church. The holiday was established in the sixth century and is celebrated on 2/15 February. One of the versions of the iconography of the scene depicts Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms. This feature is based on the fifth song of St Cosmas of Maiuma’s Canon on the Presentation. Christ’s future martyrdom is insinuated by His bare and crossed legs and pose, which betrays His alarm and indecision. He is as defenceless as the two doves in the cage, traditionally offered in sacrifice whenever a firstborn male was consecrated (Leviticus 12:8). The image also reflects medieval notions of the layout of the temple of Jerusalem, inspired by descriptions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, erected by Constantine the Great at the site of the Resurrection of Christ.

The distinguishing feature of other versions is the presence of the altar with the Gospels lying on it. Depicted against the general background of the Presentation in the Temple, this iconographic detail departs from historical reality and distorts the essence of the Old Testament liturgy. This artistic feature is intended to underline the notion of the dawning of the era of the New Testament, marked by the appearance of the Saviour into the world. The image of the Christ Child in Simeon’s arms closely follows the Gospel text (Luke 2:28–32) and reiterates the importance of the Presentation as the meeting point of the Old and New Testaments. The fiery red coverings on the altar, the gold cross woven on the cloth and the figure of Simeon bending over Jesus as if offering Him in sacrifice hint at Christ’s future crucifixion in redemption for our sins.

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