Candlemas – the Feast of Lights – is known by several names: the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These are fairly self-explanatory. But the Orthodox Hypapante is anything but. My Liddell & Scott tells me that it is a late Greek word, and means something like ‘a meeting’. I take it to mean the meeting between Symeon and Anna and the Infant Lord and his parents. The word's associations would suggest that this is more than a chance or casual encounter, but a 'meeting' of a more formal and ceremonial nature in the sense of the maidens in the gospel parable going forth to 'meet' the bridegroom to escort him home with his bride; or in the sense that the Thessalonian Christians were expecting to be caught up to 'meet' the Lord in the air, when he was revealed from heaven at the end of time. The picture is that of a welcoming delegation –local worthies and the city council – gathered to greet the Very Important Person on his arrival at the beginning of a state visit to a town or province. So Symeon and Anna constitute the reception committee waiting to greet the Lord when he comes suddenly to his temple.
It happens only too often that reception committees are kept waiting. In any event they need to be in place in good time. My wife and daughter needed to be on Beverley Racecourse at an impossibly early hour before the Jubilee Visit of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. All too often the schedule may run late. Waiting can be annoying and frustrating. Think of all that you might have been doing otherwise. A corrective to this commonly held feeling is administered by WH Vanstone's modem spiritual classic, The Stature of Waiting. We set great store by activity and busy-ness. They are often valued for their own sake, but, Vanstone argues, the times of 'passion', having things done to you instead of doing things, or even simply waiting, are equally important, if not more so. Thus our Lord waited upon the outcome of his earthly mission in the Garden. So also the constantly outgoing love of the Father waits upon the response of his creation, which is null and void if not freely given. The divine waiting sanctifies and gives meaning to our own lesser waitings. They are never wasted.
Sometimes our waiting is imposed upon us from without. Agencies have sometimes been known to use the waiting room as an instrument to keep clients in their place! Sometimes we bring about our own waiting – waiting for an examination result or a medical report. A soldier or airman waits during the countdown to a hazardous mission. But one specially poignant example which Vanstone misses is the waiting which results from a promise made by a respected, trusted and beloved friend. Symeon, St Luke tells us, was ‘a just and pious man, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. It had been revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's anointed One. ’ He had waited and he had lived for this. Apart from this his life had been empty. His patience and his faith must have been sorely tried, the more so as the years passed and bodily frailty increased. Neither did Anna desert the welcoming delegation even when it seemed that the Very Important Person might not be arriving after all. But she remained faithful and waited, worshipping in the temple with prayer and fasting, night and day. Both alike are examples of the stature and dignity of waiting, and in the end their waiting was rewarded. The prophetess Anna was able to share the good news with all the others who were looking for the deliverance of Jerusalem. Symeon rejoiced to take the infant Christ into his arms, thus earning the title of theodochos – the one who received God. So at last the faithful servant prays, respectfully, to be allowed to depart in peace. His eyes have seen, his arms have held the world's salvation.
Hugh Bates is a retired priest living in the Archdiocese of York.
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