On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:
Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.
When Mary was three years old, and finally weaned, Joachim and Anna did not forget their promise to God. They gathered young ladies with candles to walk with them, and all together walked to the Temple so that they could present Mary to God and give her back to Him. Many family and friends came along, as well, all carrying lit candles.
When they arrived at the Temple, Joachim and Anna lifted Mary up onto the first of the 15 steps that led up into the temple. As soon as she was on that step, she ran all the way up the rest of them. The High Priest at the time was Zachariah (who later became the father of St. John the Forerunner). Zachariah greeted Mary at the top of the steps, took her by the hand, and led her into the Temple. The Holy Spirit directed him as he led her not just into the Temple, but into the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred part of the Temple (which was so holy that only the High Priest could go in there; and he could only go in once a year after much preparation and prayer!)!
The Most-holy Virgin lived in the Temple for many years. The angels fed her in the Holy of Holies. As long as they lived, Joachim and Anna came regularly to the Temple to visit their daughter. When they departed this life, she stayed on in the Temple until she was betrothed to Joseph.
The holiness that she acquired while in the Temple, along with her own piety and desire to follow God, prepared the Most-holy Virgin to become the new Temple, in which God Himself dwelt. Her willingness to come to the Temple with such joy is a notable part of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.
Most Holy Theotokos, intercede for our salvation!
Here are some resources and ideas for learning about the feast together as a Sunday Church School class:
Find a lesson plan (Lesson 2 in this series on the Theotokos) for any age group about the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos/
Make a copy of this pdf (http://stabcc.org/files/bulletins/Bulletin-Insert-11.17.2013.pdf) for each of your middle years Sunday Church School students. Read it together, and talk about the feast.
Find a variety of printable pdfs (previous years’ children’s bulletins) that contain information and/or activities related to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Childrens-Word-144.pdf, http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Childrens-Word-92.pdf,
Provide the icon of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple for your older Sunday Church School students to look at. Ask them to tell what they know about the icon: what does it depict? How is it teaching us? Then share additional information as presented here https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple/ and talk about it.
Encourage your older Sunday Church School students to look up each of the Old Testament scriptures listed here: http://www.stpaulorthodoxcathedral.org/attachments/article/4/SPC%20bulletin%2025%20Pentecost%20Tone%208.2.pdf. Have each student select one, look it up, and then read it to the class. Together discuss how this scripture relates to the Theotokos. How is she the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies?
With your Sunday Church School students, sing the exapostilarion of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (ie: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/exapost-1121-entry_of_theotokos.pdf). Then look together at the words of the hymn. What do they mean? To what does it compare the Theotokos? The book “Heaven Meets Earth: Celebrating Pascha and the Twelve Feasts” by John Skinas makes a beautiful connection between the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant and the Theotokos, some of which is alluded to in this hymn. The Ark of the Covenant contained God’s words, the 10 commandments, written on the stone tables; manna from heaven; and Aaron’s miraculously budding rod. The new Ark (the Theotokos) went on to contain the Word of God in the flesh; the Bread of Life; and “the Seedless Flower… from the Root of Jesse.” (p. 16) If you have the book, be sure to share this part with your students and discuss the type of the Ark of the Covenant and its fulfillment in the Theotokos. Then talk together about why it was so important for her to spend so many years of her life in the Temple; specifically in the Holy of Holies. (The answer is on page 15 of that book!) Find the book here if you do not yet have it: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth
Print this foldable centerpiece about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple onto cardstock for each student. After teaching about the feast, allow your students to decorate and assemble it. Send it home with them right away so that they can set it as the centerpiece of their dining room table, add it to their icon corner, or set it up in their room where they will see it often and remember the feast. http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/cacb8660b29bdc97f8e8283ff567634e.pdf