02 February 2022

With the Saints through Christmas (39):
2 February 2022, Simeon and Anna

‘The Presentation in the Temple’ … a window by James Watson in the Church of the Holy Rosary, Murroe, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today looks like being a busy day. Although I am still in Dublin after a dental appointment and another consultation yesterday, I have a lot to catch up on. But, before this busy day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during the Season of Christmas, which continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation today (2 February);

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Today (2 February 2022) is the Feast of the Presentation, the closing great feast of the Christmas season, and this morning I am reflecting on Simeon and Anna, who are two key figures – and not marginal figures – in this story, which is unique to Saint Luke’s Gospel.

A detail of Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

According to one Orthodox tradition, Simeon was one of the 72 translators of the Septuagint. As he hesitates on the translation of Isaiah 7: 14 (LXX: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive’) and contemplates correction to γυνή (‘woman;), an angel appears to him and tells him that he is not going to die until he has seen the Christ born of a virgin. This makes him well over 200 years old at the time of the meeting described by Saint Luke, and miraculously long-lived.

Simeon and Anna have been ‘waiting for consolation’ (Luke 2: 25). Simeon is righteous and devout. Luke assigns Anna a place among the prophets (v. 36). Both are very old: Simeon knows he is near the end of days; Anna is 84, well beyond the life expectancy of the time. They are reaching the end of their days when they recognise the Christ Child is in their presence in the Temple.

Saint Luke introduces Simeon with a word (προσδεχόμενος, prosdechomenos) that is normally translated as ‘waiting’ (see Mark 15: 43; Luke 12: 36, 15: 2, 23: 51). But it could also be rendered as ‘ready to receive to oneself.’ The term expresses an eagerness to welcome. In other words, Simeon’s waiting is not so much endurance as active anticipation; he has been counting the days until God reveals what he has promised to him personally.

As Simeon gazes into eyes of the Christ Child, he knows ‘God is with us,’ that ‘God with me.’

Simeon’s name is derived from a word that means ‘to hear intelligently.’ He listens deliberately listening to the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit rests on him, the Holy Spirit reveals things to him, and the Holy Spirit moves him.

The result of Simeon’s listening is one of the most tender moments in Scripture: Simeon enters the Temple to find the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph with their new-born child. He has the distinction of being the only person in the Bible who we is explicitly told held the Christ Child in his arms, and in almost Eucharistic-like movement, he takes the body of Christ in his hands. Any inner disquiet is calmed by Christ, and his soul is at rest.

Anna too has been in God’s presence for decades. She is a member of the tribe of Asher, and she turns her grief as a young widow into a life of prayer, waiting on the Lord day-by-day. For her, the sheer existence of the Christ Child is the only evidence she needs to recognise God’s redemptive work. A baby who cannot even walk becomes the focal point of her praise.

Anna makes a point of talking about Christ to all who were waiting for redemption. Again, Saint Luke returns to the word prosdechomenos. The countless crowds Anna tells about Jesus are marked by that same readiness to receive. As in the feeding of the 5,000, the gospel always multiplies itself to fill the hungry crowds with more left to spare. God’s comfort is intended to reach ever outward.

Anna did not wait for Christ’s life to unfold, still less for his Passion, Death and Resurrection, to spread the word.

Simeon’s body is said to have been moved between the years 565 and 578 from Syria or Jerusalem to Constantinople. Sometime around the Siege of Constantinople in 1203, the relics were seized and shipped to Venice, but ended up in the port of Zadar on the Dalmatian coast, where his feast day is celebrated on 8 October. In October 2010, Archbishop Želimir Puljić of Zadar sent a small silver reliquary containing some of Simeon’s relics to Archbishop Theofylactus of Jordan, representing Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, for the monastery of Saint Simeon the Godbearer in Jerusalem. The Chiesa di San Simeon Grande in Venice also claims to have his relics.

The Presentation in the Temple, carved on a panel on a triptych in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/Lichfield Gazette)

Luke 2: 22-40 (NRSVA):

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (2 February 2022) invites us to pray:

Radiant God, we thank you for bringing light into the world through Jesus. May we be redeemed by you.

Yesterday: Saint Brigid of Kildare

Series Concluded; tomorrow’s reflection

The Presentation or Candlemas … a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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