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RIGHTEOUS SYMEON, THE GOD-RECEIVER
Saint Philaret of New York
Our Church celebrates the great feasts not just for one day, but for a period of several days until its leave-taking, which for this Feast of the Meeting of the Lord will occur, God willing, on Thursday. The Meeting of the Lord commemorates that wonderful event when He appeared in the Temple of His glory “as a babe borne in arms” (Irmos to Ode Four of the canon of the feast). Today we heard the Gospel account of how the Righteous Symeon, who was granted the great mercy from God to receive into his aged hands the Creator of the universe, was informed by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he would see the Lord’s Christ. As church tradition tells us, an angel brought him this message many, many years before the Nativity of Christ.
Two hundred and seventy years before the Birth of Christ, the Egyptian emperor, eager for knowledge, requested a translation of the Jewish Sacred Scriptures into his own language. The Righteous Symeon, already up in years, was one of the group of learned elders selected for the task, and he set out to translate his share of the work, the book of the Prophet Isaiah. In the passage where it says that the Savior of the world would be born of a Virgin, he wanted to make a correction, that is, instead of the word ‘virgin’ he wanted to put in the word meaning ‘married woman’. At that point, an angel stopped his hand and said to him, “Believe what is written, and you will see its fulfillment in your own lifetime”. It is remarkable that Symeon was already an old man, yet, as church tradition tells us, two hundred and seventy more years were to pass from that moment until the Birth of Christ. That means that by the time he received the Infant God in his aged hands, he had beyond imagination exceeded the normal human life span. What a beautiful and edifying example he gives us with his faith that did not doubt or weaken at all even after all that time! He lived so long that before his eyes generation after generation of children were born and became adults, grew old and went to their graves, all the while that he continued to live on and on. However, his faith did not weaken, but as ever burned with zeal while he awaited the fulfillment of the promise which eventually did come to pass.
This amazing example of faith proves to be very edifying for us. We are inconsistent and always losing our faith, what little we have of it. Even the disciples during their lifetime asked their Divine Teacher, “Increase our faith!” and it is all the more so that WE need to pray for this. If the disciples felt that their faith was lacking and beseeched their Teacher to add to their faith, in our case, it is not their request ‘increase our faith’ that is appropriate (for the disciples HAD faith to start with, and they were asking for more) but the exclamation of the father whose son was sick, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!” that is more fitting for us.
This exclamation must be inseparable from us, because we lack faith. How much easier it is for a person with faith to live his life! Faith is like a beacon that illumines his path! There are still obstacles and difficulties, but that person sees everything correctly in the light of faith and as a Christian he takes everything in the right way. Nowadays, people are in the dark and are lost without the light of faith. Just look at what they have come up with instead, and how they have made a mess of their lives!
We have to pray that the Lord might give us even a small fraction of the burning faith that the great righteous elder Symeon had. In the church services it is said that he was higher than the great prophet Moses. Prophet Moses had to bow down to the ground and could look at the Lord only after He had passed by, and it was only from behind that he saw the Creator of the world going away from him. Symeon, however, had the greatest honor and mercy to receive Him into his own hands. This was a reward for his faith, and it has now shone throughout the whole world, the faith which our compassionate Lord has granted us at least a small part. Amen.
Translated from Sermons, Volume II, pages 220-221