This Saturday we celebrated the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple. What we know about this event in the life of the Theotokos can be found in two ancient sources. The Protoevagelium of James and The Gospel of the Birth of Mary. These are materials that were not placed in the canonical sources. Some non-Orthodox “experts” have called these writings the “lost books” or “new sources” They were never lost nor are they new. Orthodox monastics and theologians have always used these sources to expand our understanding of the lives of the saints and events in salvation history. The hymnographers, iconographers and poets of the Church have drawn on these writings to enrich our liturgical and faith experience. These writings give the early events of the life of the Theotokos. The Protoevagelium Jacobi (aka The Infancy Gospel of James) presents the more detailed story of the events of her parental heritage, conception, birth and early life. As we know in the canonical Gospel of Luke, St. Luke begins his narrative with the story of St. John the Baptist and then relates the events of the Annunciation to the Theotokos. So these other sources are valuable as they present some of the rest of the Theotokos’ story.
The Protoevagelium relates that Joachim and Anna, the Theotokos’ parents, were so grateful to God for His gift of the conception of Mary; they promised to dedicate Mary to God by presenting her to the Temple. The miracle of their having this blessed child erased the reproval of their community because of their inability to bear children. The thinking of that culture was that a childless couple could not participate in the possibility of being heirs to the promise of the future messiah. When Mary reached the age of three, they fulfilled their pledge and escorted her accompanied by 10 virgins with lit lamps to the Temple. This was prophesied in Psalm 44 LXXII . They were met by the High Priest Zacharias, who guided the child Mary into the Holy of Holies. We hear in the Protoevagelium, “Now Mary was in the Temple of the Lord like a dove being fed and she received food from the hand of an angel.” This was the Archangel Gabriel (notice the top left corner of the icon). What happened from age three until the mid-teenage years when we know that the Annunciation took place is not completely detailed. But we know the Virgin piously stayed in the Temple and found favour with God until her betrothal to Joseph.
The material concerning these years can be found in these ancient writings, As we commemorate these events perhaps reading some of these books could expand your understanding. We must know that the Church has not endorsed these writings as canonical, but looks on them as resources to expand and enhance our faith journey. God Bless and Have a Blessed Thanksgiving