Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The old man was not dying. But he was old. And he was realistic. And so he lived as St Benedict described: Simeon desired eternal life with all spiritual longing, and so he kept death daily before his eyes. Not because he was morbid or depressed, but because he longed to see God. And how else does one see God, how else does one partake fully of the Divine Nature, how else do we attain the joy of our salvation unless we take the passageway through the grave? For it has been converted by Our Lord Himself from the gateway to Hades into the gateway to Heaven. In fact, by His resurrection Christ refashioned the tomb to be the gate of the Lord through which the righteous ascend to be seated in heavenly places.
Don’t be surprised, then, if old St Simeon had this prayer always on his lips and in his heart:
I shall not die but live / and declare the works of the Lord.
The Lord hath chastened and corrected me / but he hath not given me over unto death.
At least, not the death that is hopeless. Not the death that goes nowhere, or that drives us further from our Father. Rather, the Lord gives us over to abundant life, which is obtained after death.
Where do you go, then; where do you live, when all you want to do is see God? And where do you go, where do you live, while you’re waiting in hope, in anticipation, in expectation, in pious and heart-felt longing to attain the fullness of your humanity; the reason you were made—to have intimate communion with God, to see God?
Listen to the Psalmist: “We wait for thy loving-kindness, O God / in the midst of thy temple.”
That’s where Simeon is. In the midst of the Lord’s temple. Waiting for His loving-kindness. Waiting in hope while he prays, “I look for the Lord; my soul doth wait for him / in His word is my trust.” And so trusting, with godly faith, confident that the Lord will make good on His word, Simeon sits in the temple day by day, expecting the consolation of Israel, because he was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
The old man waits. And yet the old man also does not turn over a thousand rocks, or look into a thousand eyes, or check out a thousand signs and omens, trying to figure out if this one is the one; or if that event or this moment announces the end of his waiting. The old man waits patiently; and so he waits knowing that when the Lord appears, it will be clear. Crystal clear. Because an inner-light, not the light of intuition but the light of life, will enlighten his mind and strengthen his conviction. And so Simeon dutifully waits, not wasting his time trying to figure out when or how; and not caught up in things that don’t edify, or things that distract, or things that he can’t take with him. Simeon passes his time in prayer, and in storing up heavenly treasures by practicing joyfulness, kindness, and love which refused to control another.
The old man waits patiently, faithfully, trustingly for the Lord, who is going to come suddenly into His temple. Suddenly, not like in a rush, with a flourish, out of breath. But suddenly, as in unexpectedly, at a time you least expect and in a manner that seems unlikely. “The one whom you seek, whom you delight in—behold, He shall come, says the Lord of hosts.”
Simeon does not wait in vain. And as soon as he sees the young woman, the one whom he saw grow from a child into a Bride, from faith to faith, into a Lady, into a Queen—when Simeon sees this woman whom he has loved like a father; when he sees her with her husband, and the radiant Child in her arms—then he knows that his wait is over; that he is now looking at and holding in his arms, the Lord’s salvation, the Lord’s grace, the Lord God Himself.
And now Simeon is ready to die. For to live is Christ, but to die is gain. And Simeon wishes to gain all that he’s awaited; all that he’s now seen. It’s not a death wish. It is rather the realization that nothing else in this life compares with the “light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the Lord’s people, Israel.”
For Simeon reasons, quite rightly, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” And he asks you, “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” In fact, “who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?”
Having seen the Lord’s Christ, then, what is there worth seeing? And why not spend time in joyous conversation to His Father, to whom His Spirit leads you?
And so, the old man is ready to die. Or to be precise, Simeon is ready to depart in peace. He’s ready to go through that passageway of death and the grave in order to enter the realm where peace is palpable, where joy is intensely tangible, and where you can talk to Love Himself.
I’ve described Simeon and his waiting and his reward because he shows us how we can respond every time we behold the Lord’s Christ on the altar, every time we get to carry Him not in our arms but in our heart, every time we get to taste the Lord Himself—His flesh mingled with our flesh, His blood mixed with our blood—every time we get to taste and see that the Lord is what goodness is. With the old man, we can say, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
For that salvation, that seeing the Lord with other eyes—that is why we come into this temple. We wait in the midst of this temple, just like Simeon, waiting faithfully for the Lord’s loving-kindness, waiting to move forward from the darkening shadows, from the shade this life casts, into the calming brightness and radiance of the Lord’s glory.
St Michael Orthodox Christian Church, Whittier CA
2 February 2023