This feast is known in the Anglican and Orthodox Churches as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Another name for the feast is The Meeting of our Lord. Roman Catholic and some Protestant Christians call the feast The Purification of the Holy Virgin. An old reading for this festival contains the line (Zephaniah 1:12), “I will search Jerusalem with candles”. About 450 AD in Jerusalem, people began the custom of holding lighted candles during the Divine Liturgy of this feast day. Therefore, some churches refer to this holy day as Candlemas.
The story of the Presentation is told in Luke 2: 22 – 29. Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews and observed their religious customs. An important custom was for the couple to take their first-born son to the Temple. The baby was taken to the Temple forty days after his birth and was dedicated to God. In addition, if the parents were wealthy, they were to bring a lamb and a young pigeon or a turtle dove to be offered as a sacrifice at the Temple. The custom provided that if the parents were poor, they were to offer two pigeons or two turtle doves for the sacrifice.
When Jesus was forty days old, Mary and Joseph took Him to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were not wealthy, so they took two turtle doves with them to offer as a sacrifice at the Temple. As they arrived at the Temple, Mary and Joseph were met by a very old man named Simeon. He was a holy man, noted as a very intelligent scholar.
Simeon had waited all his life for the Messiah. God had promised him that before he died he would see the Lord’s Anointed, the one who was appointed to deliver Israel. Now the time had arrived. It was on one of his regular visits to the Temple that he saw the Holy family. His joy at the sight of the child who would deliver Israel was immeasurable. He immediately took him into his arms; and with great confidence he blessed God and proclaimed a message that the child eventually would transform the lives of the people of the earth for all generations to come. His words are recorded in the beautiful Song of Simeon, which we also know as the Nunc Dimittis, forming a part of the service of Evensong in the Anglican Church.
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles,
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Also, in the Temple was Anna the Prophetess. She had been a widow for many years. Anna was about eighty-four years old and spent her time in the Temple worshiping, fasting, and praying. When she saw the Christ Child she praised God and spoke of him to all who were awaiting the Messiah.