Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mary as the Holy of Holies

In the Byzantine Church it is the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, a feast very dear to my heart, since I continually ask the Holy Mother of God to watch over my wife and daughter. Tonight I was the cantor at liturgy, and read the epistle, which was from Hebrews:

Heb 9:1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary.
Heb 9:2 For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place.
Heb 9:3 Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies,
Heb 9:4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;
Heb 9:5 above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Heb 9:6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties;
Heb 9:7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.

Now, the juxtaposition of the recounting of the details of the Temple with the great feastday of Our Lady is an obvious invitation to an allegorical reading of scripture. It's clear that the Church means to tell us that Mary is in some way the new Holy of Holies, the hidden, gold-covered sanctuary where the most precious possessions of Israel were stored. It was in the Holy of Holies that the priest begged for forgiveness of sins for the Israelites; it was within the Mother of God that Jesus, who gained the gift of forgiveness of sins for us all came to the world. It was in the Holy of Holies that the Ark of the Covenant was kept; it was within Mary that the New Covenant was nurtured. The Holy of Holies was covered in gold; Mary was preserved from sin, the ever-blessed, immaculate Theotokos, as the liturgy calls her.

This is why reading the bible in the traditional way is so much more fun than the historical-critical method. Truth unfolds truth, and the whole bible reflects light on itself, if we are allowed to read it in an allegorical, anagogical, or moral way.

Here's some more fun: the Vespers reading for this feast of the Protection of the Mother of God is the story about Jacob's ladder in Genesis 28:10-17. One of the Vespers hymns is quite explicit in comparing Mary to the ladder connecting heaven and earth. I'll be thinking about that for days.

This is why I love the Byzantine liturgy so much: everywhere you turn there are hidden treasures.

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