The Presentation (or “Meeting”) in the Temple is, like so many of our feasts, a kaleidoscope of imagery.
Isaiah saw God himself in the Temple, with angels cleansing his lips with a burning coal. This is one of the central images in the liturgy on this day.
AND it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory. And seraphs stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
And the lintel shook at the voice they uttered, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts. And there was sent to me one of the seraphs, and he had in his hand a coal, which he had taken off the altar with the tongs: and he touched my mouth, and said, Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins.
At Small Vespers for today’s Feast, this passage is picked up and Simeon is cast in the role of Isaiah. Mary is the exalted throne. Christ is the burning coal – an image explored in Patristic theology of the Eucharist, and alluded to in the thrice-holy hymn (“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts”) at the Divine Liturgy.
Thus all of us can become Simeon: old and weak, tired by this worldly life, but longing to see the goodness of God in the land of the living, we too can receive the fire.
‘WHEN Isaias in a figure saw God on an exalted throne, escorted by Angels of glory, ‘Woe is me!’ he cried, for I have seen beforehand God in a body, Lord of the light that knows no evening and Lord of peace.’’
When the godly Elder saw the Word held in the hands of his Mother, he understood that this was the glory revealed of old to the Prophet. He cried out, ‘Rejoice, holy Lady, for, like a throne, you hold God, Lord of the light that knows no evening and Lord of peace’.
The Elder, bending down and reverently touching the footprints of God’s Mother, who did not know wedlock, said, ‘Pure Virgin you carry fire. I tremble to take God as a infant in my arms, Lord of the light that knows no evening and Lord of peace.’
‘Isaias was cleansed when he received the coal from the Seraphim’, cried the Elder to God’s Mother, ‘You, with your hands as with tongs, make me resplendent as you give me the one you carry, Lord of the light that knows no evening and Lord of peace.’
Meeting of the Lord, at Small Vespers. Ode 5. Translation from Anastasis.