In the most recent issue of Theosis (1.6), Fr. Thomas Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest, iconographer, and columnist, has an interesting contribution on the upcoming feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple (also known as Candlemas or the “Meeting of the Lord”). For many, February 2nd is simply the most bizarre and meaningless American holiday: Groundhog Day. However, for more traditional Christians, this is a major Christian feast day: the commemoration of the forty day presentation of Christ at the Temple in Jerusalem (December 25 + 40 days = February 2; for the biblical account, see Luke 2:22-40).
In his installment on “Applied Byzantine Liturgy” (pp. 54-56), Loya writes regarding this feast that it, like all liturgy, transforms our vision and thereby ought to be “applied to every aspect of life.” He writes,
When we say, “applied to every aspect of life” we really, really meant it: the economy, the environment, politics, education, healthcare, marriage, family, sexuality, law, work, unions, management, etc, etc. Did you notice how many of the words in this last sentence were some of the “hot button” words of our day? Have you also noticed how none of the areas that these words denote is functioning well today? There is one reason—lack of the correct vision and the application of the correct vision.
He goes on to comment on the meeting between Simeon, a “just and devout” old man, who was waiting for the Messiah, and the child Jesus:
Like Peter, James and John, on Mt. Tabor, like the Magi in Bethlehem or the Apostle Thomas in the upper room, Simeon is seeing through this God incarnate in human form, what it really means to be human. He has a clear vision of our glorious origins and of our even more glorious destiny. If this accurate view of the human person becomes our view (because we went to Church on this Feast Day and learned about this vision) then if we apply this vision to the hot button issues mentioned above the results will be better.
In the space of such a short article, however, he is not really able to explore any of these “hot button” issues in greater depth. Agreeing with his basic premise—that the liturgy of the Church gives us the correct vision of the human person and life by reorienting us toward Christ—I would like to explore some of the insights this feast has for our economic life today.
In the Gospel of Luke, poetry breaks forth from Simeon’s mouth when he holds the child Jesus in his arms:
Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,
According to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation
Which you have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)
The many hymns of the feast in the Eastern tradition describe the meeting in greater, even midrashic, detail. One vespers hymn of the feast by Andrew Pyros describes the meeting as follows:
Simeon now receives below in his earthly arms
the One Whom the ministers on high entreat with trembling.
He proclaims the union of God with mankind.
He sees the heavenly God as mortal Man.
He prepares to withdraw from earthly things,
and raises his cry in joy:
“Glory to You, Lord, for You have revealed to those in darkness
the Light that knows no evening!”
What is the vision, the paradigm shift, of this feast? When Simeon holds in his arms God incarnate, he proclaims first that by comparison nothing else in life matters (“let your servant depart in peace”) and second that therein lies our greatest hope (“to those in darkness” has been revealed “the Light that knows no evening”).
Furthermore, this meeting happens in obedience to God’s commandments: “Now when the days of [Mary’s] purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought [Jesus] to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’)” (Luke 2:22-23).
But how might this serve to transfigure our vision in the economic aspect of our lives?
It begins, I think, with a shift in perspective regarding life and death. Often we live as if death did not await us all. Indeed, it is through such through “fear of death” that we so often are “subject to bondage” (see Hebrews 2:15). As the ascetic spiritual tradition of the Church constantly affirms, one of the most important perspectives we can have is to remember the day of our deaths; after all, it is one of the only certainties in life. In doing so, so long as we are looking to Christ, we see that all of our life, including our economic life—our production, distribution, and exchange—can be either tyrannized by purely material concerns, or transfigured by heavenly vision of hope that only the resurrected Christ can give.
In honorable work we produce not only products for bodily consumption but virtue, heavenly treasure, for our souls. In our distribution, that is, in the purpose for which we exchange the products or wages of our work, we broaden our interests to include the common good and the kingdom of God, especially hope for those who live in darkness. And in our exchanges themselves we remember that the goal is mutual benefit and service, shunning the immorality of monopolistic, one-sided, and anti-competitive advantage, remembering that the commandment, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15), has broader implications than literal burglary.
Indeed, a life lived in this way, living out the liturgy of the Church in “every aspect of life,” looking to Christ as our model and source of true humanity, “our glorious origins and … our even more glorious destiny,” is a good step forward toward peace when the day of one’s departure arrives.