On February 2nd, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The feast is also known as the “Meeting” focusing on the “meeting” with St. Simeon and the Prophetess Anna. Again, the feast is also called the “Purification” remembering that one important aspect of this 40-days after the birth of a first child, a woman makes an offering in the Temple for her “purification.”
If we want to be very technical about things, the Theotokos, in giving birth to Christ, remained a Virgin, thus there is nothing in need of “purification” according to the Jewish Law. But there is no discussion of this, only a submission to the Law as it stood.
Like so much else that we see in the life of Christ, God has done what was not required of Him. He was required by nothing to become Man, and yet He did. He was required by no one to submit to the rite of Baptism, and yet He did, with the words, “It is necessary for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
The Theotokos follows in the same path as the Savior. There is no argument about “I don’t need this!” Instead, there is the humility of the handmaiden of God who herself, will fulfill all righteousness as she follows the path of her Son.
The Way of the Cross is always this same path, a path that leads us to fulfill all righteousness, to do not “what must be done,” but to do freely what we could do otherwise. Thus we fast freely, we give freely, we love freely, we lay down our lives freely. The Way of the Cross always carries this element of freedom: “No man takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
When someone looks at the “externals” of Orthodoxy, it might be possible to conclude that we have “many rules.” These are not the rules of the Law, but the rule of the heart, in which the Church gives us guidance in learning how to lay down our life for Christ. She teaches us to love as He loves and to love in freedom.
This is our only true vocation – to love as Christ loved. Those who think (as many moderns do) that “I must do thus and such in order to be fulfilled,” are seeking to fulfill the wrong thing. The self, when approached in such a manner, is a bottomless pit. It will never be filled. We can only be filled by emptying.
A Virgin enters the temple to offer the sacrifice that only a non-Virgin should have to pay. In return she is promised that “a sword will pierce your own soul also.” And she will not turn from that sacrifice either. She is following her Son, just as we are bidden to do. And as we do this, all righteousness will be fulfilled.