The Orthodox Tradition dates back to the earliest Christian times before the great councils or the Bible we now have existed. From this first generation of Christians we have an account of the birth and early life of Mary in the Protoevangelium of James with some additional details from The Infancy Gospel of Matthew. These texts are hardly known in the Western churches, but they have been very influential in the East. Manuscripts of the Protoevangelium exist in every main Church language. The oldest text of it is dated to the third century making it the earliest known complete text of any Gospel and it contains material that modern scholars think might come from the first century. The Latin West formally rejected it in the sixth century by a Decree of Pope Gelasius 1 492-496.
The basic account tells of Joachim and Anna, a devout and wealthy couple but shunned by their community because they had no child. In the fullness of time a daughter was born and named Mary. When she was three years old she was led by virgins holding lighted candles to the temple and presented to the High Priest who some identify as Zacharias the father of John the Baptist. She danced on the steps of the Temple and was taken by the High Priest into the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest went once a year to symbolize his going into the Divine Presence.
The entry of Mary into the Temple is celebrated on 21st November as one of the Eastern Church’s Great Feasts but it is hardly acknowledged in the West.
The story continues to relate that when Mary was twelve Joseph was chosen from the local widowers to care for her with his family. When the priests decided to make a new veil for the temple, Mary was chosen as one of the seven virgins from the house of David, something not made clear in the New Testament Gospels, and that she worked as a weaver. The veil itself symbolized matter, the veil that hid the Glory of God from human eyes. It marked the division between the two parts of creation, earth and heaven.
In Solomon’s Temple the Holy of Holies had contained the Ark of the Covenant, which in turn contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments. These had been destroyed when the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. When Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple that was later enlarged by Herod the holy of holies was empty. Mary’s entrance into the temple is none other than the return of the ark – the real Ark of the Covenant. The Old Covenant and its Temple were incomplete awaiting the coming of their fulfilment in Christ. Mary (the real Ark) was to bear God in the flesh.
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