This continued practice of mothers and their babies re-entering the worship space for a blessing, forty days after the child’s birth, follows a beautiful pattern set by God in the Old Testament. Every year, in the Orthodox Church, forty days after the December 25th celebration of Christ’s birth, we commemorate this practice having been done to Christ…February 2nd, “The Presentation of Christ at the Temple.” It’s this event in the life of our Lord Jesus that also forms the basis for the tradition of the 40-day blessing of new mothers and their children in the Orthodox Church. It’s one of the many ways we have in conforming the pattern of our lives and those of our children to the life of Christ Jesus.
St Luke describes that event in Christ’s life this way:
“When the days of Mary’s purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought the child Jesus up 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 dedicated to the Lord” (Exodus 13:2, 12), and to offer a sacrifice in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Leviticus 12:1-8). Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Symeon and this man was righteous and devout. He was awaiting the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. In the Spirit, he went to the Temple. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him what the custom of the Law required, Symeon took Him in his arms and blessed God and said: “Now let Your servant depart in peace, O Master, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Nations and for the glory of Your people, Israel.” And His father and mother marveled at what Symeon said about Him. Then Symeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against – and a sword will pierce through your own soul, also – that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of great age, having lived with her husband only seven years after their wedding and then as a widow until she was 84. She never left the Temple, by prayer and fasting, worshipping night and day. And, coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to God and spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” ~ Luke 2:22-38
Because the first-born son of each Israelite household was spared on the night of the first Passover (Exodus 12:29), the first-born son of subsequent generations was to be consecrated to God’s service in a special way, in gratitude for God’s mercy. This command of God in the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in a new way in the bringing of the Christ child to the Temple by the Theotokos and the Righteous Joseph and is still celebrated in the life of the Church today, thousands of years later.
We Orthodox Christians, in order to fully participate in the process of conforming our lives and the lives of our children to the pattern of the life of Christ Jesus – “in whom there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male and female” (Galatians 3:28) – bring not only our first-born sons but all of our children to the Temple of the Church in order to dedicate and consecrate them to God and to offer prayers of thanksgiving to our Lord for the new life He has given. New mothers are also prayed over, thanking God for having preserved them from the dangers of childbirth, and asking for the forgiveness of their sins in preparation for receiving the sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Savior in the Eucharist. By this ancient Forty Day Blessing Service the Church affirms and blesses motherhood and family life and formally introduces the newborn child to the mystical life of the Church.
To schedule a Forty Day Blessing:
Please call Fr Allan (408-375-8998) at least one week in advance.
At St John, Forty Day Blessings are done at the end of Orthros, just before the singing of the Doxology and the Divine Liturgy. Please be at the Church, ready to begin the service at 9:45 AM.