Updated: Feb 20, 2019
The feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (2 February) is one of the Twelve Major Feast Days in the Eastern Church, also known as the Purification of the Holy Virgin in the West. Due to the traditional blessing of candles on this feast day, it is also called Candlemas. It is 40 days after the Nativity, which is why in the East we bring our children for Holy Illumination (in which they receive first Eucharist, Baptism, and Christmation/Confirmation) forty days after birth.
This feast of purification wraps up the Christmas season and begins our preparation for the journey to the purification of Great Lent. It is also, appropriately, a foreshadowing of the suffering that Mary will endure - the piercing of her tender mother's heart. Appropriate because purification and suffering go together. The refining fire hurts as it burns away the impurities.
The forefeast is 1 February, and the octave takes us through 9 February. This is significant for me personally because one of my daughters was born on 1 February, and one on the 9th. We also lost our son, Nico, who died during childbirth on 6 February. Given the purification that certainly takes place through motherhood and the death of one's child, this makes this time a contemplative one for me, even as we celebrate the lives of these precious children.
In addition to the icon of the Presentation, on this feast day we also venerate the icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God), Softener of Evil Hearts (as well as on the Sunday after Pentecost). It shows Mary, her heart pierced by seven swords, symbolic of the great suffering she will endure. I love this image of Our Mother, reminding me that she walks alongside me in the daily sufferings of motherhood and the great tragedies, when they come. It also keeps the hope in mind that she can soften my evil heart & make it more like that of her Son.
Soften our evil hearts, O Mother of God, And quench the attacks of those who hate us And loose all straitness of our soul. For looking on thy holy icon We are filled with compunction by thy suffering and loving-kindness for us And we kiss thy wounds; We are filled with horror for the darts with which we wound thee. Let us not, O Mother of Compassion, According to the cruelty of our hearts, perish from the cruelty of heart of those near us, For thou art in truth the Softener of Evil Hearts.
Above Prayer taken from the Akathist to the Mother of God, Softener of Evil Hearts
For feast day celebration ideas, prayers, & more, click here - and get this beautiful, printable PDF of these feast day ideas, prayers, quotes, and icons