The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.
When Mary was three years old, Joachim and Anna decided that the time had come to fulfill their promise and to offer her to the Lord. Joachim gathered the young girls of the neighborhood to form an escort, and he made them go in front of Mary, carrying torches. Captivated by the torches, the young child followed joyfully to the Temple, not once looking back at her parents nor weeping as she was parted from them. The holy Virgin ran toward the Temple, overtaking her attendant maidens and threw herself into the arms of the High Priest Zacharias, who was waiting for her at the gate of the Temple with the elders. Zacharias blessed her saying, "It is in you that He has glorified your name in every generation. It is in you that He will reveal the Redemption that He has prepared for His people in the last days." Then, Zacharias brought the child into the Holy of Holies—a place where only the High Priest was permitted to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. He placed her on the steps of the altar, and the grace of the Lord descended upon her. She arose and expressed her joy in a dance as wonder seized all who saw this happen. The Virgin Mary dwelt in the Temple for nine years until, reaching an age for marriage, she was taken from the Temple by the priests and elders and entrusted to Joseph as the guardian of her virginity. The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple signifies her total dedication to God and her readiness for her future vocation as the Mother of the Incarnate Lord. This is a feast of anticipation. As honor is shown to Mary, the faithful are called to look forward to the Incarnation of Christ, celebrated in a little more than a month by the Feast of the Nativity on December 25.
The icon of the feast tells the story of Mary's entry into the Temple. The High Priest, Zacharias , is in his priestly robes standing on the step of the Temple. His arms are outstretched, ready to greet and receive the Virgin. Mary is shown as a small child, standing before Zacharias with her arms reaching up to him. In some icons the young maidens who served as her escort are depicted standing behind her. Also, we see her parents, Joachim and Anna, offering their child to God and His divine service. In the upper center portion of the icon, the Virgin is seated on the steps of the Holy of Holies. An angel is there, attending to the one chosen by God to bring the Savior into the world.
VERSES FROM VESPERS
Today let the heavens above greatly rejoice and let the clouds pour down gladness at the mighty and marvelous acts of our God. For behold, the gate that looks towards the East, born from a fruitless and barren womb according to the promise, and consecrated to God as his dwelling, is now being brought into the temple as a spotless offering. Let David greatly rejoice and play on his harp, saying: Virgins shall be brought to the king after her; her companions shall be brought into the ark of the Lord to be nourished with the life of the Incorruptible One who was begotten from eternity for the salvation of our souls.
Today the Theotokos, the Temple that is to contain God, is being escorted into the temple of the Lord, and Zechariah receives her. Today the Holy of Holies greatly rejoices, and the choir of angels mystically celebrates this feast. Let us also celebrate with them today and cry out with Gabriel: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you, and He grants us great mercy. Come all you people, and let us praise the only Immaculate One who was foretold by the prophets and is being led into the temple. She was chosen from eternity to be the Mother; and in time she was revealed as the Theotokos. O Lord, by her prayers grant us your peace and great mercy.
A day of joy has truly dawned. It is a most precious feast for us, because she who was virgin before and after childbirth, today is offered in the temple. The aged Zechariah, father of the Forerunner, cries aloud, rejoicing: The intercessor of those in affliction comes into the holy temple, since she herself is holy. She will be sanctified in the abode of the King of all. Let her father, Joachim, be glad and let Anne rejoice exceedingly, because they have offered to God the immaculate Queen as a three year old child. Rejoice with them, all you women; all you virgins and barren ones, dance for joy and celebrate with them, for the Queen of all has opened the kingdom of heaven for us. Let all people be glad and rejoice.
Heaven and earth today rejoice together at the sight of the mystical heaven; the immaculate and pure Virgin is coming into the holy temple to be brought up in honor. Zechariah, rejoicing in her and leaping for joy, cried out in awe: O Door of the Lord, I open the doors of the temple to you, because I know and believe that the salvation of Israel is already coming, that the Word of God will be born from you, and that He will grant great mercy to the world.
When Anne, which means grace, was graced with the pure and ever-Virgin Mary, she presented her into the temple of God. She called maidens to carry candles and walk before her as she said: O child, go to be an offering and a fragrant incense for the One who sent you to me. Enter into the veiled places and learn the mysteries of God. Prepare yourself to be a delightful dwelling place for Jesus who will give great mercy to the world.
The all-holy Virgin is handed over into the temple. Maidens carrying candles go before her. Her parents, the devoted couple, Joachim and Anne, joyfully celebrate, for they have given birth in the flesh to the One who will bear the Creator. She will dance for joy in the temple of God and will be fed by the hand of an angel. The all-immaculate Mother of Christ has appeared, and He will grant great mercy to the world.
O assembly of the faithful, let us celebrate this day as a spiritual feast. With great love, let us honor the maiden of God, the Virgin and Theotokos, as she is presented into the temple of the Lord; for she has been chosen from among all generations to be the dwelling place of Christ our God who is the King of all. O virgins, carry candles and lead the way for the entrance of the ever-Virgin. Follow after her who is the Mother of God and mediatrix for the joy of the world. Therefore, let us all cry out together with the angels: Rejoice, for you are full of grace, and you continually pray for our souls.