The 40 Day Churching of Infants
The biblical history of "churching" infants 40 days after birth
The Church Tradition
The Feast of "Our Lord's Presentation in the Temple, (Feb 2) " takes place 40 days after the Nativity of Christ or Christmas. The readings for the Divine Liturgy that day are as follows: Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 7:7-17; and Gospel Lesson: Luke 2:22-40.
Christ was presented to the Temple in obedience to the Mosaic Law which he as the Messiah had come to fulfill. The parents would bring the child along with a sacrifice, "a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons."
Why did Jesus submit to the Law?
Jesus submitted to the Law so that the Law might be fulfilled in Him, and in all who accept Jesus as Messiah. The old people, Simeon and Anna symbolize the dying of the Old Covenant and the establishing of the New Covenant in Christ.
The Purification of Mary
The Hebrew Tradition of Leviticus 12 portrays a woman as being unclean for forty days after the birth of a male child and 80 days after the birth of a female child. The woman would come with a lamb, if she could afford it, or if not, two turtle doves or two pigeons. Mary and Joseph were poor because they could not offer a lamb, but offered two turtles doves. However, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Human beings feel impure in the presence of God, it is a humbling experience. Such times occur at birth and death. Giving birth is not a sin, neither is conceiving a child, however coming to the Church and acknolwedging Him as the Giver of Life and thanking Him for protecting the Mother during child birth is why it is now done.
The woman has been absent from the Liturgy for forty days since the birth of her child and is in need of re-establishing herself in the assembly of the Church. She enters the Church, having encountered the miracle of Birth and pryers of thankgiving are offered for having protected the Mother during child birth. The child is also prayed over for God to watch over it and protect it until the time for its baptism. The Child is brought before the icons of Christ and up the steps infront of the Royal Gates of the Holy Altar and offered to God.
Resources on the role of Women in the Church
Behr-Sigel, Elisabeth. The Ministry of Women in the Church. California: Oakwood Pub. 1987.
Conclusions of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation on The Place of Women in the Orthodox Church and the Question of the Ordination of Women. Rhodes, Greece, 30 October-7 November 1988. Minneapolis: Light and Life Pub. 1990.
Gvosdev, Matushka. The Female Diaconate: An Historical Perspective. Minneapolis: Light and Life Pub. 1990.
Topping, Eva. Saints and Sisterhood: The Lives of Forty-Eight Holy Women. Minneapolis: Light and Life Pub. 1990.