Since the beginning of time, men have instinctively recognized the presence of the holy and have set aside places and objects where that presence is particularly felt and acknowledged. Stonehenge, Aztec temples, sacred oaks and rivers – all attest to the innate human desire to reverence and worship God in dedicated places.
The ancient Hebrew people, our ancestors in the faith, were chosen for the special purpose of establishing a covenant with God and preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah. God gave them the law on a sacred mountain (Mt. Sinai) and they placed this law in a vessel consecrated for that special purpose (the Ark of the Covenant). King Solomon built a magnificent temple where God could be approached, using the finest materials to build, a structure worthy of giving honor to the one true God.
We read in the pages of the Old Testament of the utter despair of the Hebrews when the Temple was destroyed and they were conquered and taken into exile. But in 516 BC the Temple was rebuilt, and it was to this Temple that God himself came, when he took flesh and dwelt among us to save us and redeem us.
Christ was brought by his blessed mother and Joseph to this Temple and he was found here as a young boy talking with the elders. But later, he rebuked the Jews for their abuses in the Temple and he told them that the Temple would be destroyed again. It was the rulers of this Temple who delivered the Savior up to death on the Cross.
Those of us who follow Christ also set aside special places for worship. From the caves, catacombs and house churches of the earliest Christians to the most glorious cathedrals, Christians have dedicated houses of prayer where we partake of the Sacraments which Christ himself instituted.
The historian Eusebius described church dedications, speaking of the church at Tyre, rebuilt after the persecutions of Diocletian in 314 and the consecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem in 335. The Spanish nun, Egeria, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land sometime in the early 5th century, described in her diary (portions of which were discovered in the 19th century) the celebration of the anniversary of the dedication of the churches in Jerusalem:
Those are called the days of dedication when the holy church which is in Golgotha, and which they call the martyrium, was consecrated to God; the holy church also which is at the Anastasis, that is, in the place where the Lord rose after his Passion, was consecrated to God on that day. The dedication of these holy churches is therefore celebrated with the highest honor, because the Cross of the Lord was found on this same day. And it was so ordained that, when the holy churches above mentioned were first consecrated, that should be the day when the Cross of the Lord had been found, in order that the whole celebration should be made together, with all rejoicing, on the self-same day. Moreover, it appears from the Holy Scripture that this is also the day of dedication, when holy Solomon, having finished the House of God which he had built, stood before the altar of God and prayed, as it is written in the books of the Chronicles. So when these days of dedication are come, they are kept for eight days. And people begin to assemble from all parts many days before… Now on these days of the dedication the adornment of all the churches is the same as at Easter and at Epiphany, also on each day the procession is made to the several holy places, as at Easter and at Epiphany…
At first, churches were dedicated or consecrated through the celebration of the Liturgy and the placing of relics of the saints in the church, but more elaborate rituals gradually developed. The custom of re-dedicating profaned churches continued, especially after events such as the French Revolution, where a common day of dedication to be celebrated by all the churches of a diocese was established. A Mass for this purpose was compiled in the early 19″ century.
The Psalms, antiphons, and other chant texts called for in the various dedication celebrations make use of scriptural references to worship and to holy places: “O how awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven” from Genesis 28 is Jacob’s response to his dream of the ladder of ascent into heaven. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people. And God himself shall be with them, and be their God” from Revelation 21 is St. John’s reminder to persecuted Christians that God had sanctified earth by His presence and would return to restore heaven and earth.
The hymns which were written for dedication services refer to the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly: “Blessed City, Heavenly Salem”(SAH #271), which dates from the 6th or 7th century, was designated during the Middle Ages to be sung at Vespers and its second half, which begins “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” (SAH #275) for Lauds. “Only Begotten, Word of God eternal”(SAH #324), which is from a 9th century Mozarabic breviary, is a hymn of praise for the blessings received in the church. “Hail Thee, Festival Day”, composed by the 6th century poet Venantius Fortunatus for various festivals and celebrations in the church (Easter, Ascension, Pentecost) was adapted and expanded by others for additional occasions. The set of words for the dedication of a church (SAH #263) is from a York Processional for use at the anniversary celebrations of church dedications.
On the weekend of May 5 and 6, 2007, his Grace, Bishop THOMAS was with us to bless and dedicate our temple, our humble house of prayer (it was not consecrated, as it may revert to non-church use someday if we need to move to a larger facility). We are grateful that the bishop, during his previous visit to us on our 10th anniversary, admonished us strongly to find a home of our own; we are grateful to those who helped us find and purchase this building; and we are grateful to all whoworked so hard to refurbish it and make it beautiful for worship.
The service began outside, as the bishop sprinkled the exterior walls with holy water, and then, as we processed inside singing the Litany and invoking the intercessions of all the saints, the interior walls and all things used for worship were blessed. We continued with the Mass in honor of St. Gregory, the patron saint of our parish.
I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord. [Psalm 122:1]