According to the tradition of the Church, the Theotokos was brought to the Temple at three years of age, where she was consecrated to God and spent her days until she was fourteen or fifteen years old; and then, as a mature maiden, by the common counsel of the priests (since her parents had reposed some three years before), she was betrothed to Joseph.
I spoke about this in my post Joachim & Anna a few months back. But one thing that I hadn’t ever recognized is that this history makes a lot more sense in light of how God worked in the Old Testament. When Mary entered into the temple, we can see a parallel between her and the Ark of the Covenant. She BECAME the Ark, carrying in her womb the initiator of the New Covenant. The fact that she spent from age 3 to age 14 or 15 in the temple serving the Lord really makes the whole story weave together much more clearly.
One thing that I love about Orthodoxy is how everything is woven together so much better: worship reflects worship in the Old (and in the New in Revelation) Testament, Mary’s story is much more full and robust (instead of just a young virgin who *poof* out of nowhere becomes the bearer of the Christ-child), a liturgy filled to the brim with scripture, a Eucharist (which means Thanksgiving) that joins the Church to her Christ, and a united Church that, rather than wandering in the desert for 1500 years while she waited for the reformers to fix her, has lived up to Christ’s words,
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock [the knowledge of Christ as God] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt 16:18)
One more thing, for those who believe that the Orthodox make too much of Mary:
On days where we celebrate Mary, instead of reading from Luke 1 (the Magnificat) where Mary prophesies,
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name,
we read a passage about how Mary is blessed because of her obedience. The Gospel passage for any day that celebrates the Theotokos starts with the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). It concludes like this:
As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28)
In order to maintain balance, the Gospel passage reinforces that the reason why we esteem Mary is not because of her inherent goodness or because she was part of the God-head (we don’t believe either of these things). She is highly esteemed because she “heard the word of God and kept it.” We look to her as the first Christian, the first who was sanctified by Christ, the first who lived the life of perfect obedience to God. This is why she was chosen to bear Christ, because she was truly obedient to God. If there was ever something worth esteeming, it would be that kind of obedience.
It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure and the mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify you.