The Dormition of the most holy Theotokos
The Gospel according to St.Luke
(Luke 10: 38- 42 – 11: 27 – 28)
“Now it happened as they went, that he entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his words. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached him and said,” Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore, tell her to help me. And Jesus answered and said to her,” Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
“And it happened as he spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to him,”blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you! But he said,”More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it “(Luke 11:27-28).
The Feast of the Dormition of the most holy Theotokos, and her ascent into Heaven:
There are certain writings attributed to St. John the Evangelist and St. Meliton of Sardinia, and St. Dionysius the Argiopagite. They all refer to the Dormition of the Theotokos, and go back to the 5th century. There are Sermons that deal with the Dormition of the Theotokos given by St. Andrew the Cretan, St. John Damascene, Germanus of Constantinople, Theodorus the Studite, and St. Gregory Palamas. The basic features and elements of the Feast are clearly expressed in the liturgical service.
The Theotokos died, and was buried. But she was not subject to corruption, for she ascended to heaven. In the Kathisma of the Orthros of the Feast, we address her in the following manner:”In your birth, there is conception without sperm. And in your death (kimisis), incorruptible death”. And in Ode 9 of the Orthros, we hear:” The birth from a virgin and death have become the pledge of Life.
On the other side, in Vespers, and in the Prosomeia” I cried Lord……” we hear: “The Spring of Life was laid in a tomb. And the sepulcher has become a ladder extended up to heaven.” Thus she moved from one life to another (Vespers, the litany). The Theotokos moved from Earth to Heaven, and her ascent was in glory in an effable way, on the arms of her Son and Lord (Vespers, The Apostichon).
The Earth & Heaven are concerned about her Dormition and assumption into Heaven. That is why we emphasize “powers, principalities, the Cherubim and the Seraphim glorify your death. The people on Earth rejoice decorated with your divine glory. Kings bow with the archangels and the angels singing……” (Prosomeion, “Lord unto you I cried…., Vespers). At Orthros we hear “You moved upon dying, to eternal Life surrounded by angels and archangels, by the apostles, the
prophets, and all the creatures” (Orthros, Ainos). From that is our calling her alive and pure for ever with her Zoeiphore Son”(carrier of Life) (Glory to the Father……now and ever and unto ages of …. “I cried unto you Lord …... Vespers).Because of these and because of her partnership with her son, she acquired the role to participate in the salvation of Mankind.
Her dormition made her contribute to the salvation of the world at large. In one of the Troparia of Ode 9 we express this new given fact, with the following words:” Theotokos as long as you are leaving for the heavenly chambers, to your Son, you always save your inheritance”.
In this context, as defined in the liturgical service, St, Gregory Palamas wrote saying:”Today we celebrate her dormition and holy assumption into another life. And being below the angels, because of her mortality, she is superior to them and to all the archangels, and the powers, which are higher in rank than she is”.
In a sermon given by St. Theodorus the Studite on the Dormition of the mother of God, there are the following striking ideas:” As we carry on our backs the clothing of virtues, we celebrate the Feast of burial and leaving of the mother of God into heavens, the Heaven was on Earth when you were dressed in Eternity. You moved to the heavenly eternal Chambers. Today the Theotokos who shut her Physical eyes, is offering us Holy and radiant lights, that have been until recently unusual, by that I mean protecting the world, and interceding for it before the face of God. Today, having become eternal, she raises her hands to the Lord for the salvation of Mankind. She has gone up to the peaks, and as a pure holy dove she is still defending us on Earth. And being in Heaven, she expels the devils because she is interceding for us before God. Earlier death had dominated us
through our first mother Eve. But once it touched her blessed daughter, he died when she did, because death has been defeated by the one from whom the Theotokos took her power. The Theotokos died. She died, she did not disappear. The moment she went into the heavenly chamber, she has not stopped protecting the Humankind. With what words could we describe your mystery? Our minds bow, and our tongues are not able to say anything, for your Mystery transcends every mind. It is heedless, and we cannot explain it, no matter how we try. Everything that is yours goes beyond our limits. What is yours has moderated what belongs to Nature, because of your inexplicable birth. Whoever has heard of a virgin that gives birth to a child without marriage? What a wonder! This mother, who is giving birth, is a pure Virgin. And the one who is born through her is God. This is the thing that makes her different from everybody. That is why you truly receive, through your life-giving death, the immortality of body and soul.
Have we ever heard of a death like the one the Theotokos was granted? How just it is! There is no one superior to that that is above all. Mother of God, I am amazed when I meditate on your wonderful death. My soul wonders, your wonderful death. My tongue falls short, when I speak of your mystical resurrection. Whoever is qualified to narrate your wonders? What mind, no matter how great and eloquent it is, can understand the value of what you did, and understand the mysteries of your glory, your Feast, and Dignity? Every tongue is dry and weak if it tries, because you are incomparably above the heavenly peaks, and the beauty of your light is beyond that of the sun. You have acquired more than the angels did with all the incorporeal bodies. These meanings are restricted to the Theotokos, especially at her death, and they have been mentioned in our Heritage, in a sort of narratives.
It has been said that the Lord Jesus had told his mother about her death, by a messenger from above, three days before she died. This made her rejoice, for she wished to be with her son and God. For that, she moved to the Olive Mountain, to pray quietly as she usually used to do. It has been mentioned too that when she was at the peak, trees would obey her. After that she came back to manage her things, and told the other women about her death. And wishing to prove it, she left with them some palm branches, which are a symbol of victory and incorruptibility that was granted to her by the angel. The women grew sad because of the news proclaimed to them. Yet, the mother of God assured to them that while being away in Heaven, she would not stop protecting them with the whole world, praying uninterruptedly for all the creatures.
It has been mentioned too, that the house was filled with heavenly clouds that brought the apostles from all the directions of the Earth, to celebrate the funeral of the Theotokos. With the apostles, there were the holy bishops like Ierotheos of Athens who is celebrated on October 4, and St. Dionysius the Argiopite who is celebrated on October 3, and Timothy the Ephesian who is celebrated on January 22. St. Paul was also present.
According to St. John Damascene, some prophets from the Old Testament were also present, with Anna the Grand mother of the Lord, and Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Isaac, and Jacob.
The Theotokos died in Peace, and she was brighter than light itself. Her Divine Son carried her on his arms with the Archangel Michel and all the chorus of the angels. She died without pain and anguish, exactly like the way she gave birth to her son. Voices of angels and human beings intermingled dignifying her death. The air was pure when her soul ascended.
And the soil was sanctified when she was buried. Many sick people were cured. And the envy of the Jews was agitated and they rose to urge their leaders to desacrilege the coffin on which the mother of God was lying. But a pagan priest called Yelphonias dared to draw near the coffin.And trying to touch it; all of a sudden his hands were cut off. He then repented and believed in God, and his hands were back again where they belong. This with done with the Grace of God. Others, who were blind, could see again. They believed in the Lord and were cured of their illnesses.
The Theotokos was buried in the garden of the Gesthmanie, where the angels with holy apostles prayed for 3 days .The apostle Tom, in God’s dispensation, was absent. Three days later he came to the garden and was deeply sad. He had wished to have a final look at the mother of God, expecting to receive a certain blessing. He insisted on opening the sepulcher for him. The Holy apostles yielded to his demand. When they opened the stone that blocked the entrance, they were amazed to see that the body was not there. There was only the cloth that covered the holy body of Mary. This was a sign that the mother of God was lifted to heaven.
Mary is Adam’s daughter who became the mother of God, died. But her death was not humiliating, for Death was defeated by the risen Lord, voluntarily for our salvation. Adam’s judgment turned into a life-giving death, and a principle for new existence. The tomb of Gesthmanie, like the holy tomb turned into a chamber in which an incorruptible marriage took place. It was appropriate in accordance with what happened to our savior that the Theotokos go along the path that the Lord walked, or took In order to insert sanctity into our nature. She followed him on the path of the cross, and beheld his Resurrection. She died. And when her soul was separated from her body, she was wholly immaculate for she was united with the divine light.
Her body remained for sometime in Earth, yet it rose by the Grace of Christ who was raised from the dead. This spiritual body was received in Heaven as a temple for the incarnated God, a throne for God. It is the most outstanding part of the body of Christ, and many Holy Fathers likened it to the Holy Church, the dwelling of God among people, and the place of our future state, and the source of our deification.
From Mary’s pure womb, the kingdom of God was opened for us. And her ascent into the Heavens, became the source of joy for all those believing in Christ, who received a guarantee that all humankind, in the person of Mary, became the carrier of Christ, and are called to dwell in God.