+ Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us!
St. Ephraim the Syrian says that to honor the Mother of God is to “unlock the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem”.
The present feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos presents us with one of the greatest mysteries of God’s saving love for mankind.
We have finished the lenten fasting period that was to prepare us for this greatest of all the feasts of the Mother of God. And we approach her holy shroud with faith and awe at this great mystery presented to us today.
During the Dormition lent we deprived ourselves of certain foods, we starve our physical senses and nourish our spiritual senses so that we may more readily comprehend and enter into the Feast of the Dormition.
In the icon on the shroud before you, the Mother of God lays sleeping… she is not dead but alive forever with Christ. Death cannot touch her who is the Mother of Life.
The Holy Virgin Mary, the First Christian,
the first human being to put all their faith and hope in Christ,
the first to give up everything for Him,
the first to build their whole life around Him,
the first to put all their trust in Him,
the first to find all joy and peace in Him,
and the first to be deified by Him.
And here before us we see the results of her faith, the results of her life lived for Him … the sacred shroud of the Theotokos.
When we look upon her face in this icon, we do not see death, we do not see fear or an empty corpse devoid of life. Rather we see great peace and spiritual beauty. Her total faith and trust in Him has transformed her and translated her from earth to heaven.
This feast has been described as both still and otherworldly. Our world is busy, noisy and distracted but the Church challenges us to slow down. The Church gives us the Dormition lenten period to help to dull our physical senses so that our spiritual senses may comprehend what our physical senses cannot.
There is also a reason why the Church tells us that we should not work on this feast day. We need to let go of the world around us in order to enter into the spiritual reality of this great feast. We need to lay aside all earthly cares. Let your physical senses rest, so that your spiritual senses may see and comprehend what is really happening on this feast.
Both the lenten fast and the abstaining from work on this feast have a definite purpose … to enable us to enter into and really understand the depth and the spiritual importance of this feast.
Allow yourself to enter into the great mystery of this feast that the Fathers call “The Summer Pascha”. Leave your busy world outside with all it’s urgency and demands, lay aside all your fears, and schedules and concerns … and pause in silent stillness before the Burial Shroud of the Mother of Life.
Allow your heart to enter into this sacred feast of the Dormition. With the spiritual eyes of your heart, look beyond your narrow world to something larger and deeper.
Allow yourself to be comforted by the humility and tenderness of the Mother of God.
Allow your heart to be moved by the love that Christ shows towards His mother as He lifts her up from death into life.
Allow yourself to share in the peace and joy of the first human being who has been raised from the dead and brought into eternal life by Christ.
Allow yourself to reflect that she who was the throne of God on earth has been brought before the throne of God in heaven.
… Allow yourself to dance with joy before the Ark that has been carried into the heavens!
Leave the human world of calculation that ensnares you, focus on this higher world that celebrates the Dormition of the Mother of God, and if you do, you will become richer and purer and freerer and the world around you will be transformed.
Think what would happen if the whole world really celebrated the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, if the whole world really rejoiced with her, if all creation danced with joy at her entering into eternal life. Would not such a feast bring hope to the oppressed and be an inspiration to the forgetful folks who are aware only of themselves
As St. Andrew of Crete (7th century) says in his third Homily on the Dormition:
“Mary is the first of the divinely re-created to enter the kingdom of the heavens, standing at the right hand. She enters because she is The Church, the deified Body of Christ. If she were not welcomed before the throne of God, body and soul, then neither could those identified with her as children to their virginal mother stand before Him in the age to come. What has been done for the saved in the age to come has been accomplished in the Theotokos. She has passed into the Church Triumphant. Thus, now she is beyond death, beyond the general resurrection of all mankind, and beyond the Last Judgement.”
And listen carefully to what Vladimir Lossky and Leonid Uspensky say in their book, the Meaning of Icons:
“Unlike the resurrection of Christ, the mysterious character of her death, burial, resurrection and ascension were not the subject of apostolic teaching, or at least there are no extant epistles; yet it has been revealed to the inner consciousness of the Church. Inaccessible to the view of those outside the Church, the glory of the Theotokos’ Dormition can be contemplated only in the inner light of Tradition. The glorification of the Virgin Mother is a result of the voluntary condescension of the Son who is incarnate of her and made Son of Man, capable of dying.
The Mother of God is now established beyond the general resurrection and the Last Judgement, having passed from death to life, from time to eternity, from terrestrial condition to celestial beatitude. Hence, the feast of the Dormition is a second mysterious Pascha, since the Church celebrates, before the end of time, the secret first fruits of the final consummation of all things!”
The demons know what is being celebrated on this feast and they tremble … We come to the feast and yawn, checking our watches!
The demons know that on this day a mere created human being has been raised up body and soul into heaven. They know what this means, they know what great hope this holds out for all mankind.
They know that time itself was altered for her.
The bodies of all mankind were to wait until the end of time for the final resurrection and judgement but for her this was changed … she has preceded the end of time!
Her body and soul united, already stand before the throne of God.
The demons know that she now intercedes for the whole world. That she who was called “full of grace” and “blessed by all generations” now stands before the throne of God. They tremble and turn away their faces from this most glorious and profound mystery of a woman who was so pure, so humble, so obedient that she has been transformed and translated to the heavens.
Let us wake up from our slumber my brothers and sisters. Let us open our spiritual eyes and behold the wonder that is before us today … The Mother of God stands before God, her Son on our behalf. The first of our created race to partake of Christ’s divine grace now seeks to lead all mankind to Him, who is the source of all grace.
What triumph we celebrate today my brothers and sisters. What a time for rejoicing this is. All of heaven rejoices, all the angels and saints join together in singing the praises of her.
Let us truly lay aside all our earthly cares and join our voices with theirs, and saying with all our hearts … It is truly meet to bless thee, the Theotokos, more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, Thee do we magnify!
Let us come to ourselves like the prodigal; let us, like him, speak firm words of resolve to our own souls: “I will arise and go to my Father”; and the Gracious God will perfect our small intention.
He knows that we do not know the way to Him, or the manner in which to traverse it; but, hearing us say: “Ready is my heart, O God, ready is my heart”, and seeing us begin our journey towards Him, He will then rush out to us, falling on us, and kissing our neck: He will send His All-Accomplishing Holy Spirit upon us, and guide us into all truth, not only in our understanding, but in all our deeds, all our life.
Yesterday, Christ was born; today, He is baptized. Yesterday, God immersed Himself in our flesh; today, our flesh is immersed in the Most Holy Trinity. Yesterday, the Timeless Son of the Virgin-Father was begotten in time of the Virgin-Mother; today He gives birth to us as sons of God forever.