The Dormition of the Mother of God
Greetings dear brothers and sisters in Christ with the great feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God! The Dormition is the last of the great feasts of the Church calendar year. September begins the new Church year and the first feast of the new year will be Nativity of the Mother of God which is just a few weeks away.
How fitting that the Church’s festal calendar is bookended by these celebrations of the Mother of God. For it is in the Holy Virgin Mary that we see the high calling of God toward mankind and the most perfect response of humanity to that calling.
What a remarkable thing it is that God would condescend to hinge the beginnings of the work of the salvation of mankind upon the consent of a young virgin! The archangel Gabriel was sent to announce the good tidings to the young virgin Mary and then the whole universe held its breath to hear her response: ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord… be it unto me according to Thy word.’
It was in this consent, this expression of perfect trust and love of God that the miracle of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ was initiated. And thus, the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most-High overshadowed her such that she bore God within her.
Whenever we encounter the Mother of God in the Holy Gospels, she provides a lesson for us. Whether it be her trusting acceptance of God’s will: ‘Be it unto me according to Thy word.’ Or her glorious words with Elizabeth: ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…’ To the last words we hear from her in the Gospels at the wedding in Cana where she instructs the disciples, and therefore all of us: ‘Whatever He says to you, do it’.
She is an example for us of one who hears the word of God and keeps it. In the Gospel reading for today we hear the enthusiastic cry of a certain woman from the crowd who exclaims to Jesus: ‘Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps which nursed Thee!’ And Jesus replies: ‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ Blessed indeed is the womb that bore Christ our Lord – all generations call her blessed. And yet, Christ emphasizes her abiding faith – for she was one who heard the word of God and kept it… something which all of us can and should emulate to the utmost of our ability.
Her entire life was devoted to God. She was there at the cross when He was crucified and, though Christ spoke only a few words from the cross, one of the things he was diligent to say was his instruction to the Apostle John: ‘Behold Thy Mother…’ assuring that the Virgin Mary, who was losing her only child, would be cared for after He was gone. In giving his beloved Mother to the Apostle, Christ gives her to us as well… ‘Behold Thy Mother’.
In the icon of the Dormition we see the most pure Mother of God surrounded by the Apostles. One of her last wishes and prayers was that she could once again see the dearly loved Apostles of her Son Jesus Christ. The Lord fulfilled her wish in a miraculous way… the Apostles, who were scattered abroad on their missionary journeys, were miraculously transported back to Jerusalem to be at the bedside of their beloved spiritual Mother. What joy and what Christian love must have been expressed among this amazing assembly of people! The Holy Virgin then peacefully gave up her soul into the arms of her Son. We see this represented in the icon as our Lord Jesus Christ appears above the assembly of Apostles and cradles within His arms what appears to be an infant all dressed in white. This newly born infant is the pure soul of the Most Holy Virgin being tenderly embraced by her Son as she enters into His heavenly kingdom.
The Apostle Thomas was the only one of Christ’s immediate disciples who was not brought back to Jerusalem at the time of the Mother of God’s falling asleep. But this turned out to be according to God’s great providence and mercy as well. Thomas arrived on the third day and wished to venerate the body of the Most Holy Theotokos. When the Apostles opened the tomb, they discovered that the body of the Virgin Mary was no longer there! Her most pure body had been assumed up into heaven. That evening she appeared to the Apostles, surrounded by a host of angels, saying: ‘Rejoice, I will be with you always.’
And today, the Holy Virgin Mary stands before us ‘more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim’. For she is glorified in heaven in her body and soul… deified flesh and blood sits beside her Son and God. She is the one privileged to experience the fullness of the Lord’s salvation, wherein her body has been resurrected an joined with her soul in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is something we and all the saints must await until the final day of Judgment. But she shows us the way and demonstrates for us the hope of all Christians.
What an example, what a champion, what an intercessor we have in our Mother, the Most Pure Virgin Mary. Her life on earth and her life in heaven stand as beacons – inspiring and guiding us toward the call of her Son and our Lord Jesus Christ.
May she always intercede for us before our Lord!