Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dormition of the Theotokos

Orthodox Christians celebrate the solemn Great Feast of the Dormition or "Falling Asleep" of the Theotokos on August 15th in the Life of the Church.

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The Gospel lesson for this Feast is taken from that according to St Luke (as a side note: Church Tradition credits the Evangelist Luke as the first iconographer, and he depicted the Virgin Theotokos with the Christ-child) 10:38-42, 11:27-28 which describes the story of Mary & Martha, the sisters of Lazarus (raised from the dead after four days).

In this story, we hear of a sibling squabble, Mary sitting at our Lord's feet hearing Him speak, while Martha busy with serving. Upset at her serving alone, Martha complains to Jesus about Mary's lack of work. Our Lord tells Martha not to worry about such things, and that Mary has chosen correctly to listen to His words.

Then follows of the Gospel lesson: "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!'"

Very fitting that this Gospel is recited on the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. First, an obvious reference to the nurturing quality of Christ's Holy Mother; Christ does not dismiss this woman's words about His Mother, but states her even greater importance, "blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

This calling towards obedience has the Theotokos as par excellence, for without her free-will of obedience to God, being the vessel of our Lord's Incarnation (God becoming Man; literally the Divinity taking upon Himself "flesh"), we as created human beings would not have the opportunity for salvation!

Holy Tradition teaches us the following about the events during this Holy Day in the Garden of Gethsemane of the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos: Seeing Her Son, the Mother of God exclaimed: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God My Savior, for He hath regarded the low estate of His Handmaiden" (Luke 1:46-48) and, rising from Her bed to meet the Lord, She bowed down to Him, and the Lord bid Her to enter into Life Eternal. Without any bodily suffering, as though in a happy sleep, the Most Holy Virgin Mary gave Her soul into the hands of Her Son and God.

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A great article discussing the differences between the two points of view, Assumption & Dormition (Catholic & Orthodox), written by Very Rev Fr John Breck can be found HERE.

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