46 - Dormition of the Theotokos, August 15, 2010

Phliippians 2:5-11

Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28

The most eloquent orators among men are at a loss to describe the sacred splendor of the Theotokos. So the Church sings in her love for the most blessed, most pure, most holy and ever Virgin Mary, the blessed Panagia, the Birth-giver of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Who am I, then, sinful and unworthy as I am, to make the attempt? Let me, therefore, take refuge in the Tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church to share with you in the great joy of this most blessed feast the sacred wonder and sublime beauty of the Theotokos and her blessed Falling Asleep.

The circumstances of the Dormition of the Mother of God have been known in the Orthodox Church from apostolic times. In the fifth century, St Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, told the holy Byzantine Empress Pulcheria: "Although there is no account of the circumstances of the Theotokos’ death in Holy Scripture, we know about them from the most ancient and credible Tradition." This Tradition was gathered and expounded in the Church History of Nicephorus Callistus during the fourteenth century.

In the compilation of Nicephorus, we read that the Mother of God "was of average stature, or as others suggest, slightly more than average; Her hair golden in appearance; Her eyes bright with pupils like shiny olives; Her eyebrows strong in character and moderately dark, Her nose pronounced and Her mouth vibrant bespeaking sweet speech; Her face was neither round nor angular, but somewhat oblong; the palm of Her hands and fingers were longish.

In conversation with others, She preserved decorum, neither becoming silly nor agitated, and never angry; without artifice, and direct, She was not overly concerned about Herself, and She was full of humility. A special grace attended all Her actions."

All Her days She was concerned with fasting: She slept only when necessary. Day and night She spent her time in prayer. She went often to the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord, and offered up fervent prayer. More than once, enemies of the Savior sought to hinder Her from visiting her holy place. They asked the High Priest for a guard to watch over the Grave of the Lord. The Holy Virgin continued to pray right in front of them, yet unseen by anyone.

In one such visit to Golgotha, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her and announced Her approaching departure from this life to eternal life. In pledge of this, the Archangel gave Her a palm branch. With these heavenly tidings the Mother of God returned to Bethlehem. She summoned Righteous Joseph of Arimathea and other disciples of the Lord, and told them of Her impending Repose.

The Most Holy Virgin prayed also that the Lord would have the Apostle John come to Her. The Holy Spirit transported him from Ephesus, setting him in that very place where the Mother of God lay.

The disciples and countless faithful, too, were gathered together by the Holy Spirit, says St John of Damascus (9th Cent), like clouds and eagles, to listen to the Mother of God. Seeing one another, the disciples rejoiced, but they wondered why the Lord had gathered them together in one place. St John the Theologian, greeting them with tears of joy, said that the time of the Virgin's repose was at hand.

Going in to the Mother of God, they saw Her lying upon the bed, filled with spiritual joy. The Disciples greeted Her, and then they told her how they had been carried miraculously from their places of preaching. The Most Holy Virgin Mary glorified God, because He had heard Her prayer and fulfilled Her heart's desire, and She began speaking about Her imminent end.

During this conversation the Apostle Paul also appeared in a miraculous manner together with his disciples Dionysius the Areopagite, St Hierotheus, St Timothy and others of the Seventy Apostles. The Holy Spirit had gathered them all together so that they might be granted the blessing of the All-Pure Virgin Mary, and more fittingly to see to the burial of the Mother of the Lord. She called each of them to Herself by name, She blessed them and extolled them for their faith and the hardships they endured in preaching the Gospel of Christ. To each She wished eternal bliss, and prayed with them for the peace and welfare of the whole world.

Then came the third hour (9 am), when the Dormition of the Mother of God was to occur. A number of candles were burning. The holy Disciples surrounded her beautifully adorned bed, offering praise to God. She prayed in anticipation of Her demise and of the arrival of Her longed-for Son and Lord. Suddenly, the inexpressible Light of Divine Glory shone forth, before which the blazing candles paled in comparison. All who saw it were afraid. Descending from Heaven was Christ, the King of Glory, surrounded by hosts of Angels and Archangels and other Heavenly Powers, together with the souls of the Forefathers and the Prophets, who had prophesied in ages past concerning the Most Holy Virgin Mary.

Seeing Her Son, the Mother of God exclaimed: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices 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 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.

Then began a joyous angelic song. Accompanying the pure soul of the God-betrothed and with reverent awe for the Queen of Heaven, the angels exclaimed: "Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women! For lo, the Queen, God's Maiden comes. Lift up ye gates, and with the Ever-Existing One, take up the Mother of Light; for through Her salvation has come to all the human race. It is impossible to gaze upon Her, and it is impossible to render Her due honor." The Heavenly gates were raised, and meeting the soul of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Cherubim and the Seraphim glorified Her with joy. The face of the Mother of God was radiant with the glory of Divine virginity, and from Her body there came a sweet fragrance.

Kissing the all-pure body with reverence and in awe, the Disciples in turn were blessed by it and filled with grace and spiritual joy. Through the great glorification of the Most Holy Theotokos, the almighty power of God healed the sick, who with faith and love touched the holy bed.

Bewailing their separation from the Mother of God, the Apostles prepared to bury Her all-pure body. The holy Apostles Peter, Paul, James and others of the Twelve Apostles carried the funeral bier upon their shoulders, and upon it lay the body of the Ever-Virgin Mary. St John the Theologian went at the head with the resplendent palm-branch from Paradise. The other saints and a multitude of the faithful accompanied the funeral bier with candles and censers, singing sacred songs. This solemn procession went from Zion through Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane.

With the start of the procession there suddenly appeared over the all-pure body of the Mother of God and all those accompanying Her a resplendent circular cloud, like a crown. There was heard the singing of the Heavenly Powers, glorifying the Mother of God, which echoed that of the earthly voices. This circle of Heavenly singers and radiance accompanied the procession to the very place of burial.

There was a Jewish priest, Athonios, who out of spite and hatred for the Mother of Jesus of Nazareth, wanted to topple the funeral bier on which lay the body of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, but an angel of God invisibly cut off his hands, which had touched the bier. Seeing such a wonder, Athonios repented and with faith confessed the majesty of the Mother of God. He received healing and joined the crowd accompanying the body of the Mother of God, and he became a zealous follower of Christ.

When the procession reached the Garden of Gethsemane, amidst weeping and wailing, the last kiss to the all-pure body of the Theotokos began. Only towards evening were the Apostles able to place it in the tomb and seal the entrance to the cave with a large stone. For three days they did not depart from the place of burial, praying and chanting Psalms.

Now, through the wise providence of God, the Apostle Thomas was not present at the burial of the Mother of God. Arriving late on the third day at Gethsemane, he lay down at the tomb and with bitter tears asked that he might be permitted to look once more upon the Mother of God and bid her farewell. The holy apostles out of heartfelt pity for him decided to open the grave and permit him the comfort of venerating the holy relics of the Ever-Virgin Mary. Having opened the grave, however, they found in it only the grave wrappings. By this, they were convinced of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven.

On the evening of the same day, when the holy apostles had gathered at a house to strengthen themselves with food, the Mother of God herself appeared to them and said: "Rejoice! I am with you all the days of your lives."

The sash of the Mother of God, and Her holy garb, preserved with reverence and distributed over the face of the earth in pieces, have worked miracles both in the past and at present. Her numerous icons everywhere pour forth signs and healings, and Her holy body, taken up to Heaven, bears witness to our own future life there. Her body was not left to the vicissitudes of the transitory world, but was incomparably exalted by its glorious ascent to Heaven.

O All-Holy Lady Theotokos, Light of our darkened souls, our hope, our protection, our refuge our consolation, our joy, accept from our unclean lips this prayer as the expression of our heartfelt love for thee who gave birth to our most blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and of our heartfelt desire that you who gave birth to the True Light would enlighten the eyes of our heart. O thou who didst conceive the Source of immortality, give life to us who are dead in our sins and transgressions. O thou who art the compassionately loving Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on us. Intercede for us who are lost in the throng of our transgressions. Grant to us compunction and contrition of heart, humility in our reasonings and the deliverance of our mind from the slavery of our own reasonings. Grant us tears of repentance and confession, and that we may receive without condemnation the sanctification of the most pure and awesome Mysteries of thy Son and our God, our most holy and most blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, unto the healing of our soul and body, for blessed art thou forever. Amen.