47 - Theology of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. Epiphany of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest. August 15 2021

Philippians 2.5-11 (Theotokos)

Luke 10.38-42, 11.27-28

We have come to the last major feast of the Church year: the Dormition or Falling Asleep of the holy Virgin Theotokos. Why is she so loved by all those who worship her Son? On this beautiful feast let’s go on a mystical journey into the Evangelical theology proclaimed in the mystery of the Virgin Theotokos. We shall see that she illumines the meaning of God’s Sabbath Rest.

We begin our journey with St Matthew’s Gospel. St Matthew (1.23) presents the Virgin Mary as the virgin prophesied by the prophet, Isaiah (7.14): ‘A virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son, Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’ St John alludes to Isaiah’s prophecy when he writes, ‘And the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us’ (Jn 1.14). That is, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.

St John goes on to say, ‘The Law was given through Moses. Grace and Truth came to be [i.e. was incarnate] through Jesus Christ.’ (Jn 1.17) Now, St Paul preaches Jesus Christ as the telos, the end or the goal of the Law (Rm 10.4). In other words, Jesus Christ is the substance of the Law. He is the Light shining in the heart of the Law, the ‘Icon’ or True Reality that was casting the Law onto the creation as a shadow of the good things to come (Heb 10.1). Therefore, to eat the LORD’s flesh and to drink His blood (Jn 6.53) and to become thereby ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pt 1.4)—that is, of divine ‘Grace and Truth’—is the end or goal, the perfection of the Law of Moses.

St John also preaches Jesus Christ as the telos of the Law when he says: ‘No one has ever seen God [the Father]; the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.’ (Jn 1.18) For, to make God known is what the Law was all about (cf. Rm 7) Two words here we want to ponder more closely, ‘He Who Is in the bosom of the Father,’ and, ‘made Him known.’ But before we do, let’s jump quickly to St Luke.

In St Luke, the Virgin says to the Archangel Gabriel when he announces to Her that She is chosen to be His Holy Mother: ‘How shall this be, seeing that I have not known a man?’ (Lk 1.34) Again, St John also alludes to the Virgin birth of Jesus, but in a most beautifully theological way when he says: ‘To as many as received Him, He gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name.’ That is, those who believe in Jesus as the only-begotten Son of God and the only-begotten Son of the Virgin, become themselves children of God and therefore of the Virgin Theotokos; for through the sacramental mysteries of the Church they become members of Christ’s Body which is the Church, and so they, as members of the Body of Christ, are virgin-born: born not from blood nor from the desire of the flesh or of the male, but from God.’ (Jn 1.12-13)

Can you see what the purpose of our existence is proclaimed in this theology, for which the Law was given as training and preparation? It is to become one with God in personal communion. It is to receive God into our heart so that He becomes incarnate in our flesh, as the Virgin received Him into her womb so that He became incarnate in our flesh, thereby making it possible for each one of us to become ourselves ‘theotokos’—in whom God dwells; or, in whom God rests! Do you begin perhaps to make out in the theology of the Theotokos the theology of the Sabbath Rest of God?

But now back to St Luke. The Archangel Gabriel answers the Virgin: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you.’ (Lk 1.35) St Luke’s Gospel gives us a third word we want to ponder more closely: overshadow, together with the other two words from St John: He Who Is the only-begotten God in the bosom of the Father, and: He has made Him known.

All three words take us to Exodus, to the appearing of the LORD to Moses first on Mt Horeb in the Burning Bush, then on Mt Sinai when the LORD descended in the fiery cloud of Glory to give the Law to Moses, and then to the moment the building of the tabernacle was completed, as God had instructed Moses according to the heavenly pattern He had shown him on the Mountain (Ex 25.9&40).

In the Burning Bush, the LORD appears to Moses and reveals to Moses His Name: ‘I am He Who Is.’ (Ex 3.14). The revelation of the LORD’s Name to Moses, of course, was the revelation of the God who would deliver Israel from her bitter bondage to the Pharaoh. And so, when John identifies Jesus as ‘the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father,’ he is telling us that Jesus is Himself the incarnate Name of God Who was revealed to Moses, and that He is the God who will deliver Israel from their sins and all mankind from the devil who held us in the power of death. (Heb 2.14-15).

This explains why Jesus makes the Father known: He is the very Name of God, the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father Who has become flesh, He has become visible, audible, tangible in the creation He made. And, in fact, the root of this verb, to make known, in Greek takes us to Psalm 18/19.1: ‘The heavens are making known the Glory of God.’ They are making known the mystery of the Incarnation, for the incarnate Jesus is Himself the Glory of the Father (cf. Heb 1.3 and 2 Pt 1.16-17). ‘The firmament proclaims His workmanship, or His creation. Day to day erupts continually [ereugetai] with the deeds [rema] of God. The night proclaims nightly the knowledge of God.’ (Ps 8/19.1-2)

That is, the whole of creation both in space (heaven and earth) and in time (day and night) is a cosmic tablet on which God, the Heavenly Bridegroom (Ps 18/19.5) is writing the story of His courtship of His bride, the soul of man.  He has set His Tent [skenoma, the word used in Jn 1.14 for the WORD becoming flesh, eskenosis] in the sun, and so He goes forth as a Bridegroom from His bridal chamber to make His way from one corner of the heavens to the other, and no one is hidden from the heat of His love for His Bride. (Ps 18/19.4-6). That is, the whole of creation is revealed to be a mirror, a copy of the Virgin conceiving God in her womb, and giving birth to Him and nursing Him from her breasts as His Mother. And the Virgin Mary is revealed to be what creation is all about: the union of man with God in the holy womb of the woman as in His Holy Temple, to make it possible for Him to descend into the cosmic mystery of His Tomb, His Sabbath Rest, as the Heavenly Bridegroom becoming one with His Bride to transfigure the tomb of the heart into the Glory of His bridal chamber radiant as the sun (Ps 18/19.4).

Which brings us to our third word. The Holy Spirit, said the Archangel, would overshadow the Virgin, just as He overshadowed the Bush on Mt Horeb, (Ex 3.2ff.) and Mt Sinai with the consuming Fire of His Glory (Ex 24.17) that consumed neither the bush nor the mountain but sanctified and deified them! And when the tabernacle God commanded Moses to build was completed, the fiery Cloud of God’s Glory overshadowed it and filled it so that no one could enter it. (Ex 40.34-35) By this word, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you, St Luke surely means to tell us that the Holy Virgin is the Living Temple of God that the tabernacle of Moses and the stone temple of Solomon were only copies of (cf. Ex 25.9&40 & Heb 8.5)!

And so, how should we understand now Jesus’ response to the woman this morning when she calls out: ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you! The Greek means: Indeed! But understand what is revealed in the mystery of my most blessed Mother who bore me and nursed me as her only-begotten Son! Because she heard and kept My WORD, that is, because she consented to receive Me into her womb and become my Mother, I was able to become flesh and, in the flesh, to suffer and die and rise again on the Third Day! And now, because of her, I am able to come upon and overshadow with My Holy Spirit everyone who receives the WORD of God—who I Am!—and who keeps Me, i.e., who believes in My Name, so that they can each one become a child of God; nay, even become themselves each one a mother of God, Theotokos, and ‘become a partaker of the divine nature!’ (2 Pt 1.4)

In her Falling Asleep, the Theotokos attains her final rest in the God who rested in her womb in order that He might come to rest in the tomb of our heart and transfigure it into the bridal chamber that He has placed in the sun, in His own divine glory (Ps 18/19.5). The Dormition of the Theotokos, then, is an epiphany that reveals the Sabbath Rest of God to be the mystery of God resting in His saints and of the saints resting in God as the end, the goal, the completion of creation and of our existence. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints, for in their death they attain to this mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest nestled in the heart of creation as the true nature and destiny of man. Because of the Most Holy Theotokos, the saints enter their death as into the Sabbath Rest of God, which is the mystical Bridal Chamber of the human heart. There, they attain the goal of all of creation: to rest in God and He in them, delivered from evil and raised up into the Kingdom of His marvelous Light and Life! Therefore, ‘All of creation rejoices in Thee, O Full of Grace! In giving birth, Thou didst preserve Thy virginity!’ Thou didst preserve the purity of Thy human nature for Thou didst fulfill perfectly the purpose of our nature, to become the Sabbath Rest of God! ‘In Falling Asleep, Thou didst not forsake the world for Thou wast translated to Life, O Mother of Life, and by Thy prayers, Thou dost deliver our souls from death!’ Glory to Jesus Christ. Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!