(View the Sunday, August 11, 2019 Bulletin)

 

SHE KNEW THE COST AND EMBRACED THE CALL

 

The Feast of the Dormition (Koimesis), or The Falling-asleep of the Most Holy Theotokosis the greatest among several others in which we commemorate her blessed person and life. As such, this Feast marks the completion of her earthly life, her full participation in the salvation and eternal life which the Lord God established for us human beings through Christ. She stands in our place. She is truly “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Mary truly died,  but would not remain in death.
 
The Icon of the Feast of the Dormition depicts her body resting breathless in a bed while her soul, wrapped in swaddling clothes like a new-born baby, is upheld in the arms of the Risen and glorified Christ who stands behind the bed. This icon is the reversal of the usual icons of the Theotokos which depict the Virgin holding Christ in her arms. Here Christ, holding the Virgin’s soul in His arms, indicates her entry into the Kingdom of Heaven which the Incarnate He opened up for us through His saving life and work. It indicates in the most concrete way St. Athanasius’ well known dictum: “God became human that we may be made divine.”

The Greek Orthodox theologian Fr. George Dragas writes: “Christ the Savior taking the soul of His Mother to Heaven, marks the first resurrection which Christians experience when they die, thanks to our Lord’s redemptive work. The full resurrection of our humanity, i.e. the resurrection of the body, will take place at the second coming of Christ which will be accompanied by the general resurrection and the last judgment of all human beings.” The college of the Apostles prays at the funeral bier, witnessing the passing of the young girl whose generous “Yes!” to the Archangel Gabriel ushered in hope and salvation for us, poor sons and daughters of Eve!  Sight unseen, the Theotokos submitted to God’s plan for her life and does so now in death.

In his Encomium on the Dormition of our Sovereign Lady the Mother of God, St. Theodore, Abbot of the Great Studium, provides a vivid and moving picture of why this Great Feast is so meaningful to us today: “Today she who was heaven on earth is wrapped in a cloak of incorruptibility; she has moved to a better, more blessed dwelling-place. Today the spiritual moon, shining with the light of God, has come into heavenly conjunction with the “Sun of righteousness,” eclipsing her temporary home in this present life; rising anew in His home, she is radiant with the dignity of immortality. Today that ark of holiness, wrought with gold and divinely furnished, has been lifted up from her tabernacle on earth and is borne towards the Jerusalem above, to unending rest; and David, the ancestor of God, poet as he is, strikes up a song for us and cries, “Virgins”—meaning souls—”will be led to the King”—to you, O God—”behind her” [Psalm 44.14 LXX].” This is the feast of intimacy – the last great earthly witness of how close the Mother of God was to her Son and, therefore, is to us. In Christ’s receiving Mary’s soul tenderly in His arms, we too are drawn to that mystic experience realizing that for she who was faithful, life was not truly ended but only changed. Her passing was the realization of that promise for us – if we, like Mary, say “Yes” to God’s plan for our lives, if we do the challenging work of discerning the will of God for us. 

St. Theodore continues; “Now the Mother of God shuts her material eyes, and opens her spiritual eyes towards us like great shining stars that will never set, to watch over us and to intercede before the face of God for the world’s protection. Now those lips, moved by God’s grace to articulate sounds, grow silent, but she opens her [spiritual] mouth to intercede eternally for all of her race. Now she lowers those bodily hands that once bore God, only to raise them, in incorruptible form, in prayer to the Lord on behalf of all creation. At this moment her natural form, radiant as the sun, is hidden; yet her light shines through her painted image, and she offers it to the people for the life-giving kiss of veneration. The holy dove has flown to her home above, yet she does not cease to protect those below; departing from her body, she is with us in spirit; gathered up to heaven, she banishes demons by her intercession with the Lord.”

As are all the Saints in the Heavenly Kingdom, the Theotokos stands ready to help the Church militant here on earth to make its way to the blessedness of that eternal realm. Her life exhibited the critical elements of discipleship to which we are all summoned — openness to God’s will, readiness to listen to the Master and to do whatever He tells us, and an indefatigable determination to keep moving forward to closeness with the Divine Son, no matter how challenging the struggle or acute the suffering.  She was, in a sense, the first Spiritual Mother (Gerondissa) who taught by example, who guided many times by her contemplative silence and other times through a simple word or the gaze of her maternal eyes. She was a holy one whose very presence reminded all who encountered her that there was, at work here among us, the very presence of the Living God.  The Nun Katerina, from the Holy Cenobium of the Annunciation of the Theotokos at Ormylia (Greece), expresses it this way: “In the Holy Theotokos the people of God were again given the possibility of recognizing that God is acting here and now and that they also have to act in obedience to the call and thus follow Him into the unknown.”
 
At a time when so much of our society and world is in moral and spiritual upheaval, the constancy and authentic holiness of the Theotokos serve as an inspiration for our lives. Firstly, do we ever stop to ask “What is the will of God for my life?” Seriously. Do we try to discern how He acts in us and through us?  Are most of the decisions we make centered around our ego-needs and self-centeredness, rather than around God’s plan for us?  The Theotokos knew well that her only happiness came from knowing what God wanted for her and submitting to it – “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy word.” (Luke 1:38) How does God’s will fit into your life.
 
Secondly, the Theotokos was a woman of few words. It was “listening” to the Divine voice of her Son that gave Mary her central place in salvation history. Of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament only two (or 8%) render words spoken by Mary. That means there are twenty-five books of the New Testament (or 92%) that have no recorded words from Mary at all. Mary listened and she “pondered.” She was not wrapped up in her own personal concerns because hers was the discipleship of listening – listening and reflecting deep in her heart. What of us? Do we take time each day to listen to God in the people, experiences, and “still small voice” within us? Do we make an effort to read His word in Scripture? Are we so insistent that God hear our cries to Him that we are deaf to His cry to enter our heart and soul?
 
Lastly, the Theotokos was persistent. She never surrendered her discipleship because it was hard or because it was an inconvenience in her life.  She never short-changed her Divine Son but gave one-hundred percent of herself always. When the aged Simeon told her “a sword of sorrow shall pierce your heart,” she continued her service to her Son with open eyes and the knowledge that there were real costs to following the Rabbi from Nazareth. And us? Do we perceive our faith as an inconvenience? Are we only willing to give God so much and no more? Do we try to “squeeze” God into the many other activities of our lives or is God ever consciously at the center of our hearts?  Do we readily see God’s love in the many positive things of our life but fail to see Him teach us in the pains, the sufferings, and the sacrifices involved in Christian discipleship?  Mary knew the costs and did not shrink from the call. Can the same be said of us?
 
The Holy Dormition of the Theotokos is an apt time to renew our veneration of the Mother of God – to seek her intercession, to learn from her wisdom, and to imitate her depth of spiritual attentiveness to God. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ! Amen.

Your servant in the Lord,
Fr. Dimitrios