SHE KNEW THE COST AND EMBRACED THE CALL
|The Feast of the Dormition (Koimesis), or The Falling-asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos, is 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.”
Your servant in the Lord,