Friday, August 15, 2008

Domrition of the Theotokos

Blessed Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos! This is one of the Twelve Great Feasts in the Byzantine tradition, and the last feast for Our Lady before the start of the new liturgical year. In fact, I think the Byzantine litrugical year follows Mary on her journey with Christ. The first feast of the year commemorates her birth, on September 8, and the year continues through all her life in relation to Christ. If we can follow Mary on our own journey, we will be close to the Lord, as she was. As far as the "historical" account of Our Lady's dormition (or "falling asleep"), here is an excerpt from regarding such things:
We have no reliable historical documents about how Mary's life came to end. Some say she died in Ephesus where she lived with St. John the Apostle. Our Liturgical texts say she died in Jerusalem. But that is not proven anywhere - it is only popular belief. It is our 'Tradition' and not an article of faith that is equal to the Incarnation or Resurrection of Christ. It just exists in the living memory of the Church, a memory which is especially strong in the Eastern Church. Our emphasis on the 'Dormition' of the Virgin, that is, her passing from life to death to eternal life in Christ parallels our approach to the Resurrection of Christ. Mary is Christ's first and greatest disciple, and as any good disciple, she imitates the Lord and teacher. She knew her own passion ("a sword shall pierce your heart") and, now, death and resurrection. God could not allow the body of the Mother of God, the flesh which had given Christ flesh, to know corruption, so the angels came to bring Mary to heaven with her body. There were witnesses to Christ's Ascension, and it is told in Scripture. There is no proof of Mary's ascent, which we call her Assumption. However, the Church Fathers have always held that this honor was given to Mary, and that now, she is glorified in heaven, in the body.
I guess the important thing is that she was the first and best of Christ's disciples, and that she has been honored in a special way in heaven because of her faithful life. Tradition holds that St. Thomas, characteristically absent at Mary's death, wanted to see her body. When they went to her tomb, only flowers filled the place where she was laid. For this reason, Byzantines bring flowers to church on this feast to have them blessed. The Byzantine gospel for the day is from Luke, the story of Lazarus' sisters, Matha and Mary, when Jesus comes to their house. I'm sure you're familiar with it, Martha is hosting--as a good Palestinian woman ought--and Mary is sitting at the feet of the Lord, listening. Jesus tells Martha: "You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her" (cf Lk 10:32-48). (However, in the gospel of John, Martha's faith in the Lord shines through as she goes to greet the Lord after her brother has died.) It may seem strange to have a gospel about a different Mary on the Feast of the Dormition, but these two sisters clearly demonstrate faithful discipleship, listening to and serving the Lord. Mary, the Theotokos, was the first and best disciple of Christ.
More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim who, a virgin, gave birth to God the Word you truly the Theotokos, we magnify!
(click on the pictures for a larger view)

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