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(August 2012)

The Feast of the Dormition

Condensed from "The Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary," Holy Trinity Monastery, 1976; translated from the Menology of St. Dimitry of Rostov.

The grave and death could not hold the Mother of God, who is sleepless in her intercessions and an unchanging hope in her mediations. For as the Mother of Life she was transferred to life by Him Who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb. [Kontakion for the Feast]

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The last of the twelve great feasts in the Church year, the Dormition of the Mother of God, culminates the cycle of feasts and indicates God’s ultimate plan for mankind—that having completed this earthly life, the faithful shall be resurrected in body and soul and united with Christ for eternity.

The Most Holy Theotokos, whose entire life had been spent in accordance with God’s will, is the most perfect example of humanity, greatest among the saints and more honorable than the Cherubim. Only through such a pure vessel could the Incarnation of God the Word occur, for Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Virgin, was perfect man and perfect God. For this reason she is honored above all of God’s creation and at the close of her earthly life, she was bodily taken to heaven without having to await the fearful Day of Judgment. Thus did God glorify his obedient handmaid having instructed all generations to call her blessed.

While nothing is mentioned in the Scriptures concerning the Dormition of the Mother of God, the account has been preserved in the Sacred Tradition of the Church and has come down to us in Church services and early icons depicting this event.

The Most Holy Mother of God had reached an advanced age and she wished to leave the body and go to God as soon as possible. Her one great desire was to see the sweet face of her Son, Jesus Christ, sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Suddenly there appeared before her the Archangel Gabriel. He told her that in three days she would depart from this life and be with Christ. As a sign that death would have no power over her, he gave the Holy Virgin a branch from paradise. The Archangel said it was to be carried before the bed of the Mother of God when her body was carried to burial.

At these words the Blessed Mother of God filled with joy and began to prepare for her death. First she told the beloved disciple John, who had adopted her, about it. Then she told the rest of her household and ordered her rooms to be sprinkled with perfume and as many lamps as possible to be lighted in them. St. John sent word to St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and he informed all the Christians in the surrounding area. Several of the faithful arrived promptly and could not restrain their tears. The whole house was filled with weeping, but the Mother of God dried their tears, consoled them, and asked them to rejoice.

O ye Apostles, from afar being now gathered together here in the town of Gethsemane, give burial ,to my body; and Thou my Son and my God receive Thou my spirit. (Exaposteilarion sung during the Dormition Fast).

Our most Pure Lady arranged for her two garments to be given to two poor widows who had faithfully served her. She asked that her body be buried on the Mount of Olives, where her parents, Saints Joachim and Anna, and her "spouse," St. Joseph, were buried.

Suddenly a noise like a clap of thunder was heard and a cloud encircled the house. By the command of God, angels had seized the Apostles, who were scattered to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel, and brought them on clouds to Jerusalem. St. John went out to greet them and told them of the speedy departure of the Mother of God. This filled their hearts with great sorrow.

On August 15th, the blessed hour that all were awaiting arrived. It was the third hour of the day (about 9 a.m.). The holy Apostles were praising God; the Immaculate Virgin lay on a beautifully adorned bed. Suddenly there shone in the room a wonderful light. The roof opened and the glory of the Lord descended from heaven with hosts of angels and archangels and with the Holy Fathers and prophets of old who had prophesied about the Holy Virgin. At the sight of this, the Mother of God cried aloud with great joy: My soul doth magnify the Lord...! And, raising herself, she worshipped her Son. Looking at her with love, He said: Come My Near One, come My Dove, come My precious treasure and enter the abodes of eternal life.

My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready (Pss 107:2), the Holy Virgin replied, surrendering her pure soul into the hands of the Lord. She felt no pain whatever, but fell as it were into a sweet sleep. At once there was wonderful angelic singing: Rejoice, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women. (Lk 1:28).

For a long time the Apostles stood transfixed with amazement. When they came to themselves they worshipped the Lord and they surrounded the bed of His Mother, whose face shone like the sun. There began the solemn procession for her burial. Reaching the Garden of Gethsemane, they put down the bed with the most precious body and all the Christians came forth to give a last kiss, weeping at the loss of such a treasure. Even after the great stone had been rolled across the entrance to the tomb, the Apostles remained by the tomb for three full days, singing psalms day and night.

By God’s special arrangement, however, the Apostle Thomas was not present at these events. He arrived only on the third day and was very sorry that he had not been allowed to say farewell to the Immaculate Mother. Taking pity on him, the Apostles decided to open the tomb so that he might at least see the dead body of the Mother of God. But when they rolled away the stone they were amazed! The body of the Mother of God was not in the tomb! All that remained were the burial clothes and a wonderful fragrance. They prayed that the Lord would reveal to them where the body had been taken. Later, they saw standing in the air the Immaculate Mother of God, surrounded by a multitude of angels, and she said to them: Rejoice, for I am with you all the days.

From that time forth the Apostles taught the whole Church of Christ that the Mother of God was raised by her Son and taken to heaven on the third day after her burial.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!