My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
'Αξιόν έστι ως αληθώς μακαρίζειν Σε τήν Θεοτόκον, τήν αειμακάριστον και παναμώμητον και Μητέρα τού Θεού ημών. Τήν τιμιώτεραν τών χερουβίμ και ενδοξοτέραν ασυγκρίτως τών Σεραφίμ, τήν αδιαφθό-ρως Θεόν Λόγον τεκούσαν, τήν όντως Θεοτόκον, Σέ μεγαλύνομεν.
It is meet indeed to bless Thee, the Ever-Blessed and Most Pure and Mother of our God. Thee that art more honorable than the Cherubim, and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, who without spot of sin didst bear God the Word; Thee, verily the Mother of God, we magnify.
[Megalynarion to the Theotokos]
[The above hymn Axion Estin (Greek: ΄Αξιον εστίν) or 'It is Truly Meet' the name given to the holy icon of the Ever-Virgin Mary before which, according to Holy Tradition, the hymn of Axion Estin was revealed. The holy icon of Axion Estin is placed in the high place of the altar of the katholikon (main church) of Karyes on Mouth Athos. A number of years ago when I visited the Holy Mountain I had the great blessing to be able to venerate it.]
According to our Holy Tradition, a geronda (elder) and his disciple lived in a cell on Mount Athos (Holy Mountain). One Saturday night the geronda left to attend the All-Night Vigil (Agrypnia) in the Protaton of Karyes. He told his disciple to chant the service alone. That evening an unknown monk who called himself Gabriel came to the cell, and they began the Vigil (or Agrypnia which means not sleeping) together.
During the Ninth Ode of the canon (the Megalynarion or Magnificat) the disciple began to sing "My soul magnifies the Lord..." with the Irmos of Saint Cosmas the Hymnographer (+October 14th), "More honorable than the Cherubim..." The stranger sang the next verse, "For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaid..." Then he chanted something the disciple had never heard before. "It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos, Ever-Blessed and most pure, and the Mother of God." Then he continued with "More honorable than the Cherubim..."
When the disciple asked the visiting monk to write the words of the new hymn down, he took a roof tile and wrote on it with his finger, as though the tile were made of wax. The disciple knew then that this was no ordinary monk, but the Archangel Gabriel. At that moment the Angel of God disappeared, but the holy icon of the Mother of God continued to radiate light for some time afterward.
The Eleousa ("Merciful") holy icon of the Ever-Virgin Mary, before which the hymn "It is truly Meet" was first chanted, was transferred to the Katholikon (main church) at Karyes, known as the Protaton. The tile, with the hymn written on it, was taken to Constantinople when Saint Nicholas II Chrysoverges was Patriarch (984-996).
Since that time the holy Icon has been considered the protector of the Holy Mountain and its holiest relic. The holy Icon is commemorated by the Church on June 11 and July 13. The appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to a monk on Mt. Athos, and the revelation of the hymn "It is Truly Meet..." is commemorated by the Orthodox Church on June 11.
AUGUST 15: "THE SUMMER PASCHA"
The holy Feast of the Dormition (Koimisis) of the Theotokos has a special place in the festal calendar of the Orthodox Church, and it is directly linked to the uniqueness of the person of the Panagia (All-Holy) in the work of the "salvation in Christ" of humanity, making it the greatest of the feasts established by the Church in honor of the Mother of God.
The first testimony for the celebration of the Koimisis (Dormition) of the Theotokos appears in the 5th century AD, around the time the Third Ecumenical Synod in Ephesus (+431 AD) convened, which defined the dogma of the Theotokos (Mother of God) which became the reason to further develop the honor towards the person of the Theotokos.
The first time it seems to have been celebrated was in Jerusalem on the 13th of August and later on it was moved to the 15th of the same month. It was dedicated to the Theotokos but without specific reference to the event of the Falling Asleep (Koimisis), and it was called the "day of Mary the Theotokos". A "kathisma" (central church of a monastery) outside the walls of Jerusalem on the road to Bethlehem is mentioned as being the initial center of celebrations. The connection between this celebration and the Dormition of the Theotokos began in the Church of the Panagia found in Gethsemane, where her tomb was, and the feast was established by Emperor Maurice (582-602).
According to Ecclesiastical Tradition, the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is preceded by a fast, which was established in the 7th century. Initially it was divided into two periods: before the feast of the Holy Transfiguration (Metamorphosis tou Kyriou) of the Savior and before the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. In the 10th century they were merged into one fast, which includes 14 days and begins on August 1st. During the fast we abstain from olive oil, except for Saturdays and Sundays, fish, meats, dairy products, eggs, poultry and wine. While on the holy Feast of the Transfiguration of the Savior fish is allowed.
During the August Fast we chant in the churches the evening hours (except Sundays), alternatively, the "Small and Great Supplication Canon to the Theotokos", otherwise known as the "Supplications" or "Paraklesis".
The holiness of these two weeks in August gives fuel for the faithful Orthodox Christians to energize their spiritual struggle; this is one reason why the Koimisis (Dormition) period is lovingly referred to as the Summer Pascha (το Πάσχα του Καλοκαιριού, in Greek).
Like Holy Pascha, the Great Feast of the Koimisis (Dormition) Fast calls us to "Love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (St. Mark 12:30). The Feast of the Holy Transfiguration shows us that we can experience the Kingdom of God here on earth, while the Dormition shows us that through our faith and good works and Christ's love and mercy, we can attain immortal life; since Saint Gregory Palamas describes: "Christ as God is for those who live by the Spirit and see with spiritual eyes what the sun is for those who live by their senses and see with natural vision."
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Dormition Feast. First Tone
In birth, you preserved your virginity, in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As Mother of Life, you departed to the Source of Life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.
Kontakion of the Feast. Second Tone
Neither the grave nor death could contain the Theotokos, the unshakable hope, ever vigilant in intercession and protection. As Mother of life, He Who dwelt in the Ever-virginal womb transposed her to life
We must not confuse this celebration with the Metastasis (translation) of the Mother of God into heaven which occurs three days after her death according to the Orthodox Church Tradition. The Dormition or Koimisis (falling asleep) of the Most Holy Theotokos recognizes the time when her soul was taken in the hands of her Son and God and her body was placed in her tomb. Orthodox Christians emphasize her death to help us remember that she was of human nature like all of us. She died a human death and was assumed into heaven three days after her death. This is an area where there is some difference between the teachings of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church who celebrate her Assumption on this day. In the Roman Catholic tradition the Ever-Virgin Mary did not die but was assumed bodily while living.
"Unlike the Resurrection of Christ, the mysterious character of her death, burial, resurrection and ascension were not the subject of Apostolic teachings, or at least there are no extant epistles; yet it has been revealed to the inner consciousness of the Church. Inaccessible to the view of those outside the Church, the glory of the Theotokos' Dormition can be contemplated only in the inner light of Holy Tradition. The glorification of the Virgin-Mother is a result of the voluntary condescension of the Son Who is Incarnate of tier and made "Son of Man", capable of dying. The Mother of God is now established beyond the General Resurrection and the Last Judgment, having passed from death to life, from time to eternity, from terrestrial condition to celestial beatitude. Hence, the feast of August 15th is a second mysterious Pascha, since the Church celebrates, before the end of time, the secret first-fruits of its eschatological consummation." O marvelous wonder! The source of life is laid in the tomb, and the tomb itself becomes a ladder to heaven, Thy glory is full of majesty, shining with grace in divine brightness. (Ouspensky and Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, p. 213),
Saint John Damascos clearly believed in the Koimisis, Dormition, or Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God, body and soul into heaven. In one of his sermons on the Koimisis he writes: "It was fitting that He, Who preserved Mary's virginity after His birth, should also preserve her body incorrupt after death. It is fitting that She, who carried in her arms the Creator as a Child, dwell in the heavenly mansions. It is fitting that she, who beheld her Son on the Cross while her heart was pierced with a sword of grief she did not know at the Nativity, should now look upon Him as He sits with the Father. It is fitting that the Mother of God possess all that her Son possesses and that all creatures venerate her as the Mother and maidservant of God."
Theologically it is another symbol of the hope a true disciple can sustain for a heavenly glorification, after death, with the Lord. The theology of this feast is clearly in the holy icon of the Koimesis. The Mother of God, asleep in death, peaceful on her bier, is wept over by the gathered holy Apostles, while unseen by them Christ, in the radiant glory of His Resurrection comes down to lift up her soul (dressed in swaddling clothes like a little baby) and take it into heavenly glory. In a charming reversal of the normal icons of the Mother and Child. It is now Christ Himself Who 'shows' His Mother to the Church as an object of veneration and wonder. The holy Icon celebrates the Theotokos in the communion of Saints, and is widely understood in the Orthodox Church to be a consolation that our deaths (often called the moment of our last solitude) none of us will be left alone. The tenderness of the Blessed and Ever-Virgin Mary and the mercy of her Son and God will watch over the disciple's last journey.
In the early 8th century Saint Germanos of Constantinople explained the Koimisis in terms of the inability of death to keep captive a soul of such great beauty and holiness, and its powerlessness to interrupt her intercession on behalf of the Church:
"As it has been written: 'You are indeed beautiful and your virginal body is entirely saintly, entirely chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God. Accordingly it shall be entirely free from the dissolution to dust. Rendered changeless in regard to all that is human, it is now exalted into immortal life; that very same body, now living and glorified, and sharing without loss in the perfection of life. For it was not possible that the vessel which had carried God, that Living Temple of the Sacred Deity of the Only-Begotten, should be held a prisoner of death's tomb. So it is, O Theotokos, that we believe you still go about among us."
(To be continued)
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Please note: The holy service of the Paraklesis (Supplication) will take place almost every evening at 7:00 p.m. either at our holy Dormition Chapel or at St. Andrew. Make every effort to attend as a family and seek the blessings from the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos for you and your family. Please submit the Orthodox Baptismal names (just the first name, of course) to your priest to pray for their well being and protection.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God