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.
[Fasting: Abstain from meat, meat products, fish, oil, wine, and dairy products.)
ON AUGUST 1ST OUR CHURCH COMMEMORATES THE PROCESSION OF THE PRECIOUS CROSS.
This holy feast was established jointly by the Greeks and Russians in the time of the Greek Emperor Manuel and the Russian Prince Andrei, as a memorial of the simultaneous victories of the Russians over the Bulgars and the Greeks over the Saracens. In both battles, the soldiers carried crosses, from which a heavenly radiance shone forth with the army. It was therefore instituted that, on August 1st, the Holy Cross be carried from the Church of Aghia Sophia (Holy Wisdom of God), first around the interior of the Cathedral and then through the streets, to give the Christian people the chance to venerate it, as a memorial of the miraculous help given by the Holy Cross in earlier wars. This was not just any cross, but the True Holy and Life-Giving Cross itself, which was kept in the church of the imperial court. On July 31st, the Precious Cross was taken from the imperial court to Aghia Sophia's, and then carried through the streets, to consecrate and sanctify the earth and the air. Finally, on August 14th, it was taken back to the church in the imperial palace. (Source: The Prologue from Ochrid)
"For behold, all generations will call me blessed." (St. Luke 1:48)
For two thousand years the Church has preserved the memory of the Virgin Mary as the prototype of all Christians--the model of what we are to become in Christ. Mary was truly pure and unconditionally obedient to God. The Holy Tradition of the Church holds that Mary remained a virgin all her life (see note on Matthew 12:46-50). While lifelong celibacy is not a model for all Christians to follow, Mary's spiritual purity, her wholehearted devotion to God, is certainly to be emulated.
Mary is also our model in that she was the first person to receive Jesus Christ. As Mary bore Christ in her womb physically, all Christians now have the privilege of bearing Christ within them spiritually. By God's grace and mercy we are purified and empowered to become like Him.
The honor we give to Mary also signifies our view of who Jesus is. From early times the Church has called her Mother of God (Greek Theotokos lit. God-Bearer) a title which implies that her Son is both fully man and fully God. As His Mother, Mary was the source of Jesus' human nature; yet, the One she bore in her womb was also the Eternal God.
Therefore, because of her character and especially because of her role in God's plan of salvation, Christians appropriately honor Mary as the first among the Saints. The Archangel Gabriel initiated his honor in his address to her: "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" (St. Luke 1:28). This salutation clearly indicates that God Himself had chosen to honor Mary. Her favored status was confirmed when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was then six months pregnant with St. John the Baptist. Saint Elizabeth greeted Mary with these words: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (St. Luke 1:42, 43). And Mary herself, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted the honor that would be paid her throughout history: "For behold, henceforth all generations will call her blessed" (St. Luke 1:48).
In obedience to God's clear intention, therefore, the Orthodox Church honors Mary, the Mother of God, in holy icons, hymns, and special feast days, i.e., her Holy Dormition on August 15th. We entreat her, as the human being who was most intimate with Christ, her Son, to intercede with her Son on our behalf. We ask her, as the first believer and the Mother of the Church, for guidance and protection. We venerate her--but we do not worship her, for worship belongs to God alone.
In Orthros (Matins), Esperinos (Vespers), and all the divine services of the hours of prayer, we sing this hymn, which expresses Mary's unique place in creation:
It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and Most pure and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Logos (Word): True Theotokos, we magnify you. [Source: The Orthodox Study Bible]
THE BEGINNING OF THE HOLY DORMITION FAST
The Dormition (Koimisis) fast was established as preceding the great feasts of the Holy Transfiguration of the Lord (to Soteros) and of the Holy Dormition of the Mother of God. It lasts two weeks-from August 1-14.
The Dormition fast comes down to us from the early days of Christianity.
We find a clear reference to the Dormition (Koimisis or falling-asleep) fast in a conversation of Leo the Great from around the year 450 AD. "The Church fasts are situated in the year in such way that a special abstinence is prescribed for each time. Thus, for spring there is the spring fast--the Forty Days [Great Lent]; for the summer there is the summer fast...[the Apostle's fast]; for autumn there is the autumn fast, in the seventh month [Dormition fast]; for winter there is the winter fast [Nativity fast]."
Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki writes that, "The fast in August [Dormition fast] was established in honor of the Mother of God (Theotokos); Who foreknowing Her repose, ascetically labored and fasted for us as always, although She was holy and immaculate, and had no need for fasting. Thus, she especially prayed for us in preparation for being transported from this life to the future life, when her blessed soul would be united through the Divine Spirit with her Son. Therefore, we also should fast and praise her, emulating her life, urging her thereby to pray for us. Some, by the way, say that this fast was instituted on the occasion of two feasts--the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord and the Holy Dormition of the Mother of God. I also consider it necessary to remember these two feasts--one which gives us Light, and the other which is merciful to us and intercedes for us."
The Dormition fast is not as strict as the Great Fast, but it is stricter than the Holy Apostle's and Nativity fasts.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of the Dormition fast, the Church rubrics prescribe Xerophagia (lit. dry-eating), that is, the strictest fast of uncooked food (without olive oil); on Tuesdays and Thursdays, "with cooked food, but with no oil"; on Saturdays and Sundays wine and oil are allowed.
According to our Orthodox Tradition we must fast strictly for the first fourteen days of August, however, the fast is broken on the Holy Transfiguration of our Savior on August 6 due to the significance of this divine celebration. In addition, on the day of the Transfiguration of Christ it is our tradition to bless the first fruits of the season, i.e., grapes which are distributed to those in attendance following the Divine Liturgy.
The spiritual fast is closely united with the bodily, just as our soul is united with the body, penetrates it, enlivens it, and makes one united whole with it, as body and soul make one living human being. Therefore, in fasting bodily we must at the same time fast spiritually: Brothers, in fasting bodily let us also fast spiritually, severing all union with unrighteousness," the Holy Church enjoins us.
The main thing in fasting bodily is restraint from abundant, tasty and sweet foods: the main thing in fasting spiritually is restraint from passionate, sinful movements that indulge our sensual inclinations and vices. The former is renunciation of the more nourishing foods for fasting food, which is less nourishing; the latter is the renunciation of our favorite sins for exercise in the virtues which opposes them.
The essence of the fast is expressed in the following Church hymn: "If you fast from food, my soul, but are not purified of the passions, in vain do we comfort ourselves by not eating. For if the fast does not bring correction, then it will be hateful to God as false, and you will be like unto the evil demons, who never eat."
"Every Orthodox Christian is aware and generally knows the reason behind the fasts for Holy Pascha and Holy Nativity (Christmas). But while they may know of the Dormition Fast, few follow it, and more than a few question why it is there, neither knowing its purpose. First, given the pervasive misunderstanding of the purpose of fasting itself, a refresher on its purpose is always a good idea. There is a perception that we should fast when we want something, as though the act of fasting somehow appeases God, and seeing us "suffer" gets Him to grant our request. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is not our fasting that pleases God, it is the fruits of our fast (provided we fast in the proper mind set and do not merely diet) that pleases Him. We fast, not to get what we want, but to prepare ourselves to receive what God wants to give us. The purpose of fasting is to bring us more in line with another Mary, the sister of St. Lazarus, and away from their sister Martha, who is the famous passage was "anxious and troubled about many things." Fasting is intended to bring us to the realization of "the one thing needful."It is to help us put God first and our desires second, if not last. As such it serves to prepare us to be instruments of God's Will, as with Moses in his flight from Egypt and on Mt. Sinai, as well as our Lord's fast in the wilderness. Fasting turns us away from ourselves and toward God. In essence it helps us become like the Theotokos, an obedient servant of God, who heard His word and kept it better than anyone else has or could.
So why do we fast before Dormition? In a close-knit family, word that its matriarch is on her deathbed brings normal life to a halt. Otherwise important things (parties, TV, luxuries, personal desires) become unimportant; life comes to revolve around the dying matriarch. It is the same with the Orthodox family, word that Our Matriarch is on her deathbed, could not (or at least should not) have any different effect than the one just mentioned. The Church, through the Paraklesis (Supplication) service, gives us the opportunity to come to that deathbed and eulogize and entreat the woman who bore God, the vessel of our salvation and our Chief Advocate at His Divine Throne. And as, in the earthly family, daily routines and the indulgence in personal wants should come to a halt. Fasting, in its full sense (abstaining from food and passions) accomplishes this. Less time in leisure or other pursuits leaves more time for prayer and reflection on her who gave us Christ, and became the first and greatest Christian. In reflecting on her and her incomparable life, we see a model of Christian life, embodying Christ's retort to the woman who stated that Mary was Blessed because she bore Him: Blessed rather are those who hear His word and keep it. Mary did this better than anyone. As Father Thomas Hopko has stated, she heard the word of God and kept it so well, that she of all women in history was chosen not only to hear His word but give birth to it (Him). So while we fast in contemplation of her life, we are simultaneously preparing ourselves to live a life in imitation of her. That is the purpose of the Holy Dormition Fast.
"When the assumption of thine undefiled body was being prepared, the Apostles gazed on thy bed, viewing thee with trembling. Some contemplated thy body and were dazzled, but Peter cried out to thee in tears, saying, I see thee clearly, O Virgin, stretched out, O Life of all, and I am astonished, O thou undefiled one, in whom the bliss of future life dwelt, beseech thy Son and God to preserve thy people unimpaired." (Sticheron after the Gospel, Orthros).
[Source: Reader Daniel Manzuk]
Apolytikion (First Tone)
In giving birth you preserved your virginity, In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos. You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.
Kontakion (Second Tone)
Neither the tomb, nor death hold the Theotokos, Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, She was translated to life by the One Who dwelt in her virginal womb.
Please note: Orthodox Christians give the officiating priest the Orthodox baptismal names of their living relatives and friends to be prayed for during the 14 days of the Holy Dormition Fast.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God