The Dormition of the Most-Holy Mother of God According to the Orthodox Church

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True 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.

THE DORMITION OF THE MOST-HOLY MOTHER OF GOD

The Feast of the Dormition (Koimisis) of the Theotokos is the commemoration of the falling asleep, burial, resurrection, and translation of the Theotokos in the body.

HISTOICAL BACKGROUND OF THE FEAST

The Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is one of the oldest Marian feasts in the Church. The roots of the feast go back to Jerusalem where the holy Apostles and the Christians of Jerusalem honored and kept the memory of the falling asleep (death) of the Theotokos. Consequently, quickly, her empty tomb, in Gethsemane, become a destination for pilgrims from Jerusalem and the surrounding neighborhoods.

After the dogmatization of the doctrine of the Divine Motherhood of the Ever-Virgin Mary in the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 AD), the commemoration of the falling asleep of the Theotokos became more popular amongst Christians in the vast majority of the Christian world.

In the late 6th century, in the year 588 AD, the Emperor Maurice officially adopted the commemoration of the Feat of the Dormition of the Theotokos into the liturgical calendar in the entire Byzantine Empire, and commanded that it be celebrated on August 15th.

In the second half of the 7th century, the feast of the Dormition appeared in the Latin West under the influence of the Orthodox East. It was accepted in Rome under Pope Sergius 1st (687-701 AD), and from Rome it passed to the rest of Europe.

Up until the end of the 9th century, the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos was preceded by two periods of fasting: first, before the feast of the Transfiguration (August 1-5) and second, after the feast of the Transfiguration (August 7-15th). In the 10th century, the two fasting periods were merged into one, which includes 14 fasting days beginning on August 1st through August 14th.

THE NARRATIVE OF THE FEAST

The man sources of the narrative of the feast of the Dormition is based on the oral and written Holy Tradition of the Church, which include: the writings of the Saints Dionysios the Areopagite, Saint John the Damascene and Saint Andrew of Crete; the hymnography and iconography of the Church, in addition to an apocryphal narrative of the feast by Saint John the Theologian.

According to the Holy Orthodox Tradition, the Ever-Virgin Mary lived after Pentecost in the house of the holy Apostle John in Jerusalem. As the Mother of the Lord, she became the source of encouragement and help for the holy Apostles and all Christians.

Three days before her death, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Every-Virgin Mary and revealed to her the date of her departure into eternal life. Immediately the Theotokos returned to her home and prepared herself for this event through fasting and prayer.

On the day of her repose, even though the holy Apostles were scattered throughout the world, they were miraculously transported to be at her side. Exceptionally, the holy Apostle Thomas did not arrive on time to bid final farewell to the Theotokos.

The liturgical text of the Feast of the Dormition depicts the feast as a Paschal event. The hymns of the feast assert that the Ever-Virgin Mary experienced her own personal Pascha by passing through death and rising to eternal life. Being alive in heaven, as a Queen and Mother of Christ, we, now can ask her intercessions to help us transform our own forthcoming death into a Paschal victory over death.

In the Ecclesiastical tradition, the feast of the Theotokos is called the "Summer Pascha." This name is derived from the fact that the Theotokos experienced her own Pascha; "Passover" from this life into life eternal.

Saint John of Damascus confirms the Paschal nature of the Feast of the Dormition by calling the death of the Theotokos: "The Deathless Death". He calls it the deathless death because of the fact that death resulted in her translation (metastasis) into life eternal, into glorification and union with the Lord. "O how does the source of life pass through death to life? She dies according to the flesh, destroys death by death, and through corruption gains incorruption, and make her death the source of resurrection" (Saint John of Damascus).

The Dormition (Koimisis) of the Theotokos is a confirmation of the resurrection of Christ and source of hope for the faithful in the promise of their personal resurrection, their personal Pascha. The death of the Theotokos and her translation (metastasis) into heaven confirms the Divine promise of Christ to His faithful children that they will enjoy life eternal in everlasting communion with God. 

What a paradox! While this holy Feast is called the "Falling Asleep (Koimisis) of the Theotokos," it is in reality a celebration of her life and victory over death. It is a celebration of her "passover" from this life into life eternal. It is a celebration of the confirmation of the promise of our resurrection in Christ. Amen!

Saint John was the son of the Prophet Zacharias and Elizabeth, who was a cousin of the Ever-Virgin Mary. Saint John is known as the "Forerunner" and "Baptist". He is known as the Forerunner because he preceded Christ and taught repentance, which prepared men for Jesus' teaching and His earthly Ministry. He even recognized Christ as the Messiah as early as when they were both still in their mothers' wombs. According to Holy Tradition, the Ever-Virgin Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth and when they embraced John leapt in his mother's womb, which is considered his first acknowledgement of Christ as Messiah.

After his birth, Saint John's father Zacharias was murdered in the temple. He and his mother fled to the desert and he was raised there. Thus he lived as an ascetic from the earliest part of his life. He ate plants and roots and wore rough clothing. When he grew, he baptized people in the Jordan, teaching repentance, but also saying that someone greater would come after him and baptize with the Holy Spirit.

The hymnography and liturgical text of the Feast of the Dormition portrays the Feast as mystical eschatological, and paschal in nature. The hymnography of the Feast envisions the Dormition of the Theotokos as an eschatological even that confirms the destruction of Hades and the defeat of death. The Dormition of the Theotokos confirms the reality of the transformation of death from a fearful enemy into a joyous passage to eternal life.

Just as we approach Pascha with reverence and prepare our hearts for that glorious celebration, so too we eagerly await this "Summer Pascha." As we look longingly towards the Feast of Dormition, we expect to encounter Life; but before we rush headlong into Life we must first taste of Death (following Christ's pattern). Thus, we keep a strict two-week fast which begins, appropriately, with a Feast of the Cross. The Dormition Fast--within which we behold the glory of Christ's Transfiguration (Metamorphosis) on August 6th--leads us right into the Feast of the Holy Dormition, which becomes for us the promise of the Resurrection and Life everlasting in Christ, with the Theotokos and all those who have learned to love Him.

"As for the tradition concerning the assumption of the body of the Mother of God: the belief in the assumption of her body after its burial does exist in the Orthodox Church. It is expressed in the content of the service for the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and also in the Confession of the Jerusalem Council of the Eastern Patriarchs in 1672. Saint John Damascene in his second homily on the Dormition relates that once the Empress Pulcheria (5th century), who had built a church in Constantinople, asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Jevenalius, a participant in the Council of Chalcedon, for relics of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to place in the church.) Jevenalius replied that, in accordance with ancient traditions, the body of the Mother of God had been taken to heaven, and he joined to this reply the well-known accounts of how the holy Apostles had been assembled in miraculous fashion for the burial of the Mother of God, how after the arrival of the Apostle Thomas her grave had been opened and her body was not there, and how it has been revealed to the Apostles that her body had ascended to heaven. Written Church testimonies on this subject date in general to a relatively late period (not earlier than the 6th century), and the Orthodox Church, with all its respect for them, does not ascribe to them the significance of a dogmatic source. The Church, accepting the tradition of the ascension of the body of the Mother of God, has not regarded and does not regard this pious tradition as one of the fundamental truths or dogmas of the Christian faith." (Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology)

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymns of the Dormition of the Theotokos

In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity; in thy dormition thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos. Thou was translated unto life, since thou art the Mother of Life; and by thine intercessions does thou redeem our souls from death.

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The Nativity of the Theotokos

Thy nativity, O Theotokos, hath proclaimed joy to the world, for from thee hath dawned the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, annulling the curse, and bestowing the blessing, abolishing death and granting us life everlasting.

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The Entry of the Theotokos

Today is the prelude of God's good will and the heralding of the salvation of mankind. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and she proclaimeth Christ unto all. To her, with a great voice let us cry aloud: Rejoice, O thou fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.

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The Meeting of the Lord

Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, O Virgin Theotokos, for from thee hath risen the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, enlightening those in darkness. Rejoice thou also, O righteous elder, as thou receiveth in thine arms the Redeemer of our souls, Who also granteth unto us the Resurrection.

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The Annunciation of the Theotokos

Today is the fountainhead of our salvation and the manifestation of the mystery which was from eternity. The Son of God becometh the Virgin's Son, and Gabriel proclaimeth the good tidings of grace; for this cause, we also cry to the Mother of God with him: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee.

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KONTAKION FOR THE THEOTOKOS

O protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame, meditation unto the Creator most constant: we sinners beg you, do not despise the voices ofour prayers, O despise not the suppliant voices of those who have sinned, but be thou quick, O good one, to come unto our aid, who in faith cry unto thee: Hasten to intercession, and speed thou to make supplication, thou who dost ever protect, O Theotokos, them that honor thee.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George