Dormition of the Mother of God
Luke 10:38–42, 11:27–28
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, with great joy, we celebrate the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God. And it would be exceedingly beneficial to all of us if we spend a few moments contemplating on this event and the way in which the Orthodox Church describes this event. And the best to contemplate this event is through the Orthodox icon of the Dormition of the Holy Mother. There we see the Holy Mother laying on her deathbed, surrounded by the college of the Apostles and the heavenly Hosts, and in the centre in the midst of all is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who embraces her life, her soul, which is symbolised by a small child, which is full of purity and full of joy. And this reminds us that death is not a division, death is not the end, but death means union, death is an experience of an encounter.
In the event of the Dormition of the Holy Mother, we experience death as joy, as union, as encounter. The Holy Mother experiences this event of this act of dying as an act of living. She spends her whole life devoted to the Lord and listening to his word. We are even told in the Tradition of the Church that, when she was a young girl, at three years of age, she was introduced into the Holy of Holies. And until she was betrothed to Joseph, she spent all her days there listening to Scripture. There is another tradition that says that she was always very attending to the word and on listening and reading the Word of God, a great desire grew within her, especially when she would hear the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. And her desire was to be a servant to the woman who would give birth to the Messiah. She would often hear the prophecy of Isaiah, that the Virgin would give birth to a child named Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’. “Let me be the servant of this woman, of this virgin”.
But we know, as we are told in the Gospels, that when the Archangel Gabriel descended from heaven and visited her he proclaimed that she would be the Mother, not the servant but the Mother of the Lord. “Thou hast found great favour with the Lord, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Such is the blessing of “the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly” but who “meditates day and night” on the word of the Lord. Such a person is like, as we read in the Psalms, “a tree planted by the rivers of water that bringeth forth his fruit in his season” (cf. Psalm 1).
The Holy Mother “kept all these words in her heart” (Luke 2:19) and when the Lord walked upon the earth and taught, and people proclaimed the wonders of her Son, our Lord himself blesses her. And we heard today in the Scripture how a woman, full of joy and enthusiasm, raised her voice and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and blessed are the breasts that you sucked”. And Jesus turns and says, “Indeed, she is blessed, but blessed are also those that follow and hear the Word of God and keep the Word of God”. They observe it in their life. Observing and keeping the Word means to guard it with your life, and to allow the Word of God to become the Law of your life. Jesus is in a way praising his Mother, but in an indirect way, so that he can embrace and encompass every other individual who wishes to follow the same path. She is blessed because she was attentive to the Word of God, and not only did she pay attention to the Word, but she gave birth to the Word of God.
In Greek we use the term Logos, and the word logos implies not only the spoken or written word, but it also implies the very cause, the reason why we exist. Logos means the reason, therefore in the Gospel of John we encounter how the Word is associated with person of Jesus, which means that he is the very reason why we exist. Many times we ask the question, “Who am I? Why do I exist? What is my purpose?” Everyone wants to know their purpose. This is a godly given gift, this desire to know one’s purpose. The answer to this question in John is the name Jesus, which is associated with the word Logos. Jesus is the root of all that exists. So if we put our faith in him, then we will receive the answer to that existential question.
But we also understand that to be blessed, means to be eternal. Blessed is someone who lives eternally, because the word blessed is a word that is attached only the divine being. That’s why, when Jesus says that someone is blessed, that means this person will live eternally. For this reason, we notice how the Dormition is transformed, not into an event that implies the end of one’s life, but the beginning of one’s life. The act of dying becomes the act of living. Therefore, in a similar way, if we follow that same path, the act of dying will become the act of living. Death will not imply the end, but the beginning of a new life.
Perhaps that’s why the Church celebrates the Dormition right at the end of the Church year, which is in August. For in September we have the beginning of the new ecclesiastical year, and it is there we celebrate the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos. So here, even in the cycle of services and events, the Church wants to convey to us that, even though we might reach the end of our life, the end of our year, that is immediately transformed into a new beginning. Amen.
Archimandrite Chrysostomos Michaelides