Monday, August 15, 2011

Notes on the Dormition of the Theotokos.

For today's Feast of the Dormition, here are some reflections by Father Alexander Schmemann, taken from the third volume of his collected sermons:
In August the Church celebrates the end of Mary's earthly life, her death, known as her Falling Asleep or Dormition, a word in which dream, blessedness, peace, calm and joy are all united.

We know nothing of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mary, Jesus Christ's mother. Various stories, embellished with childlike love and tenderness, have come down to us from early Christianity, but precisely because of their variety we are under no compulsion to defend the "historicity" of any one of them. On Dormition the Church's commemoration and love are centered not on the historical and factual context, not on the date and place where this singular woman, this Mother of all mothers completed her earthly life. Wherever and whenever it occurred, the Church looks instead at the essence and meaning of her death, commemorating the death of the one whose Son, according to our faith, conquered death, was raised from the dead and promised us final resurrection and the victory of undying life.

Her death is best explained through the Dormition icon placed in the center of the church on that day as the focus of the entire celebration. The Mother of God has died and lies on her deathbed. Christ's apostles have gathered around her, and above her stands Christ himself, holding his mother in his arms, where she is alive and eternally united with him. Here we see both death and what has already come to pass in this particular death: not rupture, but union; not sorrow, but joy; and most profoundly, not death, but life. "After giving birth you remained a Virgin and after falling asleep you remained alive," sings the Church, gazing at this icon. "In giving birth you preserved your virginity, in falling asleep you did not forsake the world . . ."

The words of one of the deepest and most beautiful prayers addressed to Mary now come to mind. "Rejoice, bright dawn of the mystical Day!" (Akathist Hymn). The light which pours from the Dormition comes precisely from that never-ending, mystical Day. In contemplating this death and standing at this deathbed we understand that death is no more, that a person's very act of dying has now become an act of living, the entrance into a larger life, where life reigns. She who gave herself completely to Christ, who loved him to the end, is met by him at these radiant gates of death, and there at once death is turned into joyful meeting - life is triumphant, joy and love rule over all.
Prayers and good wishes for all on this bright feast. AMDG.


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