REV. DANIEL ROHAN Grasping Mary's connection to all people
The feast of the Dormition, or Falling-asleep, of the Theotokos is celebrated Sunday.
Theotokos refers to the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God or the one who Bears God in the Orthodox Church. This feast, which is sometimes called the Assumption, commemorates the death, resurrection and glorification of Christ's mother. It proclaims that Mary has been "assumed" by God into the heavenly kingdom of Christ in the fullness of her spiritual and bodily existence.
The tradition of the church says that Mary died as all people die, not "voluntarily" as her Son, but is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world.
The Orthodox Church teaches that at the Annunciation, Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary and she accepted to carry Christ. It was only then that she was freed from all personal sins.
Mother of Life
In the Gospel of the feast, however, in the liturgical services and in the Dormition icon, the church proclaims as well that Mary truly needed to be saved by Christ as all human beings are saved from trials, sufferings and death of this world; and that having truly died, she was raised up by her son as the Mother of Life and participates already in the eternal life of paradise which is prepared and promised to all who "bear the word of God and keep it." (Luke 11:27-28)
The services today and Sunday repeat the main theme, that the Mother of Life has "passed over into the heavenly joy, into the divine gladness and unending delight" of the Kingdom of her Son.
The Old Testament readings, as well as the gospel readings for the Vigil and Divine Liturgy, are exactly the same as those for the Orthodox feasts of the Virgin's nativity, Sept. 8, and her entrance into the Temple, Nov. 21.
Thus, at the Vigil we again hear Mary say, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God My Savior," (Luke 1:47) At the Divine Liturgy we hear the letter to the Philippians where St. Paul speaks of the self-emptying of Christ who condescends to servitude and death in order to be "highly exalted" by God, his Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
And once again we hear in the Gospel that Mary's blessedness belongs to all who "hear the word of God and keep it." (Luke 11:27-28)
Thus, the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is the celebration of the fact that all people are "highly exalted" in the blessedness of the victorious Christ, and that this high exaltation has already been accomplished in Mary the Theotokos.
The Feast of the Dormition is the sign, the guarantee, the celebration that Mary's fate is the destiny of "low estate" whose souls magnify the Lord, whose spirits rejoice in God the Savior, whose lives are totally dedicated to hearing and keeping the Word of God which is given humanity in Mary's child, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
Finally it must be stressed that in all of the feasts of the virgin Mother of God in the Church, the Orthodox Christians celebrate facts of their own lives in Christ and Holy Spirit. What happens to Mary happens to all who imitate her holy life in humility, obedience, and love. With her all people will be blessed to be "more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim" if they follow her example.
Image of the church
All will have Christ born in them by the Holy Spirit. All will became temples of the living God. All will share in the eternal life of his Kingdom who live the life Mary lived.
In this sense, everything that is praised and glorified in Mary is a sign of what is offered to all people in the life of the church. It is for this reason that Mary, with the divine child Jesus within, is called in the Orthodox Tradition the Image of the Church.
It is the custom on this feast day to bless flowers or place them on the tomb in which there is a procession with a burial shroud of the Holy Theotokos.
XThe Rev. Daniel Rohan is the pastor at St. Mark Orthodox Church, Liberty.