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Dormition of the Theotokos

The feast of the Dor­mi­tion or Falling-asleep of the Theotokos is cel­e­brat­ed on the fif­teenth of August, pre­ced­ed by a two-week fast. This feast, which is also 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.

As with the nativ­i­ty of the Vir­gin and the feast of her entrance to the tem­ple, there are no bib­li­cal or his­tor­i­cal sources for this feast. The Tra­di­tion of the Church is that Mary died as all peo­ple die, not “vol­un­tar­i­ly” as her Son, but by the neces­si­ty of her mor­tal human nature which is indi­vis­i­bly bound up with the cor­rup­tion of this world.

The Ortho­dox Church teach­es that Mary is with­out per­son­al sins. 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 per­sons are saved from the 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 “hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:27–28)

In giv­ing birth, you pre­served your vir­gin­i­ty. In fail­ing 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. (Tropar­i­on)

Nei­ther the tomb, nor death, could 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. (Kon­takion)

The ser­vices of the feast 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. (Ves­per verse) The Old Tes­ta­ment read­ings, as well as the gospel read­ings for the Vig­il and the Divine Litur­gy, are exact­ly the same as those for the feast of the Virgin’s nativ­i­ty and her entrance into the Tem­ple. Thus, at the Vig­il we again hear Mary say: “My soul mag­ni­fies the Lord and my Spir­it rejoic­es in God my Sav­iour.” (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 human servi­tude and igno­ble 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 men 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, and the cel­e­bra­tion that Mary’s fate is, the des­tiny of all those of “low estate” whose souls mag­ni­fy the Lord, whose spir­its rejoice in God the Sav­iour, whose lives are total­ly ded­i­cat­ed to hear­ing and keep­ing the Word of God which is giv­en to men in Mary’s child, the Sav­iour 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 the Holy Spir­it. What hap­pens to Mary hap­pens to all who imi­tate her holy life of 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. All will have Christ born in them by the Holy Spir­it. All will become tem­ples of the liv­ing God. All will share in the eter­nal life of His King­dom who live the life that Mary lived.

In this sense every­thing that is praised and glo­ri­fied in Mary is a sign of what is offered to all per­sons in the life of the Church. It is for this rea­son that Mary, with the divine child Jesus with­in her, is call in the Ortho­dox Tra­di­tion the Image of the Church. For the assem­bly of the saved is those in whom Christ dwells.

It is the cus­tom in some church­es to bless flow­ers on the feast of the Dor­mi­tion of the Holy Theotokos.