On The Dormition: Part 1

Troparion: Dance with joy, O peoples! Clap your hands with gladness! Gather today with fervor & jubilation; sing with exultation. The Mother of God is about to rise in glory, ascending from earth to heaven. We ceaselessly praise her in song as truly Theotokos.

Kontakion: Today the universe dances with joy at your glorious memorial, & cries out to you, O Mother of God: “Rejoice, O Virgin, pride of Christians!”

icon dormitionEvery August 15th, the Orthodox celebrate the last great feast of the liturgical year, The Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Most-Holy Theotokos. Roman Catholics also celebrate a very similar feast called The Assumption of Mary, although the Roman Catholic beliefs differ. It is noteworthy to mention that the first feast of the liturgical year, which begins September 1st, commemorates her birth—The Nativity of the Theotokos—celebrated September 8th. The Orthodox prepare for the great feast by undergoing a 2-week fasting period from August 1-14, the Dormition Fast, with the same ascetic obligations & dietary restrictions as the Great Lenten Fast preceding Pascha (Easter).

It is believed that both the Greek East & Latin West commemorated the Ever-Virgin with a liturgy either the day before or the day after Christmas by the end of the 4th c. The Armenians were commemorating her at the Church of the Kathisma on August 15 in Jerusalem earlier than this according to an ancient Armenian lectionary compiled between 412-439 AD. Another record of the Dormition being celebrated on August 15th in Palestine dates to 377AD in which Epiphanius of Salamis wrote of it in his work Panarion. In his work he defended the Virgin’s veneration from two opposing groups. First were the “Antidikomarianitai” (Opponents of Mary) who denied her perpetual virginity. The other group was the “Collyridians” who took her veneration to excess regarding her as a goddess with a quasi-Eucharistic liturgy in her honor. The Dormition was celebrated throughout the East by the end of the 6th c & in the West in the 8th c.*

The Third Ecumenical Council, Council of Ephesus held in 431AD repudiated the heresies of Pelagianism & Nestorianism, reaffirmed the Nicene Creed & declared the Virgin Mary to be Theotokos—God-Bearer. The heretic Nestorius, originator of the heresy of Nestorianism, also rejected the title Theotokos, a title already in common usage throughout the Church, claiming that it was only proper to call her Christokos—Christ-Bearer. The Fourth Ecumenical Council, Council of Chalcedon held in 451 AD rejected Monophysitism declaring that Christ was fully-God begotten of God the Father & fully-man born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. After these two councils the devotion & veneration of the Theotokos along with her feasts began to develop rapidly throughout the Church, both East & West, as is attested to by the numerous homilies preached, hymns written & churches built in her honor.

The veneration of & feasts commemorating the Theotokos have as their basis the doctrines of the Trinity as well as the Incarnation. One’s perspective of her veneration (not only acceptance or rejection thereof, but extreme acceptance or rejection as well) is actually a direct reflection of one’s deeper understanding (or lack thereof) of the doctrines of the Trinity & the Incarnation, of God & of Christ. This is also true by extension concerning the veneration of icons & saints as well as the Real Presence, deification/theosis, mysteries/sacraments & etc.

In the Orthodox Church the experiences & example of the Theotokos commemorated in her Dormition, as well as all of her feasts, are applicable to us. Her feasts are our feasts. Her life is our life. Her example is our example to emulate. She exemplified love—so are we to love. She had her role in our salvation—so do we have our roles. She was chaste & Ever-Virgin—so are we to be chaste & pure. She was without sin in word, deed & thought—in such are we to be without sin. She suffered—so we too must suffer. She practiced great humility, holiness & virtue—such are we exhorted to practice. She had need of & was saved through her son—just as we have need of & are saved. She died bodily—just as we will die bodily. She was glorified & assumed by her son—so we too will be glorified & assumed. Through the humanity of the Theotokos—the New Eve—the Mystery of her son Jesus Christ becomes for us our mystery—our salvation—our humanity.

*    On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies (Popular Patristics Series #18), Brian E. Daley, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, pp. 5-6.

Festal Hymns of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos

Troparion: In giving birth you preserved your virginity, In falling 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.

Kontakion: Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos, Who is constant in prayer & 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.

Learn More:

On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies (Popular Patristics Series #18), Brian E. Daley, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998.

Jacob of Serug: On the Mother of God (Popular Patristics Series #19), Mary Hansbury, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998.

Wider Than Heaven: 8th c. Homilies on the Mother of God (Popular Patristics Series #35), Mary B. Cunningham, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008.

Harp of Glory: Enzira Sebhat—An Alphabetical Hymn of Praise for the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (Popular Patristics Series #39), John Anthony McGuckin, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2010.

Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by St. Gregory Palamas, Christopher Veniamin, Mt. Thabor Publishing, 2005.

The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God & Ever-Virgin Mary, Orthodox Church in America website

Sermon on the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos by St. John of Kronstadt, Orthodox Church in America website

Sermons on the 12 Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church in America website

Dormition of the Theotokos from Fr. Thomas Hopko’s Rainbow Series, Vol. 2: Worship, The Church Year, Orthodox Church in America website

The rest of the Rainbow Series can be found online here: http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith


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