Blessed Feast of the Dormition!
” For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” – from the Song of Mary in Luke, Chapter 1
The Feast of the Dormition (in some churches called the Assumption) is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on August 15th. This Feast is when we celebrate the falling asleep in the Lord of the Theotokos. The Theotokos died peacefully, of old age. All of the apostles, except Thomas, were miraculously transported to her bedside before her death and burial.
Today is a marvelous feast, however I am reminded of many years when I would not have found this day marvelous, but possibly even possibly idolatrous. A few years ago, a priest told me that when one had trouble with venerating that Theotokos, “they generally have a problem with their Christology.” This was freeing to me because, as a former Protestant, I needed to see and feel how everything linked backed to Christ. Shortly after, I read the book The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God written by St. John Maximovich and edited by Blessed Seraphim Rose which is a wonderful book demonstrating how Christians have venerated Mary throughout history. But I can testify that priest was correct…since better grasping the role of the Theotokos, I better understand the Incarnation of Christ as well as what Christ is calling us to in our lives.
In the Orthodox Church, we do not worship Mary or replace Christ with her. But we are amazed that God would choose her to be His Mother! The Protestant Church likes to focus on the fact that an ordinary human gave birth to Christ, and how lowly God condescended to us…which is true. But they are missing the fact that Mary was not an ordinary human, but an extraordinary one. We do not replace Christ with her, but recognize her as the ultimate example of how to worship Christ. We consider her the greatest of all of the Saints. (Luke 1:30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.)
And now it seems I am nearly quoting the amazing sermon given after Vespers tonight where our priest said, without Saints there is almost no proof of the Gospel! Saints are not meant to distract us from Jesus, but are proof of the perfection that can take place when Christ works in us and we are united to Christ! The Saints are proof of the Gospel, not a distraction from it! Even Protestants use the term spiritual walk. In the Orthodox Church, we believe that while in their earthly bodies a few people reach to the heights of their spiritual walk on earth and we call them Saints. Accordingly to OrthodoxWiki, a Saint “is one who is holy, that is, set apart for God’s service. It is a person who has cooperated with God’s grace to the extent that his or her holiness is beyond doubt.” (2nd Corinthian 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.) The Theotokos is the greatest of these Saints as her body became the literal “holy of holies” that was prefigured in the Old Testament. It was not a small thing that her body housed Christ…this helps me remember how awesome it is that Christ is both fully human and fully God. (As a site note, I am remembering a dear friend told me in my early Orthodox days, “There is a reason why God chose Mary specifically to be His Mother.”)
Within Orthodox Holy Tradition we also become aware of Mary’s parents. St. Joachim and St. Anna were devout Jews and experienced barrenness for decades. Finally, they were granted one child – the Mother of God who later gave birth to Christ. St. Joachim and Anna later brought the Theokokos to the Temple where she grew up until she was betrothed to St. Joseph. The Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple is celebrated on November 21 each year. This is not in the Bible, so it would take faith and understanding of Orthodox Christian Holy Tradition to appreciate this history, but one could and should certainly venerate Mary nonetheless. (Details here). For me, it reinforces the fact that the Incarnation of Christ was a mysterious way to save humanity – Our Father in Heaven was slowly weaving his beautiful saving story into humanity. (Orthodox Christians do not believe in substitutionary atonement, but believe Christ came to save us from the death of sin. More here. In other words, God’s wrath wasn’t going to kill us, sin inevitably was and the body and blood of Christ is our antidote. More here. )
As you learn more about the Theotokos and the other Saints of the church, your heart will grow and have more room for Christ than before – not the other way around. Imagine a huge kingdom with a castle and a great King…filled the Holiest Handmaiden, other Handmaidens and Noblemen…is the King any less? No – but how much greater He seems! His army is so big and powerful! And there are many people to get to know and learn about!
I often wonder how my childhood would have been different had I learned about Saints. Sometimes I also think of the Saints like a family. Maybe somedays you connect best with your Father, other days your Mother, other days a brother or sister, or another brother? Don’t we all believe there is a Heavenly family is heaven? Maybe at certain times of your life, you will lean more strongly on one Saint or another, but who is at the top of the family is Christ. For “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)
Lord, Have Mercy on us!
Luke 1: 46-55
The Song of Mary
46 And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
54 He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”