by Elder Efraim Vatopaidinos
Every time we celebrate the Dormition of the Mother of God, it’s like Easter all over again; the summer Easter. Our Lady the Mother of God prepares this Easter, this ‘glorious Passover from death unto life’, for us. A second Passover, holy, spotless, life-giving for the human race, because truly, today, ‘the terms of nature are overcome’.
Saint John the Damascan cried aloud: ‘How the source of life goes towards life by passing through death!’ The death of the Mother who was the source of life for the Lord Himself transcends the notion of death, so that it’s not even called death but ‘dormition’ and ‘divine translation’, or a progression or procession towards the Lord. And even if we call it death, it’s still a death that’s life-bearing, since it moves on to the heavenly and immortal life.
The translation of the Mother of God as an unequivocal event which has been preserved in sacred Tradition, has been incorporated into the teaching of the Orthodox Church and has no connection with the pietist Western doctrines of the immaculate conception and deathless end to her life on earth.
The Virgin was that special creation of God who transcended all other people and the angels. Of all human beings, she alone lived a spotless life and- which is inconceivable for all rational beings- became the Mother of God. Because she’d never sinned, never submitted to any thoughts of indulgent pleasure, it was right that she didn’t live on earth with carnal pleasures or suffer from illnesses. Even though she had the body which gave birth to Life, as a human being she was still subject to the sickness of death and she did indeed die. But her body and soul were not separated from God. The connection which united them was briefly broken, as had happened in the case of Christ. Because, at the moment of the Dormition of His Mother, the Lord, accompanied by the celestial ranks of the angels and saints, took her holy soul not only into heaven, but as John the Damascan says, ‘to His own royal throne, to the celestial Holy of Holies’. Our Lady’s body, which received God and gave birth to Life, was transposed after three days to those places beyond the heavens, incorrupt, to her Only-Begotten and beloved Son.
A witness to this resurrection/translation of the Mother of God, was the Apostle Thomas, who had not been present at her holy burial, but, as usual, arrived late- three days in fact. He requested that the tomb be opened by the other apostles and when they did so they found that the body which had been glorified by God was no longer there. They did, however, see the Mother of God ascending to the heavens and giving Thomas her Precious and Holy Belt as evidence of her translation. This is somewhat similar to the event when the same disciple had felt the Lord’s wounds.
Our Lady’s body- like that of her Son- suffered no decay in the grave, that is it didn’t change, didn’t decompose into the material elements of which it was made. Moreover, after Christ’s resurrection, the bodies of many of His saints didn’t decay and have become partially incorrupt relics. How much more reasonable it is that the ‘dwelling which received God’, the Mother of God would not decay.
Saint Andrew of Crete says that the preservation of the Mother of God’s virginity at the birth of Christ has, as its natural concomitant, that her body would remain whole at the hour of her death. ‘Birth avoided degeneration and the grave didn’t welcome decay’.
After her dormition, the Mother of God became the Mother of the New Creation, of the Church of Christ. Since she had the central role in the plan for salvation, because the Lord, Who is the head of the Church, took flesh from her, she now has, in the celestial Church, the whole fulness of Grace, glory and boldness. She has become the benefactress of the whole of nature and creation, which is why she is venerated by the whole of creation as Maiden, Lady, Queen, and Mother of God.
Through the Mother of God and because of her, the history of the whole world entered onto a new path, incomparably more magnificent than and superior to that which had been there before. It wasn’t and isn’t possible for any thing created to be more perfect than her, nor could she herself have become more perfect than she was. According to the Fathers, there are three things that the almighty God could not have made more perfect: the Incarnation of the Divine Word; The Virgin Mother of God; and the bliss enjoyed by those who are saved.
Homily of St. Luke of Simferopol on the Dormition of the Theotokos
Each of us is tormented with the question: what will happen to us and what awaits us after death? A sure answer to this question we cannot find by ourselves. But the Holy Scripture, and first of all the word of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals the secret to us. It is also revealed by the apolytikion and kontakion of this great feast of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos, along with the church hymns that we chant at this feast.
I want all of you to understand why the death of the Most-Holy Theotokos and Virgin Mary is called “Dormition”. The great apostle John the Theologian, in the 20th chapter of the Revelation speaks of the first and second death. The first death, which alone is inescapable to all men, also awaits the saints and righteous ones. But the second, the fearsome and eternal death, awaits the great and unrepentant sinners, who denied the love and the righteousness of God and are condemned to eternity in communion with the devil and his angels.
In the Gospel of the same great apostle and evangelist John the Theologian, we read the words of Christ, which are very closely associated with those written in the Revelation: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24).
Do you hear this, do you understand this? I think that this probably strikes you as strange, that all those who are obedient to the word of Christ and believe in the Heavenly Father Who sent Him passes immediately after death to eternal life. There is no reason to judge those who have living faith in God and who follow his commandments.
And to the great twelve apostles, our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Amen, I say to you that you who follow me, in the age to come, when the Son of man sits upon his throne of glory, will also sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Judges and condemners the Apostles of Christ will be during the Terrible Judgment of God, and of course, we are totally unable to imagine the Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary being judged*, along with the Baptist of the Lord John, the great Prophets of God, Elias and Enoch whom God took to Heaven alive, all the countless mass of martyrs of Christ, the holy hierarchs and wonderworkers who were glorified by God, foremost being St. Nicholas, archbishop of Myra of Lycia.
[*Note: St. Luke is in no way denying Christ’s Awesome Judgment of all mankind at His Second Coming, but is saying that all the righteous made worthy of Paradise will join Christ and the Theotokos with body and soul in the New Heaven and New Earth of His eternal Kingdom.]
We are unable to pass the thought from our minds that they would be judged, they who heard from the mouth of Christ: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). In those great strugglers of Christ, as if in precious temples, dwelt the Holy Spirit. And while they were alive on earth, they were in close communion with God, for thus Christ said: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
The Most-Holy Virgin Mary was the spotless temple of the Savior in which dwelt the Holy Spirit, and from her most-holy womb the Son of God received his human body, He Who descended from the Heavens. Because of this, the bodily death is not death, but Dormition, in other words, an immediate passage from the Kingdom of God within to the Kingdom of the Heavens and to eternal life.
Something new just came to mind. In one of the previous sermons, I told you that we have every reason to believe that the body of the Most-Holy Theotokos, through the power of God, remained incorrupt and ascended to the heavens. The kontakion of the great feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos tells us this: “Neither the grave nor death could contain the Theotokos, the unshakable hope, ever vigilant in intercession and protection. As Mother of life, He who dwelt in the ever-virginal womb transposed her to life.”
Note that it says: “neither the grave nor death could contain her”. Think that, as we remember the Holy Scripture writes regarding the death of the greatest prophet of the Old Testement, Moses, in the 34th chaper of the book of Deuteronomy, that he died according to the word of God on Mount Nebo, and was buried in the land of Moab. They grave of this great prophet must have been a place of pilgrimage for the whole people of Israel. However in the Bible we read that: “no one knows of his tomb until the current day” (Deuteronomy 34:6). However, at the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor, Moses appeared to his Lord and Master, Jesus, together with the prophet Elias, who was seized alive into heaven.
I think that it would not be a sin to say that the body of the great Moses, as the body of the Most-Holy Theotokos, remained incorrupt.** Because of this his tomb is unknown.
[**Note: As is clear above, St. Luke acknowledges the distinction that the Theotokos (in accordance with Tradition) ascended bodily to Heaven following her Dormition, as opposed to the incorrupt bodies of the Saints, which await the general Resurrection.]
Let us think, brothers and sisters, about the blessed Dormition of the Most-Holy Virgin Mary and remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24). May God also make us sinners worthy to experience this great joy, through the joy and love for man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belong all glory and dominion with His beginningless Father and His All-Holy Spirit, unto the ages. Amen.
St Gregory Palamas Homily 37 – the Dormition of the Theotokos
“Both love and duty today fashion my homily for your charity. It is not only that I wish, because of my love for you, and because I am obliged by the sacred canons, to bring to your God-loving ears a saving word and thus to nourish your souls, but if there be any among those things that bind by obligation and love and can be narrated with praise for the Church, it is the great deed of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. The desire is double, not single, since it induces me, entreats and persuades me, whereas the inexorable duty constrains me, though speech cannot attain to what surpasses it, just as the eye is unable to look fixedly upon the sun. One cannot utter things which surpass speech, yet it is within our power by the love for mankind of those hymned, to compose a song of praise and all at once both to leave untouched intangible things, to satisfy the debt with words and to offer up the first fruits of our love for the Mother of God in hymns composed according to our abilities.
If, then, “death of the righteous man is honorable” (cf. Ps. 115:6) and the “memory of the just man is celebrated with songs of praise” (Prov. 10:7). How much more ought we to honor with great praises the memory of the holiest of the saints, she by whom all holiness is afforded to the saints, I mean the Ever-Virgin. Mother of God! Even so we celebrate today her holy dormition or translation to another life, whereby, while being “a little lower than angels” (Ps. 8:6), by her proximity to the God of all, and in the wondrous deeds which from the beginning of time were written down and accomplished with respect to her, she has ascended incomparably higher than the angels and the archangels and all the super-celestial hosts that are found beyond them. For her sake the God-possessed prophets pronounce prophecies, miracles are wrought to foreshow that future Marvel of the whole world, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. The flow of generations and circumstances journeys to the destination of that new mystery wrought in her; the statutes of the Spirit provide beforehand types of the future truth. The end, or rather the beginning and root, of those divine wonders and deeds is the annunciation to the supremely virtuous Joachim and Anna of what was to be accomplished: namely, that they who were barren from youth would beget in deep old age her that would bring forth without seed Him that was timelessly begotten of God the Father before the ages. A vow was given by those who marvelously begot her to return her that was given to the Giver; so accordingly the Mother of God strangely changed her dwelling from the house of her father to the house of God while still an infant . She passed not a few years in the Holy of Holies itself, wherein under the care of an angel she enjoyed ineffable nourishment such as even Adam did not succeed in tasting; for indeed if he had, like this immaculate one, he would not have fallen away from life, even though it was because of Adam and so that she might prove to be his daughter, that she yielded a little to nature, as did her Son, Who has now ascended from earth into heaven.
But after that unutterable nourishment, a most mystical economy of courtship came to pass as regards the Virgin, a strange greeting surpassing speech which the Archangel, descended from above, addressed to her, and disclosures and salutations from God which overturn the condemnation of Eve and Adam and remedy the curse laid on them, transforming it into a blessing. The King of all “hath desired a mystic beauty” of the Ever-Virgin, as David foretold (Ps. 44:11) and, “He bowed the heavens and came down” (Ps. 17:9) and overshadowed her, or rather, the enhypostatic Power of the Most High dwelt in her. Not through darkness and fire, as with Moses the God-seer, nor through tempest and cloud, as with Elias the prophet, did He manifest His presence, but without mediation, without a veil, the Power of the Most High overshadowed the sublimely chaste and virginal womb, separated by nothing, neither air nor aether nor anything sensible, nor anything supra-sensible: this was not an overshadowing but a complete union. Since what overshadows is always wont to produce its own form and figure in whatever is overshadowed, there came to pass in the womb not a union only, but further, a formation, and that thing formed from the Power of the Most High and the all-holy virginal womb was the incarnate Word of God. Thus the Word of God took up His dwelling in the Theotokos in an inexpressible manner and proceeded from her, bearing flesh. He appeared upon the earth and lived among men, deifying our nature and granting us, after the words of the divine Apostle, “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). This is the encomium which transcends nature and the surpassingly glorious glory of the Ever-Virgin, glory for which all mind and word suffice not, though they be angelic. But who can relate those things which came to pass after His ineffable birth? For, as she co-operated and suffered with that exalting condescension (kenosis) of the Word of God, she was also rightly glorified and exalted together with Him, ever adding thereto the supernatural increase of mighty deeds. And after the ascent into the heavens of Him that was incarnate of her, she rivaled, as it were, those great works, surpassing mind and speech, which through Him were her own, with a most valiant and diverse asceticism, and with her prayers and care for the entire world, her precepts and encouragements which she gave to God’s heralds sent throughout the whole world; thus she was herself both a support and a comfort while she was both heard and seen, and while she labored with the rest in every way for the preaching of the Gospel. In such wise she led a most strenuous manner of life proclaimed in mind and speech.
Therefore, the death of the Theotokos was also life-bearing, translating her into a celestial and immortal life and its commemoration is a joyful event and festivity for the entire world. It not merely renews the memory of the wondrous deeds of the Mother of God, but also adds thereto the strange gathering at her all-sacred burial of all the sacred apostles conveyed from every nation, the God-revealing hymns of these God-possessed ones, and the solicitous presence of the angels, and their choir, and liturgy round about her, going on before, following after, assisting, opposing, defending, being defended. They labored and chanted together to their uttermost with those who venerated that life- originating and God-receiving body, the saving balsam for our race and the boast of all creation; but they strove against and opposed with a secret hand the Jews who rose up against and attacked that body with hand and will set upon theomachy. All the while the Lord Sabaoth Himself, the Son of the Ever-Virgin, was present, into Whose hands she rendered her divinely-minded spirit, through which and with which its companion, her body, was translated into the domain of celestial and endless life, even as was and is fitting. In truth, many have been allotted divine favor and glory and power, as David says, “But to me exceedingly honorable are Thy friends, O Lord, their principalities are made exceeding strong. I will count them and they shall be multiplied more than the sand” (Ps. 138:17). And according to Solomon, “many daughters have attained wealth, many have wrought valiantly; but she doth exceed, she hath surpassed all, both men and women” (cf. Prov. 31:29). For while she alone stood between God and the whole human race, God became the Son of Man and made men sons of God; she made earth heavenly, she deified the human race, and she alone of all women was shown forth to be a mother by nature and the Mother of God transcending every law of nature, and by her ineffable childbirth-the Queen of all creation, both terrestrial and celestial. Thus she exalted those under her through herself, and, showing while on earth an obedience to things heavenly rather than things earthly, she partook of more excellent deserts and of superior power, and from the ordination which she received from heaven by the Divine Spirit, she became the most sublime of the sublime and the supremely blest Queen of a blessed race.
But now the Mother of God has her dwelling in Heaven where she was today translated, for this is meet, Heaven being a suitable place for her. She “stands at the right of the King of all clothed in a vesture wrought with gold and arrayed with divers colors” (cf. Ps. 44:9), as the psalmic prophecy says concerning her. By “vesture wrought with gold” understand her divinely radiant body arrayed with divers colors of every virtue. She alone in her body, glorified by God, now enjoys the celestial realm together with her Son. For, earth and grave and death did not hold forever her life-originating and God-receiving body -the dwelling more favored than Heaven and the Heaven of heavens. If, therefore, her soul, which was an abode of God’s grace, ascended into Heaven when bereaved of things here below, a thing which is abundantly evident, how could it be that the body which not only received in itself the pre-eternal and only-begotten Son of God, the ever-flowing Wellspring of grace, but also manifested His Body by way of birth, should not have also been taken up into Heaven? Or, if while yet three years of age and not yet possessing that super- celestial in-dwelling, she seemed not to bear our flesh as she abode in the Holy of Holies, and after she became supremely perfect even as regards her body by such great marvels, how indeed could that body suffer corruption and turn to earth? How could such a thing be conceivable for anyone who thinks reasonably’? Hence, the body which gave birth is glorified together with what was born of it with God-befitting glory, and the “ark of holiness” (Ps. 131:8) is resurrected, after the prophetic ode, together with Christ Who formerly arose from the dead on the third day. The strips of linen and the burial clothes afford the apostles a demonstration of the Theotokos’ resurrection from the dead, since they remained alone in the tomb and at the apostles’ scrutiny they were found there, even as it had been with the Master. There was no necessity for her body to delay yet a little while in the earth, as was the case with her Son and God, and so it was taken up straightway from the tomb to a super-celestial realm, from whence she flashes forth most brilliant and divine illuminations and graces, irradiating earth’s region; thus she is devotedly venerated and marveled at and hymned by all the faithful . Willing to set up an image of all goodness and beauty and to make clearly manifest His own therein to both angels and men, God fashioned a being supremely good and beautiful, uniting in her all good, seen and unseen, which when He made the world He distributed to each thing and thereby adorned all; or rather one might say, He showed her forth as a universal mixing bowl of all divine, angelic and human things good and beautiful and the supreme beauty which embellished both worlds. By her ascension now from the tomb, she is taken from the earth and attains to Heaven and this also she surpasses, uniting those on high with those below, and encompassing all with the wondrous deed wrought in her. In this manner she was in the beginning “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:6), as it is said, referring to her mortality, yet this only served to magnify her pre-eminence as regards all creatures. Thus all things today fittingly gather and commune for the festival.
It was meet that she who contained Him that fills all things and who surpasses all should outstrip all and become by her virtue superior to them in the eminence of her dignity. Those things which sufficed the most excellent among men that have lived throughout the ages in order to reach such excellency, and that which all those graced of God have separately, both angels and men, she combines, and these she alone brings to fulfillment and surpasses. And this she now has beyond all: That she has become immortal after death and alone dwells together with her Son and God in her body. For this reason she pours forth from thence abundant grace upon those who honor her-for she is a receptacle of great graces-and she grants us even our ability to look towards her. Because of her goodness she lavishes sublime gifts upon us and never ceases to provide a profitable and abundant tribute in our behalf. If a man looks towards this concurrence and dispensing of every good, he will say that the Virgin is for virtue and those who live virtuously, what the sun is for perceptible light and those who live in it. But if he raises the eye of his mind to the Sun which rose for men from this Virgin in a wondrous manner, the Sun which by nature possesses all those (lualities which were added to her nature by grace, he shall straightaway call the Virgin a heaven. The excellent inheritance of every good which she has been allotted so much exceeds in holiness the portion of those who are divinely graced both under and above heaven as the heaven is greater than the sun and the sun is more radiant than heaven.
Who can describe in words thy divinely resplendent beauty, O Virgin Mother of God? Thoughts and words are inadequate to define thine attributes, since they surpass mind and speech. Yet it is meet to chant hymns of praise to thee, for thou art a vessel containing every grace, the fullness of all things good and beautiful, the tablet and living icon of every good and all uprightness, since thou alone hast been deemed worthy to receive the fullness of every gift of the Spirit. Thou alone didst bear in thy womb Him in Whom are found the treasuries of all these gifts and didst become a wondrous tabernacle for Him; hence thou didst depart by way of death to immortality and art translated from earth to Heaven, as is proper, so that thou mightest dwell with Him eternally in a super-celestial abode. From thence thou ever carest diligently for thine inheritance and by thine unsleeping intercessions with Him, thou showest mercy to all.
To the degree that she is closer to God than all those who have drawn nigh unto Him, by so much has the Theotokos been deemed worthy of greater audience. I do not speak of men alone, but also of the angelic hierarchies themselves. Isaiah writes with regard to the supreme commanders of the heavenly hosts: “And the seraphim stood round about Him” (Isaiah 6:2); but David says concerning her, “at Thy right hand stood the queen” (Ps. 44:8). Do you see the difference in position? From this comprehend also the difference in the dignity of their station. The seraphim are round about God, but the only Queen of all is near beside Him. She is both wondered at and praised by God Himself, proclaiming her, as it were, by the mighty deeds enacted with respect to Him, and saying, as it is recorded in the Song of Songs, “How fair is my companion” (cf. Song of Songs 6:4), she is more radiant than light, more arrayed with flowers than the divine gardens, more adorned than the whole world, visible and invisible. She is not merely a companion but she also stands at God’s right hand, for where Christ sat in the heavens, that is, at the “right hand of majesty” (Heb. 1:3), there too she also takes her stand, having ascended now from earth into the heavens. Not merely does she love and is loved in return more than every other, according to the very laws of nature, but she is truly His Throne, and wherever the King sits, there His Throne is set also. And Isaiah beheld this throne amidst the choir of cherubim and called it “high” and “exalted” (Isaiah 6:1), wishing to make explicit how the station of the Mother of God far trancer Is that of the celestial hosts.
For this reason the Prophet introduces the angels themselves as glorifying the God come from her, saying, “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His Place” (Ezek. 3:12). Jacob the patriarch, beholding this throne by way of types (enigmata), said, “How dreadful is this Place! This is none other than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven” (Gen. 28:17). But David, joining himself to the multitude of the saved, who are like the strings of a musical instrument or like differing voices from different generations made harmonious in one faith through the Ever-Virgin, sounds a most melodic strain in praise of her, saying: “I shall commemorate thy name in every generation and generation. Therefore shall peoples give praise unto thee for ever, and unto the ages of ages.” Do you see how the entire creation praises the Virgin Mother, and not only in times past, but “for ever, and unto the ages of ages”? Thus it is evident that throughout the whole course of the ages, she shall never cease from benefacting all creation, and I mean not only created nature seen round about us, but also the very supreme commanders of the heavenly hosts, whose nature is immaterial and transcendent. Isaiah shows us clearly that it is only through her that they together with us both partake of and touch God, that Nature which defies touch, for he did not see the seraphim take the coal from the altar without mediation, but with tongs, by means of which the coal touched the prophetic lips and purified them (cf. Isaiah 6:6-7). Moses beheld the tongs of that great vision of Isaiah when he saw the bush aflame with fire, yet unconsumed. And who does not know that the Virgin Mother is that very bush and those very tongs, she who herself (though an archangel also assisted at the conception) conceived the Divine Fire without being consumed, Him that taketh away the sins of the world, Who through her touched mankind and by that ineffable touch and union cleansed us entirely. Therefore, she only is the frontier between created and uncreated nature, and there is no man that shall come to God except he be truly illumined through her, that Lamp truly radiant with divinity, even as the Prophet says, “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be shaken’(Ps. 45:5).
If recompense is bestowed according to the measure of love for God, and if the man who loves the Son is loved of Him and of His Father and becomes the dwelling place of Both, and They mystically abide and walk in him, as it is recorded in the Master’s Gospel, who, then, will love Him more than His Mother? For, He was her only-begotten Son, and moreover she alone among women gave birth knowing no spouse, so that the love of Him that had partaken of her flesh might be shared with her twofold. And who will the only-begotten Son love more than His Mother, He that came forth from Her ineffably without a father in this last age even as He came forth from the Father without a mother before the ages’? How indeed could He that descended to fulfill the Law not multiply that honor due to His Mother over and above the ordinances of the Law?
Hence, as it was through the Theotokos alone that the Lord came to us, appeared upon earth and lived among men, being invisible to all before this time, so likewise in the endless age to come, without her mediation, every emanation of illuminating divine light, every revelation of the mysteries of the Godhead, every form of spiritual gift, will exceed the capacity of every created being. She alone has received the all-pervading fullness of Him that filleth all things, and through her all may now contain it, for she dispenses it according to the power of each, in proportion and to the degree of the purity of each. Hence she is the treasury and overseer of the riches of the Godhead. For it is an everlasting ordinance in the heavens that the inferior partake of what lies beyond being, by the mediation of the superior, and the Virgin Mother is incomparably superior to all. It is through her that as many as partake of God do partake, and as many as know God understand her to be the enclosure of the Uncontainable One, and as many as hymn God praise her together with Him. She is the cause of what came before her, the champion of what came after her and the agent of things eternal. She is the substance of the prophets, the principle of the apostles, the firm foundation of the martyrs and the premise of the teachers of the Church . She is the glory of those upon earth, the joy of celestial beings, the adornment of all creation. She is the beginning and the source and root of unutterable good things; she is the summit and consummation of everything holy.
O divine, and now heavenly, Virgin, how can I express all things which pertain to thee? How can I glorify the treasury of all glory? Merely thy memory sanctifies whoever keeps it, and a mere movement towards thee makes the mind more translucent, and thou dost exalt it straightway to the Divine. The eye of the intellect is through thee made limpid, and through thee the spirit of a man is illumined by the sojourning of the Spirit of God, since thou hast become the steward of the treasury of divine gifts and their vault, and this, not in order to keep them for thyself, but so that thou mightest make created nature replete with grace. Indeed, the steward of those inexhaustible treasuries watches over them so that the riches may be dispensed; and what could confine that wealth which wanes not? Richly, therefore, bestow thy mercy and thy graces upon all thy people, this thine inheritance, O Lady! Dispel the perils which menace us. See how greatly we are expended by our own and by aliens, by those without and by those within. Uplift all by thy might: mollify our fellow citizens one with another and scatter those who assault us from without-like savage beasts. Measure out thy succor and healing in proportion to our passions, apportioning abundant grace to our souls and bodies, sufficient for every necessity. And although we may prove incapable of containing thy bounties, augment our capacity and in this manner bestow them upon us, so that being both saved and fortified by thy grace, we may glorify the pre-eternal Word Who was incarnate of thee for our sakes, together with His unoriginate Father and the life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the endless ages. Amen.”
The Dormition of the Theotokos
By His Eminence Metropolitan Panteleimon of Antinoes
It is not an easy task for anyone to describe the glory of the Mother of God. It is also extremely difficult to put into words the virtues and holiness of the Living Temple of God, namely the Holy Theotokos.
Now, let us investigate what the Bible says concerning the Theotokos. In Genesis, the first Book of the Old Testament, God promised Adam and Eve that from a virgin the Saviour of mankind shall be born, when He says to the serpent: “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle and all the brutes of the earth, on thy breast and belly thou shalt go, and thou shalt eat earth all the days of thy life. And Ι will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed, he shall watch against thy head, and thou shalt watch against his heel” (Gen. 3:l5-l6). This promise is called “Protoevangelio” (the first Good News) because it is the first message that God gave man concerning the salvation of mankind. The virgin will give birth without having a relationship with a man, and the Child will crush the head of the invisible enemy, namely Satan. The image of the heel is used by God to prophesy the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of our Lord.
In the Book of Daniel we have the prophesy concerning the seedless, or immaculate, conception οf Christ, “Whereas thou sawest that a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands, (and it beat to pieces the earthenware, the ίτon, the brass, the silver, the gold: the great God has made known to the king what must happen hereafter: and the dream is true, and the interpretation thereof sure)” (Dan. 2:45). The most significant prophesies concerning the Birth of our Saviour are made by the Prophet Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel” (Is. 7:l4).
In the Old Testament the Ρatriarch Jacob sees in his dream a heavenly ladder which connected Heaven and Earth, with the Angels of God ascending and descending this ladder. The Fathers of the Orthodox Church see this ladder as a prophecy of the Virgin Mary which, through her, connects man to God (Gen. 28:l2). When Moses finds himself in front of the flaming bush which was not consumed by the fire on Mount Sinai, the fact that the Theotokos was to receive in her womb all the Divine Νature of God the Logos, and that she was to remain a Virgin, are prophesied.
The parents of the Theotokos were Joachim and Anna. They were unable to have children, because Anna was sterile, but they never ever stopped praying and believing that God would grant them a child.
The yearning for a child in faith of St. Anna was very great and for this reason God sent His Angel at the time when St. Anna was praying in her garden, to announce the joyful news that she was to have a child. According to Holy Tradition, the trees and plants bowed down when the holy Angel appeared. (The Theotokos was not immaculately conceived. The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church about the Theotokos is wrong. Because the Theotokos was conceived in a normal, human way and so she was born with the original sill).
The entire life of the Virgin Mary was spotless and holy. When She was 3 years old when her parents presented and dedicated her to God in the Temple, where She remained in the Holy of Holies until She was l2. According to Holy Tradition, the Theotokos spent all Her time in this Holy of Holies praying and reading the Holy Scriptures. An Angel of God was feeding her daily during this period.
The ever-Virgin Mary became worthy tο become the Mother of God the Logos not only because this was prophesied in the Old Testament, but because She Herself was struggling for sanctification. God, knowing before all ages Her purity, chose Her to become the Mother of His only-begotten Son.
The Theotokos was cleansed from original sin at the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel. When the Virgin Mary accepted, of Her own free will, to bear the Logos, the Holy Spirit cleansed Her soul from the guiltiness of the original sin. According tο the words of the Archangel Gabriel when He says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke l:35). From that moment God the Logos was incarnated in the womb of the ever-Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. Because She was sanctified, the Virgin Mary was now incapable of sinning, regardless of Her own free will. Further, just as man fell and died through a virgin who disobeyed, he was revived tο new life through the Virgin who was obedient tο the Word of God (St. Irenaeus).
According tο the Orthodox Church, the Theotokos was a virgin before She gave birth, when She was bringing Christ intο this world, and after the Birth, she remains a Virgin forever. For this reason, in Orthodox Iconography, three stars are placed on the Theotokos: one on each of the shoulders and a third one on the forehead. Βy these stars is expressed the Orthodox dοctrine concerning the virginity of the Theotokos. It is blasphemous for anyone tο say that the Theotokos had other children with St. Joseph; these blasphemies come from impious heretics. St. Joseph, the protector of the Theotokos, was a widower and was marήed before and had 6 children: 4 boys, namely James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, as well as 2 daughters (Matt. l3: 5556).
Every time there is mention of the brothers of Christ in the Νew Testament, they are referred tο as the children of Joseph, and not Mary (Matt. l2:46-47; Mark 3:3l-32; Luke 8:l9-20; Matt. l3:55-56; Mark 6:3; John 6:42; John 2:23; John 7:2l; Acts l:l4; I Corinth. 9:5; Gal. l:l9).
When the Virgin Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth, when She visited her, Elizabeth exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come tο me?” (Luke l: 42-43). The Virgin Mary replies, prophesying “for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke l: 48).
Why would God choose Mary tο become the Mother of His only-begotten Son? The answer lies in Mary’s humility, as She Herself says: “for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden” (Luke l:48). The extreme humility of the Virgin was the cause of this choice of God, and not wealth, education or beauty. God is not touched by any of these qualities, but only by the virtue of humility. The Virgin Mary and Theotokos for the love of the salvation of mankind, humbled Herself tο become, and accept tο become the Mother of God.
The Virgin Mary is the most silent person in the New Testament. Apart from the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ, and the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord, the Theotokos does not appear anywhere else, and this because of Her extreme humility. Only from such a humble person could God, who is the Fountain of Humility, be born.
The Virgin Mary knew perfectly well whom She gave birth to, but She always remained humble – She never separated Herself from the other women. When the Church was established, She never asked for or received any commands from Her Son, Jesus Christ. She, although above the Apostles, never appeared preaching in the Church either. The Virgin Mary will remain an eternal example for all women to imitate, in other words: a perfect Mother, and a perfect Virgin. St. John Chrysostom says that women who want to become Priests have a Satanic pride and ego, and this because they place themselves above the Mother of God, and it must be remembered that She never became a Priest Herself. The role of women in the Christίan family is to give to the Church their children, so that these children can become Saints.
Therefore it is very important for mothers to see that it is their responsibility to bring their children to Church and to Sunday School every single Sunday and not to leave them at home to sleep, or find excuses not to go to Church.
We must never forget that one day all of us will appear before the awesome Judgement Seat of God. On earth we can easily find many excuses to give the Priest why we don’t come to Church, but what excuse can the Parents find to give to God?
Το have the children become saints is after all the ultimate purpose of marriage and thusly the Holy Trinity is glοrified.
Because of the prophesy of the Virgin Mary, that She will be blessed unto the ages of ages, She was blessed from the Apostolic era and until today no other woman was blessed more than Her.
The Orthodox Church οf Christ, continuing the Apostolic Holy Tradition, honours the Theotokos as the Mother of God, and as the Church’s own mother. We call Her Theotokos, which means “the Mother of God”, because She did not give birth to a normal man, but to the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, namely God the Logos. The Orthodox Church does not worship the Theotokos, because we worship only the Holy Trinity. The Theotokos is honoured by us and we love Her more than all the saints and the Angels.
St. John of Damascus teaches us the following:
“Moreover we proclaim the holy Virgin to be in strict truth, the Mother of God. For in as much as He who was born of her was true God, she who bare the true God incarnated is the true Mother of God. For we hold that God was born of her, not implying that the divinity of the Word received from her the beginning of its being, but meaning that God the Word Himself, Who was begotten of the Father timelessly before the ages, and was with the Father and the Spirit without beginning and through eternity, took up His abode in these last days for the sake of our salvation in the Virgin’s womb, and was without change made flesh and born of her. For the holy Virgin did not bare mere man but True God: and not mere God but God incarnate, Who did not bring down His body from Heaven, nor simply passed through the Virgin as channel, but received from her flesh of like essence to our own and subsisting in Himself. For if the body had come down from Heaven and had not partaken of our nature, what would have been the use of His becoming man? For the purpose of God the Word becoming man was that the very same nature, which had sinned and fallen and become corrupted, should triumph over the decei ving tyrant and so be freed from corruption,just as the divine apostle puts it, For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection ο/ the dead. If the first is true the second must also be true.
”Hence it is with justice and truth that we call the holy Mary the Mother of God. For this name embraces the whole mystery of the dispensation. For if she who bore Him is the Mother of God, assuredly He Who was born of her is God and likewise also man. For how could God, Who was before the ages, have been born of a woman unless He had become man? For the son of man must clearly be man himself. But if He Who was born of a woman is Himself God, manifestly He Who was born of God the Father in accordance with the laws of an essence that is divine and knows no beginning, and He Who was in the last days born of the Virgin in accordance with the laws of an essence that has beginning and is subject to time, that is, an essence which is human, must be one and the same. The name in truth signifies the one subsistence and the two natures and the two generations of our Lord Jesus Christ
“But we never say that the holy Virgin is the Christοtοkοs, which means Mother of Christ, because it was in order to do away with the title Theotokos, Mother of God, and to bring dishonour on the Mother of God, who alone is in truth worthy of honour above all creation” (St. John of Damascus).
“Ίf any rejects His birth from a virgin, how can he accept His resurrection from the dead?” (St. Irenaeus).
The Virgin Mary as the Mother of the true God, is able to intercede to Her Son for the salvation of the World, but He who saves is Christ Himself. The Orthodox Church asks the Virgin Mary to intercede for the enlightenment and the salvation of all mankind. As every mother prays for the benefit of her children, in the same way the Theotokos prays for all Orthodox Christians and gives to them according to their needs.
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