The Dormition of the Theotokos
Devotion to Mary the mother of Jesus runs deep in the Christian tradition particularly in the East and amongst Catholics. The feast of her Dormition or as the West calls it the Assumption, is a celebration of her sleep in death and her resurrection with Christ Jesus in the life of heaven. This festival originated in the eastern tradition and was universally celebrated, first in the Christian East from the late 5th century and a bit later in the West. But what precisely does it celebrate?
It places the role of Mary as that of the first amongst the Saints, it also shows us that her destiny, like our own, is not to bypass bodily death but to accept it and receive the gift of the resurrection from the One who is the firstborn from the dead.
Mary the Theotokos, is one of our own, she is not spared death, something we need to remind ourselves. She is not a magical figure, but a woman whose total acceptance of God’s call allowed the incarnation to take place. Through her self-giving ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us’! She is the bringer of the wisdom of God and in early devotional art is portrayed as the seat of wisdom, the living throne on which the Judge of the world sits in merciful love.
In the Icon of this feast, Mary lies on her couch, sleeping in death, surrounded by the apostles .Above her the risen and transfigured Christ, the Lord of the resurrection, holds in his hands a representation of his mother’s soul, taking her to heaven.
So the icon points both to our death, like Mary’s as a natural part of life, one in which our dying is never alone, we are always surrounded by the prayers of the faithful and that great cloud of witnesses gone before us in faith. We too will be transfigured, and in hope, rise with Christ, just as Mary has.
On this feast we remember the plight of our eastern Christian communities in Iraq, let us pray this Byzantine prayer:
Therefore, immaculate Theotokos, who livest forever with thy Son, the life bearing King, pray ceaselessly to Him to preserve the new people of God, and to save them from every hostile assault, for we have acquired thine intercession and to ages in manifest splendor, we call thee blessed.