Feast of the Dormition of
our Most Holy Lady, The Mother of God
and Ever-Virgin Mary
Beginning of the Dormition fast August 1st
Feast Day August 15th
Ikon of the Dormition of the Mother of God from the hand of Fr John Ross.
The Feast of the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 15 each year. The Feast commemorates the repose (dormition and in the Greek kimisis and in Slav use Uspensky) or "falling-asleep" of the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
As the Mother of God holds a special place in the very heart of our faith her “falling asleep” is never separated by her Assumption into Heaven. We have but a snippet of time – 14 days – to pray, worship, fast and fully understand the importance of the period of preparation for this magnificent feast. I remember once Father Michael (Fortounatto) delivering a sermon in the Dunblane orthodox Church. He was describing how our music can reflect the strength of the words. OK this may be pretty obvious when we bellow “Christ is Risen!” but this next phrase he used will always be in my mind “whenever we sing to, or about the Mother of God it is with the uttermost tenderness. Not romantically but in honour of the tender way in which she throughout her life approached her duty to her God whom she so lovingly bore”
Biblical and apocryphal references
The Holy Scriptures tell us that when our Lord was dying on the Cross, He saw His mother and His disciple John and said to the Virgin Mary, "Woman, behold your son!" and to John, "Behold your mother!" (John 19:25-27). From that hour, the Apostle took care of the Mother of God in his own home.
Along with the biblical reference in Acts 1:14 that confirms that the Mother of God was with the Holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the tradition of the Church holds that she remained in the home of the Apostle John in Jerusalem, continuing a ministry in word and deed.
In confirmation of God’s continued blessing on our Holy Church the Mother of God’s ministry did indeed continue – on a sea voyage to visit Bishop Lazarus in Cyprus (appointed by Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas) there was a tremendous storm. Not ship-wrecked but blown off course the vessel put to ground in a place where the Mother of God requested that it become a Holy place. Thus the Holy Mountain grew from this blessed foundation into a place which the Orthodox faithful should be able to rely on for help and prayer. It is no accident that there are two parallel visits: firstly, of Lazarus who lay stinking in the tomb, dead for four days, and was raised by Christ who counted Lazarus as his friend; secondly that Christ through the Mother of God blessed a dormant landscape to bring forth spiritual fruits for the good of the whole world.
At the time of her death, the disciples of our Lord who were preaching throughout the world returned to Jerusalem to see the Mother of God. Except for the Apostle Thomas, all of them including the Apostle Paul were gathered together at her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ himself descended and carried her soul into heaven.
Following her repose, the body of the Mother of God was taken in procession and laid in a tomb near the Garden of Gethsemane. When the Apostle Thomas arrived three days after her repose and desired to see her body, the tomb was found to be empty. The bodily assumption of the Mother of God was confirmed by the message of an angel and by her appearance to the Apostles. This is the same Thomas who needed visual and physical proof that Christ had Risen from the dead.
IKON OF THE FEAST
The Ikon of the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God shows her on her deathbed surrounded by the Apostles. Christ is standing in the centre looking at His mother. He is holding a small child clothed in white representing the soul of the Virgin Mary. With His golden garments, the angels above His head, and the mandorla surrounding Him, Christ is depicted in His divine glory.
The posture of the Apostles direct attention toward the Mother of God On the left Saint Peter censes the body of the Mother of God.
Together with the Apostles are several bishops and women. The bishops traditionally represented are James, the brother of the Lord, Timothy, Heirotheus, and Dionysius the Areopagite. They are shown wearing episcopal vestments. The women are members of the church in Jerusalem.
In front of the bed of the Mother of God is a candle that helps to form a central axis in the ikon. Above the candle is the body of the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary. Standing over His mother is Christ holding her most pure soul. Above Christ the gates of heaven stand open, ready to receive the Mother of God.
This great Feast of the Church and the ikon celebrates fundamental teaching of our faith—the Resurrection of the body and life ever-lasting. In the case of the Mother of God, this has been accomplished by the divine will of God. Thus, this Feast is a feast of hope, hope in Resurrection and life eternal. Like those who gathered around the body of the Virgin Mary, we gather around our departed loved ones and commend their souls into the hands of Christ. As we remember those who have reposed in the faith before us and have passed on into the communion of the Saints, we prepare ourselves to one day be received into the new life of the age to come.
We also affirm through this Feast as we journey toward our heavenly abode that the Mother of God intercedes for us. Through Christ she has become the mother of all of the children of God, embracing us with divine love.
ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CELEBRATION OF THE FEAST OF THE DORMITION
The commemoration of the Dormition of the Mother of God and the preparation for the Feast begin on August 1 with a period of fasting. A strict fast is followed on most of the days (no meat, dairy, oil, or wine), with the exceptions of fish on the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) and the day of the Dormition. Oil and Wine are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays.
On the weekdays before the Feast, Paraklesis services are held in most parishes. These consist of the Great Paraklesis and the Small Paraklesis, both services of supplication and prayer for the intercessions of the Mother of God.
The Feast of the Dormition is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is conducted on the morning of the Feast and preceded by a Matins (Orthros) service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast of the Dormition are the following: At Vespers:Genesis 28:10-17; Ezekiel 43:27-44:4; Proverbs 9:1-11. At the Matins: Luke 1:39-49, 56. At the Divine Liturgy: Philippians 2:5-11;Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28.
HYMNS OF THE FEAST
Apolytikion (First Tone)
In giving birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Mother of God. As mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.
Kontakion (Second Tone)
Neither the grave nor death could contain the Mother of God, 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.
Based on GOARCH. With kind permission.