Saturday, August 15, 2009

Feast of the Dormition (Koimisis or Falling Asleep) of Mary

Today is the feast Day of the Dormition of Mary. We have completed the story of this most mystical and wondrous event in our Church history as told in the book, The Life of the Virgin Mary.

Do not confuse this celebration with the Assumption of Mary into heaven which occurs three days after her death according to Church Tradition. The Dormition or Koimisis (falling asleep) of the Most Holy Theotokos recognizes the time when her soul was taken in the hands of her Son and her body was placed her tomb. Orthodox Christians emphasize her death to help us remember that she was of human nature like all of us. She died a human death and was assumed into heaven three days after her death. This is an area where there is some difference between the teaching of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church who celebrate her Assumption on this day. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Assumption is dogmatically defined, while in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Dormition is less dogmatically than liturgically and mystically defined.

"Unlike the Resurrection of Christ, the mysterious character of her death, burial, resurrection and ascension were not the subject of apostolic teachings, or at least there are no extant epistles; yet it has been revealed to the inner consciousness of the Church. Inaccessible to the view of those outside the Church, the glory of the Theotokos' Dormition can be contemplated only in the inner light of Tradition. The glorification of the Virgin-Mother is a result of the voluntary condescension of the Son who is incarnate of tier and made "Son of Man", capable of dying. The Mother of God is now established beyond the general Resurrection and the Last Judgment, having passed from death to life, from time to eternity, from terrestrial condition to celestial beatitude. Hence, the feast of August 15th is a second mysterious Pascha, since the Church celebrates, before the end of time, the secret first-fruits of its eschatological consummation. "

O marvelous wonder! The source of life is laid in the tomb, and the tomb itself becomes a ladder to heaven. Thy glory is full of majesty, shining with grace in divine brightness.

(Ouspensky and Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, p 213)

Credit and Much Thanks

I would like to give credit to the Sisterhood at the Holy Apostles Convent for the work they have done to compile the lives of the saints for English speaking people. The material included on this series on the Dormition of Mary comes from their work. I have taken the liberty to condense some of what they have written and have omitted much of what they have included to make for a smooth presentation in the Blog. They have just completed the 12th volume of the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church which is the most comprehensive collection of the stories of the Saints of the Church in English. They are available at the following link and their purchase is well worth the investment. Each volume is over 1000 pages and contain many icons as well. The price is only $55 for each volume. You will never exhaust the joy you will gain from the continual reading from these books. In addition they have some specialized books such as The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos which contains all the material on the Virgin Mary.

Holy Apostles Convent Bookstore

There are two more aspects of this story that need to be told, her assumption into heaven and her appearance to the Apostles which will follow in the next couple of posting.

(The icon shown above is a mosaic from the Monastery Chora in Istanbul.)

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