The Dormition of the Theotokos is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated on August 15. The word Dormition means “falling asleep.”
The services of the feast repeat the main theme, that the Theotokos has “passed over into the heavenly joy, into the divine gladness and unending delight” of the Kingdom of her Son.
This feast is a feast of hope in the resurrection of the body and in life eternal. As we celebrate this Great Feast, let us be reminded of three things.
According to church tradition, three days before her death, the archangel Gabriel came to Mother Mary and told her about her impending death. Accordingly, she prepared herself for her death. Her only desire was to see the Apostles once again, and her wish was miraculously fulfilled.As seen in the icon, her body lay in a state of peace.
While death by itself is something which brings sorrow, St Paul says to us (those who are alive), do not grieve as those who do not have hope. Why? Because our death is the entrance into life itself! (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 1 Corinthians 15:55–57, Hebrews 2:14–15.) .
As someone once said, the day of our death is our birthday in heaven! St John of Damascus called the death of the Theotokos “The Deathless Death” because her physical death resulted in her translation into eternal life.
The Dormition of the Theotokos confirms the reality of the transformation of death from a fearful enemy into a joyous passage to eternal life.
As church tradition goes, when those who were gathered around Mother Mary were singing hymns, they saw a vision. In that vision they saw Jesus Christ, the risen One, accompanied by angels coming to receive Mother Mary into heaven.(see the icon)
This feast is sometimes referred to as the Summer Pascha, meaning, it was Mother Mary’s ‘passover’ from life into life eternal, because of the victory of her Son Jesus Christ over death at the Cross of Calvary.
(Pascha, is what Easter is called in Greek and Latin and the word is derived from Aramaic which is similar to word Pesach in Hebrew, which denotes the Jewish festival of Passover.)
What a paradox! While this Feast is called the “Falling Asleep of the Theotokos,” it is in reality a celebration of her life and victory over death. It is a celebration of her ‘Passover’ from this life into life eternal. It is a celebration of the confirmation of the promise of our own resurrection in Christ. Amen!
In the icon of the Dormition, it shows heavens open above Jesus Christ, ready to receive Mother Mary. Yes, that is also our destination. We who have put our trust in the Son of God, we who have in our hearts received Jesus Christ, we who have allowed Jesus to be born in us, of the Holy Spirit, Heaven is our final destination. We will be seated with Christ, along with the saints who have departed and gone ahead of us.
All those who have departed before us and entered into eternal life, are part of the cloud of witnesses. They, including the Mother of our Lord, are cheering us on to run our race of faith faithfully (Hebrews 12:1). Yes, they are praying for us, their lives are an example for us.
The Dormition of the Theotokos is a confirmation of the resurrection of Christ and a source of hope for the faithful in the promise of their personal resurrection, their personal Pascha. The death of the Theotokos and her translation into heaven confirms the divine promise of Christ to His faithful children that they will enjoy life eternal in everlasting communion with God.
Like Blessed Mary, if we have Christ born in us by the Holy Spirit and if we become temples of the living God, we will share in the eternal life and Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have hope in the resurrection and in eternal life, and the Dormition of the Theotokos helps us get a glimpse and a foretaste of our own.