The Dormition of the Mother of God
Those Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar are about to start the shortest period of fasting of the liturgical year on the 14th of August - the Dormition Fast.
However, many churches that follow the Gregorian calendar will celebrate the Dormition (or the Falling Asleep) of the Mother of God on August 15th. The faithful will gather to commemorate and celebrate the life of the Virgin Mary.
While this mysterious and miraculous event is not a doctrine of the Church, and there is no Scriptural account of the death of the Virgin Mary, it has long been part of the tradition that her body was translated to Heaven where she resides with her Son. This is why we do not say that the Virgin Mary died. Rather, we say that she fell asleep.
According to the tradition, three days prior to her passing, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and told her that she would enter into rest. In preparation, she prayed and asked for all the Apostles to be with her, so that she could say goodbye
At that point, the Apostles were all over the Mediterranean, spreading the Word of God, but miraculously, all of them (except for Apostle Thomas) were able to come to her and say goodbye. They were with her when she passed away and then buried her.
Three days after she passed, Thomas arrived by divine providence.
He asked to see where she was laid to rest. The Apostles went to her tomb and found it empty. Her body was miraculously taken to Heaven. As they were gathered, they saw a vision of Jesus Christ holding the body of the Virgin Mary, and she said to them, “Rejoice!”, implying that she was with God and that her body was raised to Heaven.
The Dormition of the Mother of God is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. The feast is always preceded by the fourteen-day Dormition fast.
On the day of the feast we sing those joyous words:
Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.
(Kontakion of the Dormition)
Here in the Belarusian Orthodox Church, we have a very special rite, which takes place at the All-Night Vigil service after the feast of the Dormition. It is called the Rite of the Burial of the Theotokos which looks like a funeral procession with a shroud of the Theotokos instead of a coffin.
In the beautiful icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God, physical and spiritual events are presented simultaneously. The Virgin Mary can be seen lying down, surrounded by the Apostles. Jesus Christ is seen above her physical body, holding an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, symbolizing the soul of the Virgin Mary being born into eternal life.
The life of The Mother of God is a tremendous example for us, that we must always hear the voice of God and be obedient to His will, to see how our life can be directed towards Christ. We look at the Virgin Mary as our Mother, who protects us, who guides us, who is an example of humility, patience and sacrifice.
As we enter the time of intensified prayer, we will be happy to pray to the Mother of God for you and your family during the Dormition Fast. Please, send your prayer request by following this link.
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco is one of the most venerated and loved Saints in the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as in other Orthodox Churches all around the world.