Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Father Nick Milas
Dormition of the Theotokos
Each year, the Orthodox church dedicates the first fifteen days in August, to the Virgin Mary. From August 1 to 13 the office of Supplication is sung (Paraklesis) and on August 14th the faithful gather in neighboring churches dedicated to the Virgin that are known as Dormition, Koimisis, and/or Assumption.
I was invited to offer the homily at the Great Vespers of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and have reproduced it for publication on our website.
It seems to me, that most of the Christian world has lost their understanding of the significance of the Theotokos.
Many modern Christians have dismissed the notion that the Panagia is the portal through which all salvation occurred for humanity. The events in her life were no accident. She didn’t just happen to be at the right place at the right time. The Virgin Mary was part of God’s plan, revealed to the prophets and devout people of the Old Testament who had dedicated themselves to Judaism.
Roman Catholics understand how important she is. They created a special feast day in her honor, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Although, the theology of it can be questioned, the intentions are honorable. It underscores the correctness of the idea that the Virgin Mary did not become the center of salvation by accident, but rather that she was, indeed, part of God’s plan for humanity. In fact, believe that Panagia was sanctified not just by her life but she was sanctified in the womb. Her parents, her life in the Temple, and her personal faith groomed her in every possible way to accept the important role she would play.
As you may or may not know, her parents were quite advanced in years when she was conceived. They were so thrilled to be having a child, that when she was born they promised to dedicate her to the Temple. But, as you might imagine, they adored that little girl so much that, as devout as they were, as time passed, they became more and more reluctant to let her go. But God’s Will must be done, and after three years they gave their only child to be raised in the Temple. Tradition says, that even though she was only three years old, she accepted this responsibility with dignity and grace. She gazed up at the Temple Priest, who was waiting for her, took his hand and happily entered another world, without tears, without fear and without even looking back.
In the movie, the Passion of the Christ, the screen play writers took the liberty of having the disciples refer to Panagia as “Mother.” Whether there is historical evidence for this, is not important. It captures the import role she played during the Ministry of Her Son and, especially, after the Resurrection.
After Christ’s Resurrection, the Virgin Mary traveled extensively with the ministers and leaders of Christ’s Church. She embraced her new responsibilities and was loved by everyone who came in contact with her.
At one point, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary invited her to visit them on the island of Cyprus. Her ship was blown off course, and it landed on the east coast of what is known today as Mt Athos. She loved it there. To this day it is referred as the Virgin’s Garden.
Her extraordinary life was only a prelude to the amazing events that characterized her last days and her death, or more correctly, her Dormition.
In the year 45 AD she was visited by the Angel Gabriel, once again, and this time was told that she was soon to leave this life and enter the next. She was told to prepare for herself for burial. And, as she had done so many times in her life, she obeyed without question.
She began by calling the Apostles back to Jerusalem. We hear the words she spoke to them during the Paraklesis Services of Dekapentavgousto.
“O Apostles, come from afar and be gathered together here in Gethsemane to give burial to my body. And Thou, my son and my God, receive my spirit.”
It was Sunday, August 15, at around 9:00 AM.
She had prepared her body, put on her burial clothes, and laid on her funeral bier.
The Apostles began arriving to be with her. All of them made it back to be with her, except St Thomas.
To be certain, St Thomas was beside himself. His ministry was in India, and for all practical purposes, on the other side of the world. Once again, events in St Thomas’ life, would reveal the incomprehensible mysteries of Incarnation and Resurrection.
While he was traveling back to Jerusalem, he found himself in a supernatural state, floating in semi-consciousness. In his mind, he saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. She handed him something and he clutched it in his hand.
St Thomas arrived too late to say good-bye to her. Panagia had been dead for three days. She has been placed in a sarcophagus in Gethsemane. St Thomas was devastated that he was the only Apostle to be excluded from this event. The Apostles, on the other hand, felt so sorry for him, and that they agreed to pull off the heavy stone covering her and let him venerate her sacred and holy remains.
When they pulled off the lid, there was no body in the tomb. All they found were the burial cloths.
In his hand, St Thomas was holding the item that the Virgin had handed him, when he saw her in his vision. It was her belt (cincture, girdle or zoni). Everyone recognized it because she had woven it herself and wore it most of her life
The Belt of the Theotokos, can be found today on Mt Athos, in the monastery of Vatopedi.
It is too bad that we can not join together like this more often to honor and to celebrate the Mother of our Lord.
It would do us well to understand her more than we do.
It would help us if we could really understand:
who she was in her life
who she was to Christ Himself
who she was to the Apostles
who she was to the people who knew her
who she was to all the people she met after the Resurrection.
And especially, who the Virgin Mary continues to be to all the people in the world who turn to her for help and for comfort.
If we haven’t done so yet, let us open our minds, our hearts and our souls to the Mother of God, that with her help, we can find comfort and peace.
As Panagia says in the Gospel of St Luke, “From henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed. For the Mighty One hath done great things to me; and holy is His name.”
Macarius the Great of Egypt; Mark, Bishop of Ephesus; Arsenius of Corfu; Makarios of Alexandria; Makarios, Hierodeacon of Kalogera, Patmos; Removal of the Honorable Relics of Saint Gregory the Theologian; Branwallader, Bishop of Jersey