The Dormition of the Mother of God
The 15th August has since the late 5th century been a day when the Christian Church has expressed profound respect and devotion to Our Saviour’s own mother. In the summer this devotion focuses on the end of her life, of which there is no record, in the New Testament (which is not surprising since the books were written for the upholding of the mission of the Church in a time of persecution). There are however several and stories describing the end of Mary’s life that begin to appear speaking devotionally of the life and death, which used the older term, the dormition/“falling asleep” of the Mother of God.
Although not part of the New Testament, which had not come into existence until much later, we should think of this momentous event in the life of the early church as part of our devotional piety, which does have roots in the fourth Gospel in the words of Jesus from the cross to the beloved disciple “behold your son…behold your mother” [John 19;26-27], words which became understood as the words of Jesus to all the faithful for whom Mary became mother of all who were “sons of God” and heirs in the words of St Paul. [Gal. 3;26] This early relationship between Mary as mother of the Lord and also mother of his Church was to develop into a strong devotion, especially in challenging times, recognising the important role Mary had played as one who continually pointed to her son, who became a sign for all Christians to see themselves as bearers of Christ, leading others to him. Thus Mary’s relationship was with the whole body of the Church over which she cast her protecting veil.
She became the icon of icons, the first member of every congregation expressing the spirit of evangelical love. The icons of the Eastern Church show the body of the virgin surrounded and honoured by the Apostles from all corners of the world, handing her over to Christ where she is transported into eternal life attended by all creation.
As we behold our Mother, we cannot view her death as a day of sadness but of joy to us all, that she is a sign of Christ’s harvest and the day chosen to remember this is mid-summer when the crops are being gathered. It is a time for devotion and contemplation rather than a subject for debate and argument. There is no doubt that Mary lived and Mary died of all people loved always by her son as she had loved him through thick and thin and loved too by his followers.
This special day teaches us the importance of contemplation in the way we attempt in all our reflections. We take the mind into the heart looking for signs that speak to us about being today, bearers of Christ, bringing others to Christ and with them participating in Holy Communion and going into the world, like the beloved disciple, having faith in the protecting Mother who was received into the arms of her divine son.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal