Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Dormition of the Theotokos

Blessed Feast to you! My husband and I married before we converted to the Orthodox Faith, and our wedding anniversary falls during Dormition fast, on August 9th. This year we are celebrating 7 years of marriage. On our fourth anniversary, my grandfather departed this life, so on that day we also remember him--Memory Eternal!  It happens that I was born on my grandparent's wedding anniversary, which I think forms an interesting circle. This morning during Divine Liturgy, I was struck by the Troparion of the Feast and how it similarly juxtaposes birth and death.
To non-Christians, and perhaps even to those Christians who do not celebrate the lives of the saints, it may seem odd that we would celebrate the departure from life of the Mother of God as a Great Feast. It may seem backward or callous that we celebrate someone on the day of their "death."  In secular life we celebrate birthdays, even for people we are remembering.  We honor the Presidents in February because two of our great Presidents, Washington and Lincoln had birthdays in this month. We honor Martin Luther King Jr. in January for his birthday, rather than in April when he was assassinated.  And we do celebrate births in the church, most notably of course, the birth of Christ, but also that of the Theotokos and St. John the Forerunner. In fact, we even commemorate the conception of these Saints. However, for most saints, the date of their repose is the primary date on which the they are honored.
When we celebrate the Saints' lives on the date when they departed from this life, we are celebrating their whole lives, here on Earth, and the Heavenly lives to which they depart. The Feast of the Dormition illustrates for us why this is so. When we refer to the Theotokos as the Mother of Life, as we do in the Troparion of the Feast, we refer to the fact that she gave birth to the One who is Life, and who conquered death.  The name of the Feast is another clue about why we celebrate the date that Saints depart from this life.  The word Dormition means "falling asleep."  When we refer to Christians as falling asleep or as departing this life, and to death as repose, we are not speaking euphemistically. We are not trying to soften death for the living or to avoid thinking of death.  We take this language from the Bible, and by speaking this way we are affirming that those who die in Christ do not die.
Like the Theotokos, when we depart this life, we do not forsake the world.  When Christians repose, we enter into the eternal Life of the Kingdom of Heaven, that same Life that we participate in during the Divine Liturgy. So while it is difficult and painful when our friends and family depart this life, at the same time we celebrate Christ's victory over death, knowing that because He is risen, so are our loved ones.  While they depart this life, they do not forsake us, and we ever ask them to intercede for us. Most Holy Theotokos, save us!