Today the Holy Church celebrates the Dormition of our Most Holy Queen Mother of God, who is more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious than the Seraphim.
In her Dormition she went to sleep with an earthly sleep, but because she was alive, and the Mother of Life, she passed into the eternal life, remaining alive even after the departure from the earthly temporal life. Saint Gregory Palamas writes: “Her death was life-bearing, transferring into the heavenly and immortal life. And the commemoration of this death is a joyous feast and a worldwide solemnity”. She is alive in Her soul, which ascended to the throne of Her Divine Son. She is also alive in Her body with which she intercedes for us in the Heavenly Kingdom, praying day and night for all the human race. The Mother of God who ascended into the Heavenly glory, became a mighty and vigilant Helper and Intercessor for all the Christians on earth. Truly She is the Throne of grace, the Most High God Christ came to live in Her being in Her Womb as on the Throne of His glory.
The praise which befits Her, is higher than any words. Her commemoration sanctifies those who remember Her. Striving for Her illuminates mind and elevates it to the Divine height. For the human race She is the origin of all beauty and holiness. She is the Guide for our soul and mind, leading them to the Divine Truth. The Holy Church praises Her together with all the Heavenly Powers in such awe and amazement! Let us approach Her Image as a Life-giving source, flowing into the eternal life, with gratitude and trembling, rejoicing about her Divine glory.
The feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God has always been honored in Russia. It is celebrated as the patronal festival in many churches. The Russian people has long become sure that prayers to the Most Holy Mother of God helps in the salvation of soul, delivering from troubles, misfortunes and invasion of foreigners. Relying on Her mercy, let us ask Her to be a Bailiff for the forgiveness of our sins, for a prayer of the Mother can do a lot to beseech the Lord, for She will be our Protector and Intercessor to Her Divine Son and our last hope at the Last Judgment. Through Her holy prayers, we can receive the mercy of the Savior and enter the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore we address to all saints: Pray to God for us – and to the Mother of God: Save us!
Holy Hierarch Gregory Palamas in his sermon “For the most honorable Dormition of the Mother of God” writes: “She is so successful in everything, that, having become immortal after death, she is the only one, who is with the body together with the Son and God and pours abundant grace from there on those who honor Her, thereby bestowing upon them the ability ascend to Her. She added a more strong sense of mercy to the superior gifts, Her abundant mercy and rich generosity to us have never ceased. ”
The highly solemn feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary evokes in the memory of Christians bright memories about Her departure from earthly to Heavenly life. After the Ascension of Jesus Christ to heaven, the Blessed Virgin remained, according to the will of Her Son, in the care of the holy Apostle John and was constantly in the feat of fasting and prayer. Three days before her repose, the Most Holy Mother of God received a message from Archangel Gabriel about His departure from this world. The Virgin gladly received this message, for She knew that She was summoned into the immortal life, eternal bliss and contemplation of Her beloved Son. By the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles were miraculously gathered by the Holy Spirit on clouds from different countries of the earth to Jerusalem. Preparing Herself for the departure to the higher world, the Blessed Virgin ordered to distribute Her few vestments to widows and virgins and bequeathed that Most Pure body be buried near Jerusalem in the Garden of Gethsemane, near the resting place of Her righteous parents Joachim and Anna and St. Joseph the Betrothed. She encouraged everyone who gathered at Her bed and sobbed at her departure with words of love and comfort, joyfully saying: I am going to My God and Son. She promised not to leave Christians orphaned, but to pray for all and to care for and help everyone who, in need and sorrow, would invoke Her in prayers. Expecting Her imminent departure and preparing for it, the Most Holy Mother of God blessed all. Suddenly, an unusual light illuminated the house, and the King of Glory, Lord Jesus Christ, with a host of Heavenly Forces, appeared at the bed of His Most Holy Mother and received Her most immaculate soul into His hands. Solemnly accompanied by the singing of angels, the soul of the Most Holy Mother of God ascended to the heavenly mansions, carried by the hands of Her Divine Son.
The Most Pure body of the Mother of God sanctified by the beauty of Godhead, was shining with the glory of the Divine virginity, spreading a wonderful fragrance. With awe and trembling the holy Apostles approached to bury the Most Pure body of the Mother of God. Singing holy hymns they brought the bed with the body of the Mother of God to the burial place. Seeing that solemn procession the Jewish leaders wanted to disturb it. They incited some evil and impudent people to turn over the bed on which the Most Pure body, but as soon as the blasphemers approached the coffin, a light-bearing cloud surrounded the procession, the attackers were blinded and dispersed by the power of God; one Jew who dared to touch the bed with his hands, lost them immediately – suddenly by the heavenly judgment the impudent hands were cut off. Shocked by this unexpected miracle the impudent Jews repented and received a healing after the prayer of the holy Apostles. Some of them later believed in Christ and were baptized.
When, by the will of the Divine Providence, one of the Apostles, Thomas, who had not been present at the burial, arrived at Jerusalem on the third day, he was very sad that he had not deserved to participate in Her burial. The holy Apostles felt pity in their hearts for Thomas and decided to roll the stone away from the tomb, so that he may worship the body of the Mother of God. But when they rolled the stone away, they so in amazing that the body of the Most Pure Mother of God was not there anymore. There were only the burial clothes and a wonderful fragrance was spread around. The body of the Mother of Life, conquering the laws of nature, did not experience corruption and ascended into the Heaven as a Tabernacle of the eternal life, to the Throne of Her Divine Son.
The same day the believers were comforted by the appearance of the Mother of God. Standing in the air in shining ineffable glory, She said: Be glad! I will always pray for you to God. In that way the holy Apostles, and all Christians together with them, were assured that the Mother of God is risen by Her Divine Son, taken into the Heaven on the third day of Her Dormition and is now in the rays of ineffable glory at the right hand of Her Son. As Psalmist David sings: upon thy right hand did stand the Queen (Ps.45:9). She praised the Divine deed of Her Son: He that is mighty hath done to me great things (Lk.1:49). And now the Most Holy Mother of God intercedes for the human race, which is praising Her: Alive even after death, You are always saving those who glorify You as the Mother of God (Irmos of the 9th song).
The Dormition of the Mother of God proclaims us that the bodily death is not the destruction of our being: for the righteous it is the passage from earth to Heaven, from corruption to the eternal immortality. Earthly life is the beginning of our endless life and a necessary means for acquiring the eternal bliss. The earthly end of the Mother of God is very consoling to us, brothers and sisters, for in it we clearly see the immortality of soul after the death of the body.
Our soul created by the Lord in His Divine love, always reaches out to her Creator, to the light of His love, for since our infancy it carries in itself the memory of its Heavenly Homeland from where it originated. Even in the souls of people, who have not yet believed in the Lord, there is this reaching out to the Higher World according to the Divine Nature, which is manifest in the voice of conscience, spiritual thirst, yearning for sublime and pure. But this yearning for something bright is not the only thing the Lord expects from us. He looks for a voluntary, conscious uniting with Him, communion with Him through fulfillment of His commandments and participation in the Mysteries of the Church. For this He sends us His Divine grace. But if a man, being scornful to the gifts of the grace of the Holy Spirit, does not want to labor for his purification from sins and multiplication of the God-given talents for the glory of God, then he is far from God and the eternal punishment awaits for his soul. For the eternal bliss is only in union with God, in merging one’s will with the Divine one.
Venerable Isaia says: “When a soul departs from its immaculate nature and turns to actions opposed to nature, it dies”. Without striving for God soul dies. What is the death of soul? The life is given by the Source of life – God, so if one cuts oneself off from this nurturing source, the soul loses the ability to unite with Him. Sometimes a person is alive physically, but those surrounding him call him soulless, or heartless. This person has a soul, it is immortal, but lifeless, void of the life-giving Spirit of God. Blessed Augustine says: “Although human soul is rightfully called immortal, it has a kind of death. Death happens when God forsakes a soul”. Trampling upon a graceful act of the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable crime. We can hurt our soul with a very grave sin, but still have a possibility to receive healing through repentance, for as Psalmist David says, The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart (Ps.34:18). But the rejection of an act of the Holy Spirit, the voice of conscience by someone is nothing else than the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is the unforgivable sin. The soul of such a person dies not because the Lord does not want or is unable to forgive, but because that person is unable to receive forgiveness, for he has rejected the only Healer and Saviour. Then the non-existence of such a “dead” soul begins, from which let the Lord save us.
The Dormition of Virgin Mary shows us that for a pious Christian death is not a subject of fear and despair, but a greatest joy and a bright hope, for the death of a righteous one is just a dormition, followed by blissful life in Heaven. Death of a Christian is the beginning of eternal life, bringing peace and liberation of a soul from the captivity of the sickly and corruptible body. For a believer a coffin does not gape with the horror of non-existence. Seeing the death of our nearest ones we should not grieve heavily like the ones who do not have hope, as the Apostle says, but remain in the hope that after the end of the earthly life we will receive eternal good.
A joyous meeting with one’s death is possible on the condition that we constantly remember about death, which can happen to us any day and hour, that we prepare our soul for the eternal life beyond the grave in advance, that we watch our behaviour attentively, destroy the earthly idols of the passions of our heart, i.e. are constantly dying for sin.
Holy men, who have reached a high level of righteousness, testify to the great benefit of the constant remembrance about death. Thus, venerable John Climacus says that the remembrance of death is necessary as bread. The are a few examples in the lives of the saints of people waking up from a sleep of death, who acquired good remembrance of death in that way. Since then these people led a strict ascetic life, amazing everyone. Venarble Athanasius of Pechery, who was risen from his grave on the third day after death, answered the brothers’ questions about life beyond the grave, crying: “Repent every hour and pray, and do not ask me more”. He then became a recluse in a cave, where he spent 12 years in the feats of piety. “The one who has acquired the remembrance of death is unable to sin,” – as the Holy Fathers say, for this remembrance may save us from disastrous sinful sleep and give an ability to meet one’s death without confusion and fear.
Another thing which liberates us from the fear of death is conscience purified by repentance. A person with pure conscience, standing at the edge of eternity, can say together with the holy elder Simeon: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word (Lk.2:29). A pious Christian who has given all his nature and will over to merciful and righteous God, prepared his soul for death by the Mysteries of Repentance and holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, does not meet the death with cowardice and timidity, but with strong faith and steadfast hope awaits for it as for the dawn of the future blissful life.
The fear of death is conquered by faith in the immortality of soul. After the departure of a person from the earthly life the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it (Eccl.12:7). A strong weapon against the fear of death is the steadfast belief that our immortal soul will once unite with its risen and transfigured body for eternal life. This live faith strengthened the hosts of martyrs despite terrible tortures they were subjected to. Let their flaming faith strengthen us and induce us not to be afraid of death, but to meet it, remembering the words of the Saviour: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live (Jn.11:25).
Christ, who conquered death by his death on the cross, shows to us His Divine glory, installs in us confidence that we will be alive in our souls after death, and alive into the ages of ages after the resurrection of the bodies, for he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him (Lk.20:38). The Most Pure Mother of God, like her Son and God, is alive not only in soul but in body as well. She is our Intercessor, who is always with us. Just let us always be with Her, let us undoubtedly believe in Her closeness to us, fill our hearts with joy, that the death of Her Son’s death on the cross is not in vain, that He gives us forgiveness of sins and leads us to salvation through repentance and fulfillment of the commandments of God.
As for the Mother of God Herself, she left us only one commandment and one wonderful example. Her commandment is the words with which She ordered the servants in Cana of Galilee: Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it (Jn.2:5). Those servants fulfilled that commandment and water became good wine of the Kingdom of God. This commandment is what She leaves to every one of us: remember and fulfill the word of Christ, and then that which is earthly and corruptible will become heavenly, eternal and trasfigured.
She left us the example described in the Gospel: the Mother of God kept every word about Christ and of course every word of Christ in her heart as a treasure, as the most precious thing She had. Let us learn from Her how to listen to the Saviour and keep his every word and respond to it in such a way as if it is addressed personally to us. And if we listen and live in this way, the words said to the Mother of God by Elisabeth during their meeting, will be fulfilled also in our life: And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord (Lk.1:45). Let the Mother of God be our example in fulfilling the commandments of Christ, for living by them we will worship our Lord Jesus Christ in truth.
Therefore let us ask the Heavenly Queen that she persuade Her Divine Son to disregard our endless transgressions and turn our souls towards repentance and purification and make us skillful and faithful performers of His commandments.
Brothers and sisters! Let us pray to our Intercessor that She is always merciful to us, keep us from all troubles and sorrows, all needs and griefs, and at the departure of our soul from the body defend us from the demonic attacks, by Her intercession deliver us from the eternal punishment and make us the heirs of the ineffable glory of Her Son and God, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is the glory, together with the Father and the Most Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen!