ASSUMPTION OF ST.MARY THE MOTHER OF GOD
Fr. T. George, Ireland
August 15, is a red letter day for the Holy Church all over the world. It is on this day that we commemorate the great event of the exaltation of the Blessed virgin Mary by God and we express our honour to her, communicate with her, cherish our love for her, preservice our cordial relation with her, and celebrate our faith on the mysterious way of her departure to heavenly abode, popularly known as the feast of “Soonoyo” in Syriac or Vangippu in Malayalam, following an observance of a fifteen days of fasting and Lent. Prior to every festival, there is always a fasting period, attached to it in highlighting its spiritual significance. Unlike the Catholics, this is not a dogma to the Orthodox. The doctrines of holy Trinity and the Incarnation have been proclaimed as dogmas, for they belong to the public preaching of the church, but the glorification of Our Lady belongs to the inner tradition of the holy church as the mystery of mother was revealed only to those who are within the church. Of course, the mother of God has a pride of place in the holy Church but is never equated to the holy triune God. This feast in her blessed memory is important to the faithful but not as important as the feast of our Lord like Yeldo or Kyemtho.
The Psalms 16 is all about the joy and benefits of a life lived in companion with God. It makes it clear that God would not abandon a faithful to the grave, nor would let a holy person be decayed. Based on this Bible verse, we can be sure that God who chose , set apart and made holy the virgin Mary for the Divine Incarnation, would not let her decayed.
The Orthodox Church believes that the Virgin Mary, like the rest of humankind, underwent physical death, but in her case, the resurrection of the body has been anticipated. This is not viewed as a resurrection like her son’s, but rather as the first fruit of our bodily resurrection. Awakening her into a glorified life after her physical death was not a big issue for the Lord who brought back the life of Lazarus of Bethany.
As Jesus, our Lord has promised “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (John 5:25). What Jesus’s was an ascension (swargarohanam), whereas, Mary’s was her bodily assumption (swargaropanam). After her death, her body was taken up or assumed into heaven and her tomb was found to be empty. She has passed beyond death and judgement, and live already in the Age to come, for the Bible assures: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
The Church celebrates the feast of assumption as an honour to her and as hope of being taken up when Christ comes. St Paul says”…And the dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4: 16b- 17) In verse 18, St. Pauls exhorts us to encourage one another with these words. Therefore, the celebration of this feast is in line with his exhortation. If the repentant thief on the Cross of Calvary was offered a placement in paradise, how more she will be? It is for sure that God might have rewarded her for her holy and glorious life on earth by being the mother of God, the Incarnate, and who willingly submitted herself to God’s plan, and for the sufferings she faced for the sake of her son Jesus throughout her lifetime? She has been extolled for her quality of life by being synergic to God’s will and for having been honoured to be chosen and consecrated by God from among the whole humanity, No one has ever been humbled like her, and elevated like her.
The church father St. Athanasius has praised Our Lady. “For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all. O [Ark of the New] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides.”[Homily of the papyrus of Turin].
Through the Book of Revelation, St John gives us a clue of St, Mary’s presence in heaven. The “Ark” of the New Covenant is seen within God’s temple in heaven (Revelation 11:19) who was bodily taken up to heaven by the power and magnanimity of God.
This was nothing new. Enoch and Elijah received similar treatment. Enoch for he walked with God was taken up (Genesis 5: 24) and Elijah for, he was a man of incredible faith and loyalty to God, was taken up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2: 11) Similarly, Moses, whom God knew face to face, too is believed to be taken to heaven after having been buried in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor. (Deuteronomy 34: 6, and the Epistle of Jude v 9).
Early writings like Biography of St. Mary, expository songs and prayers says,
Jesus with a host of angels appeared at the time of her departure. The disciples too
gathered there as informed by the Holy Spirit from their respective mission
fields. Jesus asked the blessed mother if she had any wish. The blessed mother
implored her only Son Jesus Christ to grant the believers their genuine wishes when they make it through her intercession. Jesus instantly promised to do so and took her to heaven. This was because God valued her, for it is written in Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His holy ones”.
A prophecy of the posthumous life of the mother of God is delineated in the book of Revelation 12:1- 6. “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out, in birth pains and in agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a lace prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1260 days”.
In the book of Genesis 3:15, it is foretold that “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offering and her offering. Reference to the fulfilling of this word of God is seen in the following verse. “Now a war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven…..”(Rev 7ff)
And finally, it is said in the verse 14 thus: “But the woman was given two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time”.
The wilderness mentioned is the paradise and there she rests. It is the time for looking ourselves and repent on the very day of soonoyo. Just like St Mary was taken up, we too will be taken up when the Son of man comes. Let us live in that hope. As we celebrate the feast of Dormition of St. Mary, let us submit ourselves to the Lord’s service by emulating the holy and altruistic life of her and by seeking her intercession. God be with us always.