Author mug On Faith

Nicholas V.Gamvas

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Orthodox observance
marks resurrection of
the body to heaven

Orthodox Christian tradition teaches that when the mother of Jesus died, both her soul and her body went to heaven.

The Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos -- Greek for "God Bearer" -- is celebrated on Aug. 15 each year. The feast is named for the repose, or falling asleep, of the Virgin Mary. It commemorates the transference, or assumption, into heaven of the body of the Theotokos.

This observance dates back to the early church. It is based primarily on oral traditions, and references are found in the Didache, believed to have been written by the Apostles.

According to tradition, the Apostles, except for Thomas, were present when Mary died in Jerusalem. At the moment of her death, Orthodox tradition teaches that Jesus Christ descended and carried her soul into heaven. Her body was taken in procession and laid in the tomb of Gethsemane. When the Apostle Thomas arrived three days after her repose and desired to see her body, the tomb was found to be empty. The assumption of the Theotokos was confirmed by the message of an angel and her appearance to the Apostles.

In this 15th-century icon, the original of which is in Ivron Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, Christ is standing in the center looking at his mother on her deathbed. He is holding a small child clothed in white representing the soul of the Virgin Mary. Above him, the gates of heaven stand open, ready to receive the Mother of God.

This great church feast day celebrates a fundamental teaching of the Christian faith: the resurrection of the body. It is a feast of hope in the resurrection and eternal life. Like those who gathered around the body of the Virgin Mary, we gather around our departed loved ones and commend their souls into the hands of Christ. As we remember those who have reposed in the faith of Christ, we prepare ourselves to one day be received into the new life of the age to come.

We also affirm, as we journey toward our heavenly abode, that the Mother of God intercedes for us. She has become the mother of all of the children of God, embracing us with divine love.

Our preparation for this feast day begins on Aug. 1 with a period of fasting. A strict fast -- no meat, dairy, oil or wine -- continues through today. Oil and wine were allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, and the fast was eased on Aug. 6, the feast day of the Transfiguration of Christ. It is a time when weekday supplication services have prayers for the health and well-being of the people of the parish.

As Orthodox Christians, honoring the Virgin Mary does not distract us from worshipping God. It is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy that God uses Mary, a woman, a human, to be the vessel to bear his Son into the world. Therefore, in her role as God Bearer, the Orthodox Christian venerates Mary as all holy, as did the apostles. We pray to her to intercede with Christ for us.

This is one of my favorite feast days. The Theotokos becomes, for us people, the bridge between heaven and earth.

The Rev. Nicholas V. Gamvas is dean of Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific, where the feast day will be celebrated with a 5 p.m. Great Vespers service today and at a 10 a.m. Divine Liturgy tomorrow, preceded at 9 a.m. by an Orthros service.

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