Homily on the Feast of Dormition
Father Joshua Trant
Today we witness the falling asleep of the mother of our Lord.
The Scriptures are silent concerning the events surrounding the death of the Mother of Jesus Christ. Fr. Alexander Schmemann observes that the many embellished stories and tales passed down to us from the earliest Christians about the death of the Mother of God betray a kind of childlike love and tenderness.
From the earliest days, it seems, we Christians have approached the Virgin as mother. The Church does not ask us to defend these stories as "historical fact".
On this most joyous day, the Church does not ask us to consider the date or time, nor the location or circumstance of the Virgin's death.
Rather, the Church asks us to contemplate with the utmost care the meaning of her death. The essence of which is depicted in the Dormition icon in the center of the Church today.
First, the Mother of God lies upon her deathbed. She has really and truly died. Not even her status as the Theotokos exempts her from this singular fate of all human beings. In her falling asleep, we see our end. We, too, will face death.
And who here has not already tasted the sting of this unavoidable truth through the death of a loved one, a lingering illness, or even the passing of a cherished family pet.
Take a long and steady look at the icon before you leave Church today. We cannot hide from this fact: we will die.
And so, depicted on her own deathbed, our Mother shows us the pathway we too will take when we confront our own death.
Yet, surrounding her deathbed are the apostles and in the center, her son and Lord, Jesus Christ.
We Christians do not face death alone. We may be by ourselves in a hospital room, by ourselves in a car, or by ourselves in our own homes when the hour comes, but we are not and are never alone.
When the Mother died, the Apostles gathered around her and sang praises to God as they transported her to the tomb.
So in our death, the Church will gather to sing the praises of God and beseech Him for mercy.
Our Mother shows us that in death, we do not face isolation but a glorious coming together of the saints.
In the icon, Christ holds in his hands His mother, eternally alive and united with him.
We will all face death, yet this death we celebrate today shows us how the very meaning of death has changed.
Death has not separated the Mother from her Son, but rather has ushered her into His presence.
We see in the icon that death does not lead us into oblivion or isolate us from the source of life.
Mysteriously, death has become the very means by which we are ushered into life.
There is no fear. There is no darkness. There is no bitter regret.
For in death, we finally meet the Bridegroom. The very one who has been wooing our souls from the beginning.
The Dormition of our Mother shows us that our Lord, having preceded us in death by His own death, waits for us.
And because Christ is present, even death is filled with light and joy.
The falling asleep of the Virgin is called the "deathless Dormition" because death is no longer a static state but has been transformed into a dynamic pathway that leads to life.
Today, our Mother shows us this. And shows us how we, too, might be confident in death.
The last two verses from the Gospel lesson for this Feast proclaims:
"And it happened, as [Jesus] spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
We should not confuse the order of things.
At the Annunciation, when Mary responded to the Angel Gabriel and said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word..."
Her response to the angel was not the beginning of her journey to becoming the handmaid of the Lord.
We often make the mistake of looking at the Annunciation as the beginning of her real devotion to God.
But this young woman was chosen to be Theotokos precisely because she had already prepared her heart to receive Christ.
Conceiving God in the flesh, giving birth the God-Man, uniting in her person the creator and the created...
This is the culmination of a life lived striving to hear the word of God and keep it.
We, too, must strive to hear and keep the Word of God and in a similar manner conceive of Christ within our hearts.
The Dormition icon shows us that the Mother of God died to herself and to the temporary things of the world long before her physical death.
Her death is joyous because all that entices her, all that tugs at her heart, all that she truly desires is fulfilled in the reuniting of Mother and Son.
When we leave the things we love, we grieve. But when we begin the journey home, our heart burns with joy and anticipation.
The life given over to Christ, discovers that the journey toward our own earthly end is similar. Each step of our earthly life becomes a step of joy and anticipation because each step, each experience, brings us closer to Christ.
What are we holding back?
What things do we still cling to, what things have we not surrendered to our Lord?
When we approach death, will we grieve for the stuff of earth?
Or having died to our own earthly desires, will we be able to see death in its proper light?
As a transition to life everlasting and union with our Lord and all those whom we love who have preceded us.
The Mother of God is called the "lamp of the unapproachable Light." This is our task: to become the lamp of the unapproachable Light.
To cultivate the Word of God within our hearts so that our actions and speech and thoughts shine with this unapproachable light:
The light of our Savior that offers hope and blessing and the promise of victory in death.