By His Eminence Metropolitan Nikodemos (Ballendras) of Patras
The Falling Asleep in the Lord of the Most Holy Theotokos is celebrated today by the Orthodox Church everywhere. The mournful event of falling-asleep retreats and a sublime jubilation takes its place. The sacred hymn-writer offers a first explanation of the joyful side of the present Feast, when he says “in falling asleep you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos.”
1. According to holy tradition this outlook and conviction, that the All-holy Theotokos did not abandon the faithful people of God after her falling asleep, was taught and suggested by her to the Apostles, and through the Apostles it was transmitted to subsequent generations including our own. Our Church has preserved from this tradition –especially in her hymnology– the main incidents in the falling asleep of the Theotokos.
When the Lord reckoned that the fullness of time had come to call His All-holy Mother from the earth to heaven, and place her beside Him, He sent her a message with the Archangel (Gabriel), which is regarded as a second annunciation. It was indeed a joyful gospel message, because it informed her that she would soon meet again with her Son in heaven and stay with Him forever.
The idea of death –and the mystery of death itself– which grips human beings with fear and agony when they encounter it, had no place in the thought and heart of the Theotokos. The reason for this was that she was completely driven by feelings of heavenly joy, since she realized that the time had come for her to be close to her Son once again. So, she immediately engaged in human preparations. She kissed good-by her beloved relatives, distributed her meager belongings to pious women, and gave instructions concerning her funeral.
Then a miraculous event took place: “The Apostles, gathered at Gethsemane from the ends of the world,” to bury her immaculate body, while she called upon the invisible presence of her Son, saying her final words “and You, my Son and my God, receive my spirit.” It was exactly in this way that the All-holy Theotokos delivered her spirit to the hands of the Lord, surrounded by the holy Apostles.
2. It was natural, humanly speaking, that the Apostles would express their sadness to her for her departure, and their sense of being orphaned now that, after the Ascension of the Lord that had preceded, they would be also deprived of the bodily presence and consolation of His All-holy Mother, whom, as is easy to understand, they regarded as their Mother as well. And also, that she would assure them that from heaven too she would continue to be near them and to support them maternally forever.
It is also certain that for us Christians the same maternal support and protection from the All-holy Mother of the Lord is applicable; and that it would not be far from reality if we imagined that she addresses to us the same consoling words which the Lord had addressed earlier: “It is to your advantage that I depart” (John 16:7), “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). Indeed, we have many indications, that “in falling asleep she did not abandon the world;” because the Theotokos, “being the Mother of Life was translated into Life.”
She who gave birth to the Leader of life as man, does not submit herself to death, but “has passed from death into Life” (John 5:24). As the sacred hymn writer expressly states, “grave and mortality did not prevail over her, because being the Mother of life Christ led her into life.” She did not remain in the grave. She was transported to heaven. “Death was swallowed up in victory,” i.e. death was conquered in her person (I Cor. 15:54).
3. So, the All-holy Theotokos entered into her glory. “As Mother of God she is glorified both in heaven and on earth” by angels and human beings –the Church “triumphant” in heaven and “militant” on the earth– and she has been exalted to the height of glory by her Son. “Having obtained maternal boldness towards Him” she has the exceptional privilege to grant to the world protection and covering, i.e. her mediations and help to those who turn to her and invoke her name.
She is our “mediator” towards Christ, i.e. supporting our prayers and supplications with maternal love and with a welcomed and potent intercession to Him on our behalf. Her constant and protecting advocacy is a given. As long as we pursue the way of holiness we attract her sympathy all the more; because it is easily understood and quite obvious that the All-holy Theotokos feels greater kinship with those who follow her path – which is always the path of holiness. Consequently, we are called in this way to develop our own filial relation to her, so as to prove ourselves being her genuine and beloved children, since “He [Christ] who sanctifies and those [Christians] who are sanctified are all from One [Father]” (Heb. 2:11) and become brethren of Christ and, therefore, children of His All-holy Mother.
My dear fellow Christians, the life in Christ is crowned by the death in Christ (falling-asleep); and both lead to “eternal life” and heavenly blessedness. Living according to Christ with such a direction and perspective, we, the celebrants of the All-holy Theotokos, will acquire in every step of our lives tangible verifications that “The superlatively holy Theotokos did not abandon the world when she fell asleep in the Lord.”
Source: From his book Θεοµητορικά Μηνύµατα, Αποστολική Διακονία, Αθήνα 1985.