August 15, 2014

The Genuine and True Celebration of the Dormition of the Theotokos

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The hymns compiled by the hymnographers of the Church for Christians to celebrate feasts, as well as today's feast of the Dormition of our Panagia, are masterpieces, as much in the structure, images and cosmetic adjectives they use, as well as in their content, which respond to the great existential problems of man, such as about life and death. When reading carefully these hymns one is amazed by their wisdom and beauty.

The canon we chanted today in the Service of Matins is included in this category and it is the work of Saint Kosmas the Poet, who was the foster brother of Saint John of Damascus. This canon has amazing hymns that analyze the content of the feast and show its importance. The acronym of these hymns, which are the initial letters of all the hymns put together, make up the following words: "πανηγυριζέτωσαν οι θεόφρονες" ("the godly-minded celebrate"). I would like to make a small commentary on this phrase.

First, we need to examine the word πανηγυριζέτωσαν. The word πανήγυρις (panygeris) in ecclesiastical language means "a mass celebration" for the feasts that refer to Christ, the Panagia and the Saints who celebrate in every land. An ecclesiastical celebration includes prayer, participation in the Divine Liturgy, and communing of the Body and Blood of Christ after proper preparation, such as repentance, confession, etc. Of course, people associate celebrations with entertainment and dancing. The Church does not exclude such outward joy, as long as the ecclesiastical celebration precedes it and when it is done after related preparation in the appropriate ways. But when fun is at the expense of worship and especially at the expense of the Divine Liturgy, and in contrast to the tradition of the Church, then it does not benefit spiritually. If we study the way people celebrated in the olden days, then we will see the difference with some of the modern ways we celebrate.

However, the genuine celebration is the Divine Liturgy and the worship of the Church in general. In the Divine Liturgy people chant along with the angels, they pray with the saints, they communicate with the Panagia, they are associated with Christ. As our Fathers of the Church say, the Divine Liturgy is the union of angels and humanity, the living and the dead. Anyone who really senses the Divine Liturgy to be a celebration sees also a change in their lives, and they can behave in a better way with others.

The next word of the acronym is "οι θεόφρονες", that is, those who think according to God must celebrate. The Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians: "Think things above, seek things above, and not earthly things" (Col. 3:2). Ecclesiastical feasts are celebrated by people who have the mind of God, who aim to experience the meaning of the feast. The Prophets of the Old Testament and the Holy Fathers of the Church struggled so that people could learn to celebrate according to God and not in a worldly fashion.

This applies also to today's feast of the Dormition of our Panagia. The meaning of this feast is spiritual, since the Panagia experienced the resurrection of Christ in her existence and now dwells in the heavens and intercedes for us. The Panagia participated in the mystery of our salvation, which is why we must give her our due respect. We must always celebrate as godly-minded, that is, it should be preceded with fasting and repentance, we should commune of the Body and Blood of Christ, we should live in an ecclesiastical way and try to observe the will of her Son and God in our lives.

I wish you all many years for today's great feast of the Mother of God.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Εορτή Κοιμήσεως της Θεοτόκου: Οι πραγματικοί - αληθινοί εορταστές", July 2008. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.