August 1, 2014

The Mother of Life and the Mother of Us All

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Every year on August 15th we celebrate the Koimisis (Dormition or Repose) and Metastasis (Translocation or Translation) of the Theotokos (Bearer of God), and it is called the Summer Pascha (Easter). If the memory of a saint is the cause of joy and celebration for the entire Church Community, the Dormition of the Theotokos is the resplendent joy and celebration of the entire Orthodox universe.

The Panagia (All-Holy One) is the Mother of Christ and therefore the Mother of Life and the cause of human salvation. "You were translated to life and exist as the Mother of Life." Yet she also, like all people, had to pay the "common debt", to meet death, which is not a creation of God, but the result of sin. Of course, the Resurrection of Christ abolished death and the souls of the just have a foretaste of Paradise. Their bodies will resurrect spiritually and incorruptibly at the Second Coming of Christ and each will be united with their own souls. However, by divine concession and philanthropy, there is a temporal separation of the soul from the body, so that evil would not be immortal. The human body dissolves in the grave until the common resurrection. But for the divine vessel body of the Panagia, the body that contained for nine months and nursed as an infant God the Word, it was not possible for it to be held in the grave. Three days after her dormition "Christ, whom she bore without seed, translocated her to those dwellings". Her body was resurrected and united with her pure soul and, spiritually and incorruptibly, ascended into the heavens, to be forever unto the ages of ages near her Son and God. "Wherefore dying, you were raised by your Son to live unto the ages" (Cosmas the Poet, First Ode in the Canon of the Dormition of the Theotokos).

In the last mystery of her life, her glorious Dormition, there must have been present all the "eyewitness and servants of the Lord", namely the Apostles and Holy Hierarchs, such as Dionysius the Areopagite and his teacher Saint Hierotheos, the first Bishop of Athens. That's why they gathered in a miraculous manner from the ends of the inhabited universe to send off her God-Receiving and most-refined body. "Assembled from all parts by divine power, they came to Zion, and sped on her way to heaven she who is higher than the cherubim" (Doxastikon of Great Vespers for the Dormition of the Theotokos).

The Translocation of the Theotokos, or her Resurrection and the Ascension of her body, is attested to by many of the God-bearing Fathers of our Church, such as Saints Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus, Gregory Palamas, Mark of Ephesus, Theodore the Studite and others. The hymnology of our Church also highlights this event when we festively chant: "The Theotokos, who is unsleeping in her intercessions and our firm hope in her protection, the tomb and death could not hold, she who is the Mother of Life, and she was translocated to life by the One Who dwelt in the ever-virgin" (Kontakion for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos).

The departure of the Theotokos was glorious, as well as her entire life. Naturally she also knew pain, since this is interwoven with the life of man after the fall. There is no circumstance in which a person can go without pain in this life, which is why it is important how we face these setbacks and tribulations that cause pain. The way we face these things is related to our mindset and the entire personality of each person. Illness and death are the endpoint signs of human life and in these circumstances it is difficult for someone to pretend. Thus our spiritual state is revealed; who we really are. The repose of the saints, as well as their entire lives, is something amazing. You will see a person calm, serene, peaceful, without stress or terror, waiting for their departure from this life with such longing, such as someone who is away from their homeland for many years and now, finally, they are returning to the place they love.

The people of God are not afflicted by their sorrows, but rather they widen their minds and hearts and open up new horizons, as the Scripture says, "in tribulation you widened me" (Ps. 4:2 LXX) and "we are afflicted in every way, but not saddened" (2 Cor. 4:8). Someone sanctified said: "The person who saddens me has yet to be born." Therefore, the problem in life is not the afflictions, which will always exist, but the way we treat them. And this method should be such that it helps us to avoid confusion and despair and preserve peace in our soul. Such things the long experience of the Church suggests: absolute trust in God's will and resorting to prayer to the Mother of Life and the Mother of us all.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Η ΜΗΤΕΡΑ ΤΗΣ ΖΩΗΣ", August 1997. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.