August 10, 2015

How the Icon of the Dormition Shows the Mystery of the Church

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, my beloved brethren, is the biggest feast of the Mother of God in the annual festal calendar cycle. In as much as it celebrates our Panagia in the middle of the summer, and we visit various churches and chapels dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, this feast takes on greater brilliance and arouses emotion in our souls.

On this day we embrace the sacred icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. In the middle of the icon we see the all-undefiled body of our Panagia on a bed. Behind her body we see Christ holding in His hands a small infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, which is the soul of the Panagia, having just separated from her body. Around the Panagia and Christ are the holy Apostles, who came from the ends of the inhabited world "by divine command". Also, Angels stand in ecstasy. There are even three Bishops, namely Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, the Apostle Timothy and the Bishop of Athens Saint Hierotheos. All sing hymns to the Panagia. In front of the bed of the Panagia is a certain man, whose hands are cut off and hanging from the body of the Panagia. This is Jephonias the Jew, who went to dishonor the body of the Panagia and the Archangel immediately cut his hands off.

The entire icon not only represents what happened during the funeral service of the Panagia, but it also shows what the Church is. It is an icon that shows in a most vivid way the mystery of the Church.

The Church is not a human organization, but the Divine-human Body of Christ. It is the union of God and man in the person of Christ. In the sacred icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos we see the Church having Christ and the Panagia as its center, since she is the Mother of Christ, and around them are the Apostles, the Bishops and the Angels. The Church is the Bridegroom Christ, the Mother of the Bridegroom, and the friends of the Bridegroom.

Then, the sacred icon clearly shows that death has been abolished in the Church, and that which we call death is simply a sleep. The body receives the Grace of God and it shines, while the soul continues to live after death, and if a person has been sanctified they are "in the hands of God." What took place with the Panagia, by analogy, we also desire to take place with us. That is, we hope, when the time for our departure from this world has come, we are in the Church, praying, having our spiritual fathers in our midst, so that we may receive their blessing and especially to commune of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Also, just as Jephonias tried to dishonor the body of the Panagia and was unable, so there are various enemies who are trying to hurt the Body of Christ, namely the Church, but they have not succeeded nor will they succeed in any way, because the Church is not a human association, but the Divine-human Body of Christ. The Church has great power, and fears absolutely nothing, saving all, even her so-called enemies, if they repent.

The Panagia has caused great joy throughout the inhabited world, because she gave birth to Christ, who is our joy and our hope and our salvation. This is why we love her and supplicate to her to protect us, to strengthen us in the difficult times of our lives, to intercede that we may remain in the Orthodox Church, and to mediate that we may be found worthy to conquer death with the power of Christ and enter into the heavenly Church.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Γραπτὰ Κυρήγματα: Κυριακή, 15 Αυγούστου 2000, Ἑορτὴ τῆς Κοιμήσεως τῆς Θεοτόκου", August 2000. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.