August 23, 2019

The Mystery of the Cross in the Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

At the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos we kiss the sacred icon that represents the event of her Dormition. The whole icon is not only a representation of what took place during the funeral service of the Panagia, but it also shows what the Church is. It is an icon that most vividly illustrates the mystery of the Church.

The whole composition of the people depicted in the icon forms an invisible Cross. The horizontal dimension of the Cross is formed by the bed, where the dead body of the Theotokos is. The vertical dimension of the Cross is formed on the upper part by Christ, who is standing, and on the lower part by the Jew Jephonias who wished to dishonor the body of the Theotokos. It is thus an invisible Cross that consists of Christ, the Theotokos, and those present at her Dormition, most of whom sing hymns on her behalf while one tries to dishonor her.

The Cross is a glory and a dishonor, salvation and condemnation. The Apostle Paul proclaims: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).

The Church also has its temptations that come from people, who have never experienced nor understood the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. They have neither tasted nor been initiated in divine life, and those who live another dimension of life resist it.

In the teachings of the Fathers there is talk of the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, which is the love of God, gushing from the Triune God before the creation of the world, during creation, before the fall of man, after the fall, before the incarnation of Christ, at the incarnation, before Pentecost, and after it. This love of God is variously given, either as burning or illuminating, through the double energy of the Cross.

This mystery of the Cross is especially evident in the faces of the people depicted in the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Pain and longing, love and prayer, ecstasy and vision, hymns and silence, all these come together in the mystery of the Cross of Christ.

The Cross is the glory of Christ together with His love and kenosis, but it is also the glory of the Theotokos, who all her life lived in the deepest humility which is the divinely made and exalted kenosis, that is, the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection. This was experienced by the Apostles and Hierarchs who proved to be friends of God, friends of the Cross.

Finally, the invisible formation of the Cross in the icon can emphasize the value of the human being, by their whole life and the manner of their repose, having as a model the Theotokos, where the horizontal dimension is the Cross, and with the vertical dimension is added the Grace of God.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.