August 14, 2020

The Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos as an Icon of the Church (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, my dear brethren, is the greatest feast of the Mother of God in the annual festal cycle. In as much as our Panagia is celebrated in the middle of Summer, and as we go to many churches and many chapels, which are dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, this feast acquires greater brilliance and causes emotion in our soul.

On this day we kiss the sacred icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. In the middle of the icon we see the all-immaculate body of our Panagia on a bed. Behind the body we see Christ holding in his hands a small infant swaddled, which is the soul of the Panagia, that has just left her body. Around the Panagia and Christ are the holy Apostles, who came from the ends of the Universe "with a sign by the authority of God". Angels also stand in ecstasy. There are also three Bishops, namely Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, the Apostle Timothy and Saint Hierotheos, Bishop of Athens. Everyone sings hymns to the Panagia. And in front of the Panagia's bed there is a man, whose hands are cut off and cling onto the body of the Panagia. This is the Jew Jephonia, who went to dishonor the body of the Panagia and immediately the Archangel cut off his hands.

The whole icon not only represents what happened during the funeral of the Panagia, but also shows what the Church is. This is an icon that shows in the painted form the mystery of the Church.

The Church is not a human organization, but the Divine-Human Body of Christ. It is the unity of God and men in the person of Christ. In the holy icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos we see that the Church has at its center Christ and the Panagia, as the Mother of Christ, and around them, the Apostles, the Bishops and the Angels. The Church is the Bridegroom Christ, the Bridegroom's mother and the Bridegroom's friends.

Then, in the sacred icon it is clear that in the Church death has been abolished, but what we call death is a mere sleep. The body receives the Grace of God and this illuminates it, but also the soul lives after death, and if someone has been sanctified they are "in the hands of God". What is happening to the Panagia, by analogy, we want to happen to us. That is, we pray, when the time has come to leave this world, to be in the Church, to pray, to have the spiritual fathers near us, to receive their blessing and, above all, to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Also, just as Jephonia tried to dishonor the body of the Panagia and did not succeed, so there are various enemies who try to harm the Body of Christ which is the Church, but they have not succeeded and will not succeed in doing anything, because the Church is not a human organization, but the Divine-Human Body of Christ. The Church has great power, she is not afraid of anything at all, but she saves everything and even her so-called enemies, when they repent.

The Panagia caused great joy throughout the universe, because she gave birth to Christ, who is our joy and the hope of our salvation. That is why we love her and ask her to protect us, to strengthen us in the difficult hours of our lives, to intercede for us to remain in the Orthodox Church, and to mediate that we be found worthy to overcome death by the power of Christ and to enter into the heavenly Church.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.