August 16, 2022

Homily Four on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1958)

Our Lord Jesus Christ was pleased to mark the death of His Most Pure Mother in human flesh as a great event in the history of the Church and even in the history of the world.

The Holy Church honors the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos with a two-week fast, equal in severity to Great Lent.

Do you remember the deeply disturbing words of our Lord Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross, spoken shortly before the terrible words “It is finished”: “Woman! Behold, thy son” (John 19:26), and turning his gaze to his beloved disciple John: “Behold, thy mother” (John 19:27).

And until her death, the Most Holy Theotokos lived with her betrothed son John, and in the large room of his house her great Dormition took place.

She lay on her deathbed, at the head of which shone with an unearthly light a heavenly branch brought to the Most Holy Theotokos by the Archangel Gabriel three days before Her death. Near the deathbed of the Most Holy Theotokos sat her betrothed son, the Apostle John, and followed her sighs, which became more and more rare. When the last breath came, the heavenly branch went out and only the funeral candles continued to burn.

And suddenly the upper room of the Blessed Virgin became the sky: it was filled with clouds, on which the holy apostles were miraculously brought, preaching in all ends of the then world.

Something much greater also happened: with a whole host of Angels, the Lord and our God Jesus Christ Himself descended from heaven to the bed of His Most Pure Mother in the flesh, in order to receive her holy soul. With her and with a host of Angels, He again ascended to heaven - and only the apostles remained.

They sang funeral songs, doused the body with incense and, raising her bed on their shoulders, carried it to the Garden of Gethsemane, where the Most Holy Theotokos bequeathed to bury herself. They placed the body of the Dead in a stone tomb carved into the rock, and covered it with a large flat stone.

According to the dispensation of God, the Apostle Thomas, who preached in distant India, was brought on a cloud to Jerusalem only on the third day after the burial of the Most Pure One. In great grief, he asked the apostles to at least show him the tomb of the Most Holy Theotokos. They took him to Gethsemane, rolled away the stone that closed the tomb, and saw with amazement that it was empty.

But could it be otherwise?! Could our Lord Jesus Christ allow the body of the Most Holy of Holies, the Most Pure Temple of the Savior, to decompose and rot along with the bodies of all sinful people? Oh no, of course not! The very thought of it is intolerable to us.

And with deep faith we, the Orthodox, and the entire Roman Catholic Church accept the immutable tradition of the Church about the resurrection and ascension to heaven of the Most Holy Theotokos.

We also have material evidence of the deep antiquity and truth of this ecclesiastical tradition. In the Spanish city of Zaragoza, in the Church of Saint Engracia, a stone sarcophagus is still kept, on which the image of the ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary is carved. This sarcophagus has been standing in Zaragoza since the first half of the 4th century AD. And on some ancient Russian icons we find clear traces of the faith of our ancient ancestors in the ascension of the Most Holy Theotokos to heaven.

It is very important for us to correctly understand and remember the words of the troparion of the great feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos: "... in your dormition you did not leave the world, Theotokos ...".

Her death was not a common death for all people, which is sung in the second antiphon of the liturgy: “His breath shall go forth, and he shall return to his earth; in that day all his thoughts shall perish” (Ps. 145:4) .

For all people, at the moment of death, all functions of the body and soul cease, and all connections with earthly life are lost. There remains only the eternal life of the spirit, freed from the connection with the body and soul. This was not the case at the death of the Mother of God. Only for a while did her consciousness fade and her breathing ceased, but all the functions of her most holy body only changed. The need for sleep, food and drink disappeared forever. An angelic life began, but the spiritual connection with the earthly world did not break, and it is truly said in the troparion of the feast: "... you did not leave the world, Theotokos ..." . She is a constant intercessor for us before God, saving us from eternal death by her intercession - the Zealous Intercessor of the Christian race.

Let us love and honor her with all our hearts as a Common Representative for all us humble and sinners before her Divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be glory and power with His Beginningless Father and the Most Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.