Our Church is named for the falling- asleep of the Virgin Mary. It is a firm belief of the Orthodox Church that the soul, after physical death, is alive in Christ. Hence we simply term a persons passing as their falling-asleep or dormition rather than limiting the human person to mere ‘death’. The term Theotokos is a Greek term for the Virgin Mary meaning ‘birth-giver of God’. This term was proclaimed at the 4th Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon which confessed Christ to be fully God and fully man at the same time. Hence the Virgin Mary in fact gave birth to God in human form. In acknowledging her as Theotokos, we in fact confess the divinity of Christ.
The traditions surrounding the earthly repose of Christ’s mother is taken from the Protoevangelion of St James. Attributed to the hand of the first bishop of Jerusalem, it tells of how, after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Virgin Mary lived in Jerusalem where she preached and taught the Word of God and looked after the sick and the poor.
The years passed and finally Mary, the Mother of God, was approaching the end of her years on earth. Three days before her death, she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who told her that she would soon die. She wanted to see the Apostles before she died, so they returned to Jerusalem and gathered around her to pray. Finally, the Mother of God peacefully gave up her soul as if she fell asleep.
Before her falling asleep, she chose a tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane where she wanted to be buried. Large crowds followed her funeral procession to the tomb, and many miracles accompanied her burial.
Some of the Jewish leaders and priests, who opposed the New Testament teachings of Christ, tried to disperse the crowds but were unsuccessful. One of their priests, Athonius, tried to push the body of the Virgin Mary off the bed they were carrying her body on. Suddenly, his hands were cut off by an invisible angelic power. Athonius cried out in pain for God to forgive him, and immediately St Peter healed his hands back to their original state.
All of the Apostles except St Thomas were present at the funeral. When Thomas arrived in Jerusalem, three days after the funeral, he asked to see the body so he could pay his respects. The Apostles took Thomas to the tomb and removed the stone sealing the entrance. To their astonishment, the body of the Holy Virgin was not in the tomb. Then an Angel sent from God appeared to announce that her body had been taken to Heaven just like Jesus’ was.
This feast day of the Theotokos is celebrated every year on the 15th of August.
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Feast Day: 15th August