Dormition of the Holy Theotokos

Dormition of the Holy Theotokos

The first chapter of St. Luke’s gospel contains an outstanding hymn by the holy Theotokos, which poured out of her heart in response to the salutation of her relative, the righteous Elizabeth: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” This Elizabethan prophecy, that we repeat so often in one of our most favorite prayers “Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos,” was followed by Mary’s hymn, Mary’s prayerful prophesy, which is especially important for our attention on the day of her glorious Dormition.

“And Mary said: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.’” From her childhood her entire life was dedicated to God. Her very birth from the childless and elderly parents was a miraculous one. From her infancy her home was the Temple, where she was presented at the age of three years, and was totally dedicated to God. The angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced the will of God, telling her that the Son of God was to be born of her. In an act of voluntary humility and loving obedience, she accepted on behalf of the whole of humanity this good news, this good will of God concerning her. What remained for her to say, how to begin her hymn to God, which we so very often hear in our churches, if not by the glorification of God who loved her, and was loved by her — My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

The sanctity of God’s name was an inseparable part of the faith and hopes of Old Testament Israel. God’s name concealed in itself such a fiery force that it was forbidden to use it in vain, even to pronounce it. Its sanctity, its holiness and mystery retain their power in Christ’s church. We bless, baptize, and celebrate the sacraments in the name of God, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation,” Mary continues her prayer to God. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in Him with trembling.” So said her ancestor King David in one of his early psalms. There is no fear in this, no trembling as in the humiliation of a slave. This is a fear before a mystery, the fear before a holy thing. And the Virgin Mary understands that only in such fear of God, such trembling before Him, prayerful trembling, ‘generation upon generation’ of His children will find His unceasing mercy.

God is a God of righteousness, and although through its whole history humanity very often bows before naked power, before might, before force, God’s will concerning humanity happens on a different plane, in a different dimension. Just as the Holy Virgin says: “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly.” How many falls from thrones has the history of humanity seen? How completely their glory has disappeared from historical memory. Their names do not appear in the Christian calendar, which flows over with names of the humble, of the saints elevated by God into eternal and heavenly glory. “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” How many of those who thirst in spirit have been nurtured ‘not by bread alone’, but by the word of God? How many rich and wealthy, self-glorifying, self-exalting, the ones who advertise themselves, have been “sent away empty,” have disappeared in the darkness of time?

God’s covenant, God’s promise has remained eternally. His covenant with Israel the chosen people, His promise according to which the church, the new Israel, has inherited the Messiah. The Messiah, the Son of God, has been sent into the world “as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.” These are the concluding words, the crowning words of the hymn of the Virgin Mary. The entire history of the Old and New Testaments of this humanity is tied together by these words. And in the center of this history we see the one who is full of light and holiness, from whose mouth, from whose heart flows this great and inspired glorification of the mighty providence of God concerning man: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

Fr. George Benigsen