Shunoyo (Dormition of the Theotokos)
Feast Day: August 15
The Theotokos had now reached an advanced age. Her fervent and unceasing desire was to leave the body and be with her beloved Son and God. The Mother of God did not fear death, nor did she seek to avoid it. She knew that death had already been overcome by her Son and God. At that time she still lived in the house of John the Evangelist on Mount Sion. She often went from there to the Mount of Olives to offer fervent prayers. As she was thus praying on the Mount of Olives that the Lord quickly take her to heaven, there appeared before her the archangel Gabriel and disclosed to the Theotokos the following: “Thus says your Son: The days are approaching when I will take My Mother unto Me”. Thus the Virgin heard those much longed for words which she received with gladness.
Tradition has it that it occurred on a Friday. Thus after three days, on a Sunday, she would depart and be with Christ. On the message of the angel, she uttered the following prayer to God: “I would not have been worthy to receive Thee, O Lord, into my womb, unless Thou Thyself had mercy on me, Thy slave. I kept the treasure entrusted to me and, therefore, I have the boldness to ask Thee, O King of glory, to protect me from the power of Gehenna”. The Theotokos also desired to behold the holy Apostles who were scattered throughout the world preaching the Gospel. When the Virgin knelt and offered her petition and thanksgiving, her prayer was accompanied by a manifestation: the olive trees growing on the Mount of Olives bowed with her as they were animate. When the Theotokos knelt, the trees bent down; when she arose, the trees straightened themselves out again. Thus, even the trees revered and honoured the Mother of God.
After completing her prayer, the Theotokos returned to her home. The Theotokos prepared for her repose. She told the matter to the beloved disciple John, who had taken her into his home as his own mother. She ordered that her bed and room be decorated, and that incense and as many lamps as possible to be lit in it. She then changed her clothes. Simply put, all necessary preparations for her burial were made.
John at once sent for James. John also sent for all their relatives and neighbours, informing them of the imminent repose of the Mother of God. James, too informed all the Christians, both them that were in Jerusalem and in the surrounding towns and villages. Thus, a great multitude of the faithful gathered around the Theotokos. The whole house was filled with weeping and lamentation. The Theotokos, however, asked them not to weep for her, but to rejoice at her repose. These comforting words dried the tears and brought solace to their sorrow.
The Theotokos then made a will concerning her two garments. She desired that they be given to two poor widows who had faithfully served her and received their maintenance from her. With regard to her body, the Mother of God made her will known that it should be buried on the Mount of Olives, not far from Jerusalem, in the garden of Gethsemane. There also were interred her parents, the righteous Joachim and Anna, and her spouse, Joseph. The tombs lay in the Valley of Jehosaphat between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.
While the Theotokos was making these arrangments, all of a sudden a noise was heard, similar to a clap of thunder. A cloud then encircled the home of John. By the command of God, angels had siezed the Apostles that were scattered to the ends of the world and brought them on clouds to Jerusalem. All, except the Apostle Thomas, were then placed on Sion before the door of the house where the Theotokos dwelt. Therefore, on seeing one another, the holy Apostles rejoiced, but at the same time they wondered, saying, “Why has the Lord gathered us together in this place?” John informed them of the speedy departure of the Mother of God.
It was the Lord’s day, and the fifteenth day of the month of August, when that blessed hour that all were awaiting drew near. It was the third hour of the day (9:00 a.m.). In the rooms the lamps were burning. The holy Apostles were offering praise to God. When they had prayed, there was a thunder from heaven and there came a fearful voice as if of chariots; and behold, a multitude of a host of angels and powers, and a voice, as if of the Son of Man was heard. Raising herself from bed as if she were trying to go and meet her Son, she worshipped the Lord. The she said, “Ready is my heart, O God, ready is my heart”. The she repeated the words once said by her, “Be it unto me according to Thy word” [Lk 1:38], and then lay down on the bed. With these words, the Theotokos, surrendered her soul into the hands of the Lord. At once there began wonderful and joyous angelic singing repeating the fomer words of gabriel: Rejoice, thou who are full of grace, the Lord is with thee: Blessed are thou among women” [Lk 1:28].
Then a solemn procession conveyed the body of the Theotokos from Sion through Jerusalem to Gethsemane. The tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane was east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley. Finally, the holy Apostles with all the multitude of Christians reached the Garden. When they laid down the bier with the body, the Christians began to weep. In giving the last kiss, the Christians fell down before the body of the Theotokos. Kissing it, thy shed copious tears, so that only towards evening could the body be placed in the new tomb. Her relics were laid with the greatest honour, while chanting and weeping took place. When the Apostles stepped before her bier to bid her farewell, each according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they uttered pslams of triumph and thanksgiving and chanted prayers.
Many believe that at the end of her life Mary was assumed bodily ‘into heaven’. This claim, magisterially entitled ‘The Doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’, is a Latin concept. The Orthodox marked this feast as the koimesis (dormition) of the Theotokos. Finally, we Orthodox do not “worship” the Virgin Mary. We “venerate” her and show her great honor. Nor have we ever, like the Latins, developed the idea that the Theotokos was born without sin (the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception) or that she is a co-redemptor with Christ. The consensus of the Church Fathers rejects such ideas, and the Orthodox Church adheres to that consensus. However, we do believe that the Virgin Mary is an image of the Christian goal of becoming Christ-like, of theosis. Just as the Theotokos gave birth to Christ in a bodily way, so we must bear Christ in a spiritual way. In so doing, we imitate her practical spiritual life, including the purity and humility by which she formed her free will into perfect obedience to the Will of God.
Written by Tenny Thomas