The Dormition of Mary

MP3 Audio:  WS330299_Dn-Joseph_Dormition.mp3

This homily was preached on Thursday morning, August 15, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Today we come together to remember the falling asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our God is One.

This feast has two names. Some people recognize it as the Dormition of the Theotokos. Dormition literally means “the falling asleep.” We also know it as The Assumption—The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And that’s what happened next. Because you see, she wasn’t dead and gone forever. She simply went into death as into a sleep. And a few days later, the Lord resurrected her, and assumed her body and soul into heaven.

She lived her life in submission, and humility, and obedience to God. Tradition holds that in her early sixties, after having spent many years with the Lord, and then with his Church, and living in the same house, being taken care of by the Apostle John, that she had been praying to leave this world and to finally experience the fullness of Glory in heaven with Him. And miraculously, the Lord brought together from the four corners of the earth the Apostles.

She wanted to see them one more time before she went to go be with the Lord. She gave them some final encouragements, and then she gave up her spirit and she passed away. They laid her in a tomb.

We have to say that the Apostle Thomas was quiet consistent. Just as he had been late–all the other apostles had seen the risen Lord, but Thomas didn’t until a week later–so Thomas did not get to see Mary before she died. He too was late, and this was by providence. This was by God’s doing, because when he finally showed up and the other Apostles had told him that Mary had already passed away, and been laid in the tomb, he made a request. He loved her so much, and he missed her so much, he asked to see her one more time. So they opened up the tomb just a few days after she had died and had been laid to rest, and she is not there.

Just as they had gone to the tomb of Christ and found no body, they opened the tomb of Mary and there is no body, there is no corpse. There are flowers, and there is the aroma, not of death, but of flowers filling the air. And to this day, though we have many relics, bones, and bone fragments from the Apostles, from the saints, from the martyrs, we have no relics from Mary, because we don’t have her body. Her body has already risen again. God has already taken Mary, body and soul, into heaven. But before she ascended into heaven–before she was resurrected–just like the rest of us, she had to experience death. For she, too, was a child of Adam, and had to suffer as a result of his sin.

And I have to wonder, what was that funeral like? What sort of eulogy do you preach for the Mother of God? Probably like most funerals, like most eulogies, they talked about her life, and her unique accomplishments. Mary was a faithful servant of God, a humble servant of God.

At the Incarnation of the Lord, the time when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, she was there, for He was conceived within her womb by the Holy Ghost.

At the birth of Christ, the first Christmas, she was there, for she was His Mother, giving birth to Him. This was before any of the Apostles were probably even born. And even if any of them were even alive, they knew nothing of this event, in all likelihood. She teaches Him how to walk, she teaches Him how to talk.

Years go by, and the time comes for His public ministry. And He begins His public ministry with an amazing miracle! At a wedding in Cana there is no more wine. And yes the other Apostles were present, they were merely just spectators. She was a participant. They were watching what Jesus was doing; she was asking Him to do it. She didn’t know how He would take care of the problem, but she trusted that He could take care of the issue. She interceded, she made a request, and Jesus fulfilled the request that was made of Him by his Mother. And thus we have the first miracle: the turning of water into wine, and Mary was there.

And we look at His public ministry, Him being attacked by the Pharisees and the Romans and finally his cruel torture, His crucifixion and His death, and while almost everyone else fled and abandoned him, and ran away—Peter even denied knowing him—there were only two at the foot of the cross that had not left His side. You have the Apostle John, whom Jesus loved, of whom it says in Scripture that he laid his head on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper. And then you have–who is this other person?–His Mother, right there at the foot of the cross, in the anguish of seeing her Son mutilated, and tortured, and dying, and condemned, and humiliated, remembering–no doubt–those words that Saint Simeon prophesied thirty-three years earlier, when she had brought Him to the Temple to be circumcised. And Simeon said, “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

As the nails were piercing His hands and His feet, and as that sword was piercing his side, the soul of his Mother was being pierced through in torment, according to Saint Simeon’s prophecy in the book of Luke.

But before He died, He looked at the foot of the cross and He saw the disciple whom He loved–John–and He saw His Mother Mary. And He did something magnificent that applies to each one of us here today. He said, “Mother, woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother.” It says in scripture that Jesus is our elder brother. Well, He took all of us younger brothers and younger sisters, and gave all of us and John to Mary to be her children. And He gave Mary to us to be our Mother.

Think of the family. You have heard your whole life that church is a family. In churches all over the world, and across this country, we hear “Brother Russ,” “Sister Amy,” “Sister Christa,” “Brother Jeremy,” “Brother Jon,” because in a family you have brothers and sisters. And in this family which is called the Church, who is the Father, but God? But if you have a family where there is only a father and brothers and sisters, you know what that is called? It is called a broken home, because no family is a complete family without a Mother. God–He is divine–and He is our Father. Mary is human, and she is our Mother. Jesus looked at the foot of the cross and He told Mary that John, one of His beloved disciples, was now her son, and that Mary was now his Mother. And so likewise, she is our Mother and we are her children.

Mary was there when the Incarnation took place. Mary was there when the birth of Christ took place—the Virgin Birth. Mary was there when Jesus started His public ministry. Mary was there at the foot of the cross when other disciples had abandoned Him. She was there watching Him suffer for our sins. He was gloriously resurrected from the dead. He ascended into heaven. And then to bring about the fullness of the Church on Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit filled His church. And guess what? Mary was there. It says right there in scripture that Mary was there. She was not among the thousands of converts after Pentecost came. Mary was among the few, the hundred and twenty, the faithful who were already Christians, who were already believers before Pentecost arrived and were waiting faithfully and patiently on the day that Pentecost came.

In all of Scripture, what human being was present at the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the first miracle of Christ, the death of Christ, and Pentecost? There is only one. Mary, the Mother of God, was the only human being that was there for all of those things, present and experiencing them faithfully. I would imagine the Apostles probably talked about these things from her life, and probably in great awe . . . we are so impressed with the Apostles because they spent three and a half years of their life walking and talking with Jesus. Can you imagine walking and talking with Jesus Christ himself, in the flesh for three years?

And yet Mary had walked and talked with Jesus for thirty-three years!

Mary had walked and talked with Jesus for thirty years before He had even gotten His first disciple. In fact, Mary is the one who taught Jesus how to walk and talk. That is intimacy. This is the one human being on earth that had intimacy with Jesus on a level that we cannot even conceive. We cannot even imagine.

A prayer that she offered up–echoing Hannah’s prayer–that has become famous throughout the world, in which those of us who pray daily vespers, literally pray this prayer on a daily basis all year long, and every Saturday evening here at the church we pray this throughout the entire year, and that is the Magnificat. And when we look at this prayer that she had prayed, I wonder if as part of her funeral, as part of her eulogy, the Apostles didn’t remember it, and pray it, and chant it, and sing it?

And what is it that we learn about Mary when we look at this prayer, the Magnificat?

“My soul doth magnify the Lord,
My spirit hast rejoiced in God my Savior,
for He that is mighty” . . . has done what?
He “has magnified me.”

Have you ever noticed that she said that?
“For He that is mighty hath magnified me.”

Throughout the Magnificat, it says that “He hath regarded the lowly state of His maidservant. He hath magnified me.” And later in there, having already talked about her humility, her lowliness, she says, “He hath exalted the humble and meek.”

While in the same prayer if she says that God has recognized her humility and her lowliness, and in that same prayer she says that He has exalted the humble and meek, what is she saying? She is saying that God has exalted her. God has regarded the lowliness of His maidservant, recognized her humility: “He has magnified me. All generations shall call me blessed. And he has exalted the humble and meek. He has exalted me.”

You know what? If all generations are to call her blessed, I want to be one of those that calls her blessed. He—God himself—magnifies His Mother Mary. I want to magnify her, too. If God himself, according to Scripture, exalts Mary, then I want to exalt her.

The fifth commandment: “Honor you Father and Mother.” Just like all the other commandments, Jesus kept it perfectly. He honored His Father. And you know what? He also honored His Mother greatly. And she testifies to this within the Magnificat. She is called “magnified,” she is called “blessed,” and she is called “exalted.” And yet so many people today will say they love Jesus, and yet they are scared to magnify Mary, or to exalt Mary, or to say she is blessed, when all three of these things are said in Scripture itself.

Anybody who will not exalt Mary is not being Biblical.
Anybody who will not magnify Mary is not being scriptural.
Anybody who will not call Mary blessed is not being Christian.
Scripture itself testifies these things of the Mother of God.

There is something else in the Magnificat that I would like to look at. And it touches on a great controversy that we have seen go throughout churches, especially in recent times. You see, historically, many people have looked at salvation—and I hope your ears perk up because if you are not here for salvation, then you might as well leave, as that is what the church is about, it is about salvation, so ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ring the bells, this is what we are here for: salvation. We want to be Christians, because we want salvation, we want to worship God, because we want salvation. We come together in Church in the hope of salvation. And historically many people have seen salvation, not so much that happens individually, but corporately in a group.

They wouldn’t so much say that “Jesus came to save me, Joseph, and you Russ, and you Amy, and you Maria, and you Jon. And since He saved all of us one-on-one, well, now we all get together as a group and we have this little club that we call the Church.”

No, that is backwards! Historically, many people have understood that you don’t get saved just one-on-one, “just Jesus and me,” and then get together with other people that got saved one-on-one, and now we have this little group called the Church. That’s wrong. It’s the other way around. Jesus came not to save me; Jesus came to save us! Jesus came to save His bride, the Church, a group and a body of people. Not one person, and another person, and another person, individually. No, he came to save us! We, not me.

But there is a totally different perspective. And it has run rampant throughout America and other parts of the world for the past few generations in recent years. How many of you have heard somebody talk about a “personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ,” and “knowing him as your personal Lord and Savior?” Have you ever heard that? And they are adamant about it, to the point that that is the whole Gospel itself, Not some sideline thing. How many of you have heard of evangelists—people trying to bring people into the church—that have sat down with somebody, and they will even tell you the story later:

“Yeah, I sat down with so-and-so and I talked to them about Christ, and they said, ‘Well, I have been a part of the Church my whole life . . .’

And they don’t accept that. They say,

“Yeah, I know you have been part of a church your whole life, but do you know Jesus as your personal Savior?”

Have you heard that line of questioning? It is very famous. It happens over and over and people talk about it. They say, “I don’t want to hear about your relationship with church or your being part of the church, I want you to tell me, ‘Do you know Jesus as you personal Lord and Savior?’ This is individual, you and Him.”

Well, guess what? I dare you to find that in the Bible. I don’t know where people got that, but it wasn’t out of the Bible. People who think like that are not content to hear somebody say, “I am part of the Church, and Jesus came to save us.” Those people are only happy if you can say that Jesus came to save me! Me!  Me! Me! Me! I, one-on-one! “The church is over there, and I go and attend it sometimes, bit it is mainly about Jesus and me, one- on- one. Mono a mono. It is just Him and me.”

When you get some time, here is a little spiritual exercise, a little educational/spiritual exercise that you can do. Get your Bible and look up the word “savior.” Would you agree that that is a pretty important concept, the concept of Jesus being the Savior? Look it up. Almost every time that the word “savior” is used in the New Testament, there is one of two words that precedes it. It either just focuses on Jesus entirely–and leaving us out altogether–not mentioning us, and just says, “The Savior.” So you will find sometimes in Scripture He is talked about in scripture as “the Savior.” Well, that really doesn’t tell you anything, does it, about whether it is individual or corporate?

But you know what else you will find in scripture? “Our Savior.” Our is a plural word. It means “us;” it means the whole Body.  Not so much the Savior of “me,” but the savior of “we.” The Savior of “us.” The Savior of the Church. He didn’t come to save Russ, and Maria, and John, He came to save the Church. Now, are you part of it or not? It is an important question, isn’t it?

See, if salvation is just one-on-one, just me believing in Jesus, and the Church is off to the side, then you can take it or leave it. But if salvation is only through the Church because the Church is what He came to save, then that impacts my salvation, doesn’t it? And [it impacts] the way that I think about my salvation.

Look at Mathew through Revelation. Look through every verse in the entire New Testament from cover to cover, and not one time will you ever find the Apostle Peter talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Never mentions it. Not one time will you see the apostle Paul call Jesus “my Savior.” Not once. Now, Paul wrote about two thirds of the New Testament. If it was important to view Jesus as “my Savior,” individually, one-on-one, don’t you think Paul would have said something? But Paul never says “my Savior.” Throughout the New Testament, regardless of which Apostle, or saint, or woman, or person, or man, or kid, or anybody speaks, every time the word “Savior” comes up, Jesus is either called “The Savior” or he is called “Our Savior.”

There is only one exception, only one exception. There is only one person in the entire New Testament that ever has the right to say it, and ever presumes to say, “My Savior.” Do you want to guess who that person is?  Mary.

In the Magnificat:
“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my Spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Now, isn’t it ironic that all the people that are most concerned with you having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, want to minimize the one person who had the right to say that she did? The only person in the whole Bible who ever calls him “My Savior” is the Theotokos, Mary, the Mother of God.

And He was her Savior in a very special and unique way that we celebrate today. For you see, this is not just called the Dormition of Mary; this day is also called a feast for the Assumption of Mary, when she was assumed bodily into heaven. She died just like the rest of us, but she got to be the first to be resurrected.

Now, Jesus was obviously resurrected before that, bodily. But Jesus is the God-man, the Theanthropos. He is unique in a very special way. He is man and He is God.

But among us mere mortals, among we who are one hundred percent human and that’s it, Mary was the first.

Now, what is Salvation? Is Salvation something you can say you experienced in the past? “I’ve been saved. I know Christ, now I’ve been saved.” Well, that kind of terminology is okay, but it is sort of like being the guy out at sea–you are about to drown–you’re paddling, the waves are coming up, and there is this boat way over there, and as hard as they can, they throw this life preserver out to you and you grab it and catch on. And the waves are still going, and you’re still soggy and wet and about to get hypothermia, and you are just barely holding on to this life preserver, and you are still out there in the waves and the water, but now that you have that life preserver you say, “Great, I’ve been saved.”

Well, I understand your saying that. And they start reeling in that rope and you get closer and closer to that boat. And aren’t you getting happier and happier the closer you get to that boat? So you are being saved.

You were saved when you grabbed the life preserver.
You are being saved as they are reeling it in.

But what about once they get you on the boat, they get you to shore and they get you dried out, and now your feet are on solid land again, and you are not drowning, and you’re not cold, and you’re not hungry and you are not tired?

Now, now you’ve been saved!

And that is what you are looking forward to. So while they are reeling you in, you are not looking in the past and saying, “I’ve already grabbed the life preserver, I’ve already been saved, I’m done.” No! “I’m not done. Don’t leave me here. Don’t leave me in the water!”

You don’t just look back at the time you grabbed the life preserver and say, “I was saved.” You also look into the future, you look ahead to when they are going to pull you into the boat. They are going to bring you to dry land, and they are going to give you food, and they are going to give you dry clothes. So you also say, “I will be saved.” It is something that is still future, it is still coming, it is still going to happen. And all of us are in that same state.

In fact, you see it in Scripture. Sometimes people in the Bible say, “I have been saved,” past tense. Sometimes people say, “I am being saved,” present tense. And often, if you look around in the Bible, it says, “We will be saved.” It is still future. It hasn’t happened yet.

If you have trusted in Christ, and have been Chrismated and brought into the Church, and are now part of the Church, then you have grabbed that life preserver. (If you are not part of the Church, then you don’t even have the life preserver yet.) But once you are part of the Orthodox Church, you are in, you have taken the Eucharist, and then you can say, “I have been saved. I’ve grabbed that life preserver.”

You can say, “I am being saved, they are reeling me in, and I am getting closer to the boat.”

But guess what? You still have to suffer through sickness, and disappointment, and yes, even you are going to have to die. This body is still corruptible. This body is still decaying. There are still sicknesses, and illnesses, and disappointments, and death, that you have to contend with here in this world. And when are you going to be saved from that? Well, not in the past. It hasn’t happened yet. It is in the future.

Have you got your new glorified body yet, Russ? I haven’t. How about you, Jon, you got your heavenly, exalted, glorified body yet? I’m looking around, and I don’t think any of us have that yet. There are still improvements yet to be made. Thank God! ‘Cause if I’m getting a body for all eternity I don’t want it to be this one, at least not like this. Except the beard, the beard can stay.

We will be saved. And so what is our salvation going to look like when it is complete, done? I’m not just holding on to the life preserver or being pulled up into the boat. But I’m talking about when the storm is over, I’m far away from the ocean, my feet are on dry ground, I’m safe. I’m breathing air, I have survived, the ordeal is done, and I am saved. There is no more saving to do, it is done. Well, obviously, after you have died and have been resurrected and you get your new glorified body, and you are face-to-face with God in heaven. And have you experienced that yet? I haven’t. You know one person has: Mary.

See, Mary was not the first person to go to heaven. Jesus ascended into heaven with His resurrected body. But you see, He is not one of the Saints. He is not a “Christian,” He is Christ. He is the one Christians emulate and worship, and He took many Saints with him. He harrowed hell. He emptied Hades. The righteous that had gone before, the Christians that came after, like the first Martyr that you read about in the book of Acts: Steven. There are many Christians who have died faithfully, and in spirit–even though their bodies are still in the grave–in spirit they are in heaven with Christ. But they don’t have their bodies yet. They haven’t risen from the dead yet.

The first Christian to not only go to heaven, not only in spirit, but also in body, with a resurrected, eternal, glorified, perfected body, was Mary. Now think about what that means:

Mary was the first person in human history to fully experience Salvation.

For all the rest of us, whether we are in heaven or earth, Salvation is something future. It is past, too, but it is still future. You still have death to contend with. You still need to be resurrected and glorified. If you are a spirit already in heaven, you have finished your battle down here, you are already in the presence of God, but you still have a body that is off in a grave somewhere. Jurgen is face-to-face with Jesus right now, but his body is not. His body is right over here in the ground.

But Mary’s body is no longer in the ground. There is no aspect of her Salvation that remains future. Mary is the first human being in history to be fully saved, and that is something to celebrate! For those are the footsteps that we ourselves look forward to walking in our own time. That, like her, our own graves will one day be found empty.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our God is one.

~

This homily was preached on Thursday morning, August 15, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

 

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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3 Responses to The Dormition of Mary

  1. tpkatsa says:

    Could you please explain how the Orthodox understanding of the assumption of Mary compares to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the assumption of Mary?

    The Catholic Encyclopedia states:
    Regarding the day, year, and manner of Our Lady’s death, nothing certain is known. The earliest known literary reference to the Assumption is found in the Greek work De Obitu S. Dominae. Catholic faith, however, has always derived our knowledge of the mystery from Apostolic Tradition. Epiphanius (d. 403) acknowledged that he knew nothing definite about it (Haer., lxxix, 11). The dates assigned for it vary between three and fifteen years after Christ’s Ascension. Two cities claim to be the place of her departure: Jerusalem and Ephesus. Common consent favours Jerusalem, where her tomb is shown; but some argue in favour of Ephesus. The first six centuries did not know of the tomb of Mary at Jerusalem.

    The belief in the corporeal assumption of Mary is founded on the apocryphal treatise De Obitu S. Dominae, bearing the name of St. John, which belongs however to the fourth or fifth century. It is also found in the book De Transitu Virginis, falsely ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis, and in a spurious letter attributed to St. Denis the Areopagite. If we consult genuine writings in the East, it is mentioned in the sermons of St. Andrew of Crete, St. John Damascene, St. Modestus of Jerusalem and others. In the West, St. Gregory of Tours (De gloria mart., I, iv) mentions it first. The sermons of St. Jerome and St. Augustine for this feast, however, are spurious. St. John of Damascus (P.G., I, 96) thus formulates the tradition of the Church of Jerusalem:

    St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.

    Today, the belief in the corporeal assumption of Mary is universal in the East and in the West; according to Benedict XIV (De Festis B.V.M., I, viii, 18) it is a probable opinion, which to deny were impious and blasphemous.

    One interesting thing about the above is “but that her tomb…was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”

    • The major difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Orthodox view is this:

      The Roman Catholic dogma only asserts that Mary was taken to heaven body-and-soul, saying nothing about her death. Thus, Catholics are permitted to believe that she never died at all. Many Roman Catholics do in fact believe that Mary never experienced death. However, some Catholics agree with the Orthodox view.

      The Orthodox Church stipulates that Mary did experience death. She did die. Then she was resurrected, and assumed body-and-soul into heaven.

      You are correct that her journey to heaven was different from that of Christ. I’m not sure why anyone would find that surprising. The Orthodox Wiki page has a pretty good summary:

      The Apostles were miraculously summoned to this event, and all were present except Thomas when Mary passed from this life. She was then buried.

      Thomas arrived a few days later, and desiring to see her one more time, convinced the others to open her tomb. Upon doing so, the Apostles discovered that her body was no longer present. This event is seen as a firstfruits of the resurrection of the faithful that will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. The event is normally called the Dormition, though there are many Orthodox parishes in English-speaking countries with the name Assumption. In Greek, Dormition is Koimisis—falling asleep in death—from which the word cemetery derives.

      http://orthodoxwiki.org/Dormition

      • It is also important to remember that while we have countless relics of the apostles and other early saints, we have no relics of Mary.

        No one has ever had any relics of Mary, because her body was assumed into heaven.

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