Cathedral of the Dormition and All Saints
Diocese of Sourozh, Russian Orthodox Church
67 Ennismore Gardens, London SW7 1NH
Tel. (020) 7584 0096 Fax (020) 7584 9864 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
DORMITION OF THE MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD
15/28 August 2011
Holy Epistle (Philippians 2: 5-11)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Holy Gospel (Luke 10: 38-42, 11:27-28)
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
DORMITION OF OUR MOST HOLY LADY, THE MOTHER OF GOD AND EVER-VIRGIN MARY
The feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, one of the twelve great feasts, is celebrated on 15 August old style (28 August new style). On this day the Holy Church commemorates the righteous end of the Mother of God – an event coloured by sadness at the ending of the life-journey of the Protectress of human race and at the same time by joy at the union of the Most Pure Mother of the Lord with Her Son.
Holy Tradition teaches us about the earthly life of the Most Holy Mother of God after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Saviour. Right up to the persecution raised by Herod against the Church, the Most Pure Virgin lived in Jerusalem. After that, she emigrated with the apostle John the Theologian to Ephesus. Whilst living there, she visited the righteous Lazarus in Cyprus and Mount Athos, which she blessed as Her domain. Not long before the end of her life, the Mother of God returned to Jerusalem.
Here the Ever-Virgin often frequented the places most closely connected with events in the life of Her Divine Son: Bethlehem, Golgotha, the Holy Sepulchre, Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives. There she prayed with all her heart. According to tradition, the Jews attempted to kill Her, for which purpose by the instructions of the high priests a guard was put on the Holy Sepulchre, but at the crucial moment the guards’ eyesight was impaired and they were not able to see the Mother of God.
Once at the time of prayer on the Mount of Olives the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Mother of God that her end was approaching within the next three days. He gave her a shining heavenly palm-branch, a symbol of victory over death and decay. The Most Holy Mother of God told the apostle John the Theologian what had taken place, and he informed the apostle James, brother of the Lord, and through him the whole Church in Jerusalem, in which the tradition of the Dormition of the Mother of God was also preserved. Before her repose the Mother of God willed Her meagre property to the widow who had served her and gave orders to bury Her in Gethsemane, next to the graves of Her righteous parents and the righteous Joseph the Betrothed.
On the day of the Dormition of the Mother of God almost all the apostles, who had previously spread out to different countries with the mission of proclaiming the Word of God, found themselves miraculously gathered together in Jerusalem for Her leave-taking. The last of all to be present was the apostle Paul. Only the apostle Thomas was absent.
Suddenly an ineffable light shone forth, making the lamps appear dim; the roof of the chamber opened and Christ himself descended with a multitude of angels. The Most Holy Mother of God returned to the Lord with thankful prayer and asked Him to bless all who venerate Her memory. She also prayed Her Son to protect Her from the dark power of Satan, from afflictions of the air. Then the Mother of God joyfully gave Her soul into the hands of the Lord, and immediately angelic songs were heard.
People immediately started to obtain great healings from Her fragrant body. The festive transfer of the Most Pure Body from Jerusalem to Gethsemane began. Peter, Paul and James together with the other apostles carried on their shoulders the bier of the Mother of God. On the bier appeared a cloudy circle in the shape of a crown, illuminated with radiance. This crown flowed over the procession to the very place of burial. Even Jews who did not believe in Christ followed the procession.
The chief priests sent their servants to disperse the procession, kill the apostles and burn the body of the Mother of God, but angels struck the blasphemers with blindness. The Jewish priest Athonios (in other acccounts Jephonios or Sophonios) wanted to topple the bier of the Mother of God, but he was punished by an angel who cut off his hands. He received healing only after pure-hearted repentance.
For three days the apostles remained by the tomb of the Mother of God. Angelic singing was constantly heard in the air. As Saint Philaret of Moscow says, the apostles received full and complete consolation when on the third day after Her Dormition, for the sake of the apostle Thomas who had arrived late, they opened Her tomb and did not find Her most pure body; and after this they saw Her in the glory of the resurrection and heard from Herself the word of comfort “Rejoice, for I am with you all the days”. The body of the Mother of God was carried up into heaven.
The Church refers to the repose of the Mother of God as dormition, not death. She only went to sleep, so that at that instant she might awake to ever-blessed life and after three days with uncorrupted body enter into an heavenly uncorrupted abode. She went to her rest in a sweet dream after the painful wakefulness of Her life of many sorrows and “passed away into Life”, that is the Source of Life, giving us by Her Dormition a foretaste of eternal life.
In giving birth, O Mother of God, thou hast retained thy virginity, and in falling asleep thou hast not forsaken the world. Thou who art the Mother of Life hast passed over into life, and by thy prayers thou dost deliver our souls from death..
Neither the tomb nor death had power over the Mother of God, who is ever watchful in her prayers and in whose intercession lies unfailing hope. For as the Mother of Life she has been transported into life by Him who dwelt within her ever-virgin womb.
We magnify thee, O Undefiled Mother of Christ our God, and we praise thine all-glorious dormition.
THEODORE ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
The Theodore Icon of the Mother of God was painted by the Evangelist Luke, and resembles the famous Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.
This icon received its name from the father of St Alexander Nevsky, Great Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich (+ 1246), who in holy Baptism was named Theodore in honour of St Theodore Stratelates. According to tradition, his elder brother had found the icon in an old wooden chapel near the city of Gorodets. Later, the Gorodets monastery of St Theodore was built on this spot. Prince Yaroslav-Theodore became the Great Prince of Vladimir after his brother Saint George perished in battle with the Mongols at the Sita River. In the following year, 1239, he ceremonially transferred the relics of Saint George from Rostov to the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir. With the icon inherited from his brother he blessed his son, Saint Alexander Nevsky, who in that same year entered into marriage with princess Alexandra Briacheslavna of Polotsk.
The wonderworking Theodore Icon of the Mother of God was constantly with Saint Alexander and he often prayed before it. After his death in 1263, in his memory, the icon was taken by his younger brother Basil.
The renewal of the commemoration of the Theodore icon of the Mother of God and the widespread honour given to it throughout Russia was connected with the events of the beginning of the seventeenth century – the end of the Time of Troubles. In 1613 the wonder-working Theodore icon of the Kostroma Cathedral was blessed with the election to the throne of Michael Romanov. In memory of this historic event 14 March was established as an universal feast of the Theodore icon of the Mother of God. Numerous copies of the Kostroma Theodore Icon were made, and one of the first was commissioned and brought to Moscow by Tsar Michael's mother, the nun Martha. From the second half of the seventeenth century, various copies of the Theodore Icon were enlarged with scenes depicting events from the history of the wonderworking icon.
The patronymic ‘Fyodorovna’ was quite often encountered among Russian Empresses and Grand Duchesses (for example Holy Martyr Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, Empress Maria Fyodorovna and so on), even though the name Fyodor itself was hardly ever encountered among the male members of the Tsar’s family. The reason is that the wives of the Russian Tsars were often chosen from the royal houses of western Europe and patronymics as such do not exist among people in western countries.
In order to become members of the Romanov house, foreign princesses had to embrace Orthodoxy. The wonder-working Theodore icon of the Mother of God is the domestic icon of the Romanov house, so it was often given to foreign princesses together with their Christian name and patronymic ‘Fyodorovna’.
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