Sermon on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God by Monk-Subdeacon Theodore August 15/28, 2020
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters!
Today we are gathered before the tomb of the Most Blessed Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, not to weep in lamentation at our loss, but rather to rejoice in our gain, and the gain of all creation, for today she is assumed into heaven to take her rightful and most honored place beside her Son in the heavenly mansions. Truly, brothers and sisters, is this not a great mystery? The ranks of the holy angels, who had once gazed in reverential awe when their Master and Lord entered through the gates of heaven at His glorious Ascension, garbed in the flesh of His creation, now again gaze in awe as the foremost of the Master’s servants – His all-blessed and most pure Mother – is taken into the divine throne room on high, borne in the arms of her Son.
No rational person can countenance that she who bore God Himself in her womb should suffer corruption.
How can this be a gain and not a loss? Has not our great intercessor been taken from this world? Has she not been elevated higher than the angelic hosts? Indeed this is case, but as the Theotokos has been taken up to the highest dignity and greatest honor, so too has our own human nature been granted this very same dignity. As Saint Paul tells us in today’s Epistle, our human nature has been highly exalted by God through Our Lord’s taking upon Himself of our flesh, the very flesh in which He suffered and tasted of death for our sake. From where did He take this flesh? From where did He take His very humanity, that human nature which has been exalted? From His All-Pure Mother! Is it not only right that she should then be exalted and glorified in the heights? No rational person, Saint Gregory Palamas tells us, can countenance that she who bore God Himself in her womb should suffer corruption. As we sing in church on this glorious feast, she has been “taken to the Life, because she is the Mother of Life.” This, then, is our great gain, because she has become “our certain hope in her intercessions,” being “untiring in her supplications.”
We know that it is in fact the Theotokos who most resembles her divine Son, because through the purity of her life, her chastity of body and soul, the strength and vigor of her prayer, she truly attained to His likeness.
That the Lord took His human nature exclusively from His Mother again shows us the true greatness of her who is unceasing in her prayers. Being without a human father, the Lord’s physical resemblance to His Mother would have been profound and even startling to those who would have seen them. They would have said that He was the one Who most resembled His Mother. However, we know that it is in fact the Theotokos who most resembles her divine Son, because through the purity of her life, her chastity of body and soul, the strength and vigor of her prayer, she truly attained to the likeness – that is, the highly exalted state of virtue and holiness — of Him Who created her in His image. This state of virtue and holiness was so high that the young maiden Mary was deemed worthy to become the very temple of God – not an inanimate temple of wood, stone, and gold, but an animate temple of body, soul, and spirit. In fact, she became the very fulfillment of the Old Testament and its completion, being “the jar, the staff, the tables of the law, the ark, the candlestick, the table, the mountain uncloven, the golden censer, the tabernacle, the gate impassable, the palace, the ladder, and the throne of kings.” If the Theotokos attained to such glories on earth, even more so must be the glory that she received in the heavens when she ascended to be reunited to her Son!
Instead of her Guardian Angel, her very own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, came to receive her soul into heaven.
The holy tradition of the Church tells us what transpired in those great days when the Ever-Virgin Mary was translated to the heavens. The Apostles, being called from the four corners of the earth, gathered by her bedside to say farewell to her who had become their very own Mother, being as she is the Mother of all Christians. Instead of her Guardian Angel, her very own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, came to receive her soul into heaven. Three days later, through the providential late arrival of the Holy Apostle Thomas, it was revealed to the gathered Church that the Theotokos’ body had been raised up from death and reunited with her soul in heaven. Just like her Son, then, the Mother of God dwells bodily in the heavens, having tasted the full fruits of salvation before the rest of mankind. She is already vested in that glory that we – by God’s mercy – may receive after we are raised on the Last Day to face the fearsome judgement seat of Christ. She already dwells in the New Jerusalem of the Lord. She is higher than all the heavenly hosts, “more honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim” and has become the Queen of all creation, standing at her Son’s right hand, vested in diverse colors, as the Psalmist says.
We give her glory, because she glorifies and is glorified by her Son. We give her thanks, because she is the mediator of her Son’s grace. We love her, because she has become our mother.
It is precisely for this reason, then, that we rejoice with exceeding gladness today when we behold her ascent on high, for, as Saint Gregory continues, “she sends bright shafts of holy light and grace down to earth,” for “all progress towards the manifestation of divine light, every revelation of divine mysteries, and all forms of spiritual gifts are beyond everyone’s grasp without her.” Just as God came to us through the Theotokos, we are now brought to God through her powerful and fervent intercessions. This is why she is such an important figure in our spiritual and liturgical life as Orthodox Christians. She is our great example, the goal which we set out to attain, and we commemorate her more frequently than any other saint – almost every day has a commemoration of the Theotokos or one of her many miraculous icons, and every litany ends by calling her to remembrance. We give her glory, because she glorifies and is glorified by her Son. We give her thanks, because she is the mediator of her Son’s grace. We love her, because she has become our mother. Enthroned in heaven with her Son, she is quick to hear our prayers, fervent in intercessions, and a great fount of miracles for us, the unworthy.
For She is a great intercessor in heaven, a champion leader on earth, and the protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame.
It is to the Theotokos and her prayers, then, that we must flee in times of tribulation, temptation, and sorrow. Are we not living in such times? Death-bearing pestilence, violent civil unrest, economic uncertainty, the ongoing degradation of morality and decency, and – worst of all – the continuing holocaust of unborn children. I don’t use the term holocaust lightly. Just as the pagans and apostates of old sacrificed their children to the false gods of Moloch and Baal as a whole-burnt offering, so too do we see our contemporaries – blinded by the lies and deceit of the prince of this world – sacrifice their children to the new Moloch and Baal, the false gods of materialism, convenience, and expediency. Yes – it is a sacrifice, but one that brings neither redemption nor life. The Righteous Joachim and Anna made their own sacrifice, a more worthy form of sacrifice, when they brought their daughter to the Temple and today we see the fruits of this righteous offering – a great intercessor in heaven, a champion leader on earth, and the protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame.
The Theotokos is the antithesis of this mob of criminals. Not being able to comprehend the light, the darkness is driven to try and destroy it.
The All-Holy Virgin also rejected convenience and expediency when she – as a young maiden – accepted the divine vocation to bear the Word of God in her immaculate womb. It would have been easy to say no to the archangel, as easy as it is to walk into an abortion clinic today – those clinics that, according to our demonically-inspired civil authorities, are ‘life-preserving,’ words spoken by the same forked tongues that call for our churches to close in order to prevent death, the same snakes that demand that we politely distance ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ, while our towns and cities are subject to town hall-approved looting and pillage by mobs of savages and barbarians. It is no surprise that, during this surge in mindless violence, several icons and statues of the Theotokos have been desecrated: being the pinnacle of purity, chastity, obedience, humility, virtue, piety, and wisdom, the Theotokos is the antithesis of this mob of criminals. Not being able to comprehend the light, the darkness is driven to try and destroy it.
Her vocation was to be ever-present at her Son’s Passion, watching His tortures, His suffering, His mockery, His humiliation, His Crucifixion, and His death.
What kind of hell are we living in? Must we suffer these indignities? Must we undergo such humiliation? Unfortunately we must. As the Theotokos rejected the easy life, so too must we. She accepted the call to become the Mother of the Crucified One. Her vocation was to be ever-present at her Son’s Passion, watching His tortures, His suffering, His mockery, His humiliation, His Crucifixion, and His death. She stood by the Cross when all others had gone. For her faithfulness, the Lord said to her: “Woman, behold thy son!” and gave all of mankind to her protection. For her faithfulness, she was the first to behold the glorious Resurrection of her Son. For her faithfulness, she was the first to receive the fullness of salvation from God. A sword did indeed pierce her soul, as the holy Simeon foretold, but her many sorrows were assuaged by the glory vouchsafed to her for her faith and perseverance — the glory of eternity in the heavenly mansions with her Son.
Let us then hasten to call upon the name of the Ever-Virgin Theotokos Mary.
Therefore, we too must persevere. We too must suffer. We too must be humiliated. But we persevere and suffer knowing that the Theotokos is a constant aid and protectress in times of trouble. She hears our prayers and brings them to her Son, our God and, as Saint Maximus the Confessor tells us, He responds by telling her that “every soul that calls on your name with holiness will not be put to shame but will find mercy and comfort both in this life and the age to come.”
Let us then hasten to call upon the name of the Ever-Virgin Theotokos Mary in this time of tribulation and uncertainty, knowing full well that she will come to our aid, assist us, protect us, and bring us to her Son for the salvation of our souls. Come then, and let us approach the holy chalice and receive that most pure Body that the Lord took from her and the most precious blood that He received from her, being confident that, through the prayers of the Theotokos, we can be made worthy to partake of these awesome mysteries, both now and into the endless ages. Let us cry out, knowing that the Lord will not refuse his Mother’s pleas, MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS, SAVE US!