Today is the first of the great feasts of the Church (liturgical) year with the commemoration of the birthday of our Most Holy Lady, The Theotokos and ever-virgin, Mary.
As you know, every feast has a history and a meaning for us. Today’s feast is pointing our attention less to the birth of Mary, as very important as it is, to the Nativity of Our Lord, the Incarnation. All liturgical feasts point to Our Savior. Let’s consider the feast in these terms:
“Like most feasts of the Virgin, this one began as a feast of dedication of a church built to honor Joachim and Anna. It was located near Jerusalem at a site held by tradition to be the birthplace of their daughter.
“Apocryphal sources written in the second century provide most of the details used in the texts of this feast. Many of them parallel the scriptural accounts of the birth of John in Luke’s gospel and of Samuel in Kings. The thrust of legend is to emphasize the place of the Theotokos in the line of David.
“The mention of the Sun of Justice in the troparion alerts us to the coming feast of the Incarnation. This feast honoring the birth of the Mother of Life represents the first stage in the realization of this momentous event. (NS)
From August 1 to August 14, the Byzantine Churches prepare for the feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Holy Theotokos with a period of prayer and fasting.
“And so the child of God then enters [and] stands among the horns [of the altar], after both her begetters had given thanks and the priest was about to give a blessing. Again her parents cry to the priest, ‘Receive the one who will receive the immaterial and incomprehensible fire; receive the one who ill be designated as the receptacle of the Son and Word of the Father and only God; take the one who destroyed the reproach of our childlessness and sterility; usher into the sanctuary the one who will introduce us into our ancient inheritance of paradise; take charge of the one who, in her own birthgiving, will take charge of our own cowardice that is bringing in the power of death and the tyranny of Hades; … consecrate to God the one who has consecrated us, as a divinely perfected [being] for the expectation of [our] hopes.”
Wider than Heaven, SVS Press, 2008, pp. 153 154.
Tomorrow, November 21, is a holy day. The Divine Liturgy will be served at 9:00 a.m. in both English and Ukrainian.
Today is the prelude of the benevolence of God and the herald of the salvation of mankind. For the Virgin openly appears in the temple of God, and foretells Christ to all: Let us also with full voice exclaim to her: Rejoice, fulfillment of the Creator’s plan!
“When we hear someone speak about the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament, oftentimes we think of modern depictions, of movies, or books, and especially the biblical accounts that present us with a fearful, awesome, and even wrathful picture. We recall that about the wooden box, which was covered with pure gold, God spoke to Moses from the mercy seat in between two cherubim. … How then might we, who are grass and made of earthen clay, begin to discourse and contemplate the living Ark of God, the Most-holy Theotokos, who was the fulfillment and the awesome reality of which the Ark of the Old Testament was merely a shadow? … This present awesome and glorious mystery is something which is not a subject for speculation, for human logic, or for vain tampering. It is a tremendous mystery that is hidden and only revealed when it is humbly received from within the light of the depths of the Church’s tradition. This feast is immensely joyful and life-giving for those who with child-like faith and without argument seek to enter into its festivities. … Those who have prepared themselves with fasting and prayer and by being present at today’s festivities, the tomb of the Mother of God is joy; it is life and it is a light-covered mountain for our spiritual ascent today.
Today she, like the Ark of the Old Covenant, goes before us as a banner of victory, a wall of defense and forerunner of the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to all mankind. Having now crossed the frontier which separates us from the age to come, through her bodily ascent to heaven, she has become the highest of all creation, and the realization of the end for which humanity was created. She is the fulfillment of all beauty and virtue and is a universal advocate for all before the throne of God, now and at the second coming.” (Acquiring the Mind of Christ: Embracing the Vision of the Orthodox Church, Archimandrite Sergius (Bowyer), pp. 129-131)
Our Summer Pascha
Since August 1, we have been preparing for the great feast of Mary, the Mother of God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
“This period is so rich in opportunities for prayer and worship that it has traditionally been called our “Summer Pascha.” The Transfiguration celebrates Christ as the radiant Light of the Father’s glory while in the Dormition we see Christ, who trampled down Death by His death, take His Mother into the light of His resurrection. In many churches a service resembling the Matins of Holy Saturday is held in which the shroud of the Theotokos is carried in procession to recall her burial.”
The bilingual Divine Liturgy will be served on Saturday, August 15, at 9:00 a.m. with the Blessing of Herbs. and Flowers. The Liturgy will be livestreamed.
The Dormition Fast runs from August 1- August 14
“Father,” someone once asked their priest, “I have a difficult time observing the Dormition Fast. What should I do?”
“Well,” the priest responded, “just keep the first week, and then keep the second week, that should be enough.”
Is this acting a bit smart?
But there is much truth here. As we know, the Dormition Fast is just a total of two weeks. It’s an intense and necessary two weeks as the Church gathers together at the death bed of Mary, the ever-Virgin Mother of God.
Our Holy Church teaches us, that the gesture of those whom we love is near death: we ought to stop in our tracks and gather at their bedside. Today, we find ourselves at a nursing home, hospice or even the hospital.
The Apostles (except Thomas) and those with them had been scattered across the world spreading the Gospel were miraculously gathered together at the bedside of the Church’s Mother to bid her farewell from this life.
This is good spiritual advice: “We ought to keep this fast as carefully and attentively as possible because we love God’s Mother. She helps us, she loves us, and with the boldness of a mother she intercedes on our behalf to her Son and our God. It is not that Christ does not know our needs, but, because that is what a loving mother does!”
Are you convinced to keep the Dormition Fast? Here are a few tips:
Go to Church. Run to Church. We will be open for business. The feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration always falls in the midst of the fast.
Pray. Yes, pray. That you come to Church you will surely be praying, but, consider intensifying your daily devotions. Look in your prayer books for special prayers that you can add to God’s Mother during this season. Maybe even keep it up after the 14 days!
Fast. We got the whole way to #3 without even mentioning food. Do your best to abstain from meat and dairy as you are able. The Church provides strict directives as they always do, but, work together as a family to come up with a plan. At the least, do more than you have done in the past.
Read. Pick up for meditation the Bible; read a few paragraphs of the Catechism, “Christ Our Pascha”, read a biography of a saint: Metropolitan Sheptytsky, St. Nectarios, St. Mary of Paris; read a spiritual book like, “How to Be a Sinner” by Peter Bouteneff; read an account of the Virgin Mary’s passing and bodily assumption to heaven: “The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God” by Saint John Maximovitch. It is short only 70 pages.
We would like to make you aware of the attached letter from Archbishop Jose Gomez, President of the USCCB, regarding the Re-Consecration of the United States to Our Lady, under the title of Mary, Mother of the Church, on 1 May, in union with the Bishops of Canada.
This act of consecration is an occasion to pray for Our Lady’s continued protection of all those who face the effects of the corona pandemic.
The bishops invite all to join in this act of re-consecration of our nation to Mary, Mother of the Church.
The prayers will be made available soon.