(THEOTOKOS = BEARER OF GOD)
The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons
of the Virgin Mary
The Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes shortened to The Blessed Virgin or The Virgin Mary, is a traditional title used by most Christians and most specifically used by liturgical Christians such as Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, and some others to describe Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.
Since the first century, devotion to the Virgin Mary has been a major element of the spiritual life of a vast number of Christians. From the Council of Ephesus in 431 to Vatican II and Pope John Paul II's Redemptoris Mater encyclical, the Virgin Mary has become to be seen, not only as the Mother of God but also as the Mother of the Church, a Mediatrix who intercedes to Jesus Christ and even a proposed Co-Redemptrix.
The Annunciation, mural from Ubisi, Georgia
A great many traditions revolve around the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, in Orthodoxy. It is believed by Orthodox Christians that she was and remained a Virgin before and after Christ's birth. Many of the Church's beliefs concerning the Virgin Mary are reflected in the apocryphal text "The Nativity of Mary", which was not included in scripture, but is considered by Orthodox faithful to be accurate in its description of events. This tells that the child Mary was consecrated at the age of three to serve in the temple as a temple virgin. Zachariah, at that time High Priest of the Temple , did the unthinkable and carried Mary into the Holy of Holies as a sign of her importance – that she herself would become the ark in which God would take form. At the age of twelve she was required to give up her position and marry, but she desired to remain forever a virgin in dedication to God.
And so it was decided to marry her to a close relative, Joseph, an uncle or cousin, an older man, a widower, who would take care of her and allow her to retain her virginity. And so it was that when the time came she submitted to God's will and allowed the Christ to take form within her. It is believed by many Orthodox that she, in her life, committed no sin; however, the Orthodox do not accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. In the theology of the Orthodox Church, Christ was, from the very moment of conception, was fully God and fully man. Therefore Orthodox Christians believe that it is correct to say that Mary is indeed the Theotokos (the Birth-giver of God), and that she is the greatest of all humans ever to have lived except for Christ her Son.
After the birth of Jesus the Orthodox Church believes that she remained a virgin, continuing to serve God in all ways. She traveled much with her son, and was present both at his Passion on the Cross and at his ascension into heaven. The New Testament recounts her presence at important stages during her son's adult life (e.g., at the Wedding at Cana and at his crucifixion). Also, she was present at communal prayers immediately after Jesus' Ascension. Narratives of her life are further elaborated in later Christian apocrypha, who give the names of her parents as Joachim and Anne.
The Crucifixion, by Simon Vouet, 1622, Genoa, Italy
It is also believed that she was the first to know of her son's resurrection – the Archangel Gabriel appearing to her once more and revealing it to her. It is believed she lived to the age of seventy and called all the apostles to her before she died. According to tradition Saint Thomas arrived late and was not present at her death. Desiring to kiss her hand one last time he opened her tomb but her body was gone. The Orthodox believe she was assumed into heaven bodily; however, unlike in the Roman Catholic Church, it is not a dogmatic prescription, and the holy day is usually referred to as the Feast of the Dormition, rather than the Assumption.
Icon used on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, illustrating one of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. The two Marys are in the center with the two angels at either side, in the foreground is the Holy Sepulchre with the winding sheet and napkin.
Theologians from the Orthodox tradition have made prominent contributions to the development of Marian thought and devotion.
· John Damascene (c 650 - c 750) was one of the greatest Orthodox theologians. Among other Marian writings, he proclaimed the essential nature of Mary's heavenly Assumption, or dormition, and her mediative role.
It was necessary that the body of the one who preserved her virginity intact in giving birth should also be kept incorrupt after death. It was necessary that she, who carried the Creator in her womb when he was a baby, should dwell among the tabernacles of heaven...
From her we have harvested the grape of life; from her we have cultivated the seed of immortality. For our sake she became Mediatrix of all blessings; in her God became man, and man became God.
The Dormition of the Theotokos (Greek:Koimesis) is a Great Feast of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches which commemorates the "falling asleep" or death of the Theotokos (Mary, the mother of Jesus; literally translated as God-bearer). It is celebrated on August 15 (August 28, New Style for those following the Julian Calendar) as the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the Dormition not on a fixed date, but on the third Sunday of August.
Coptic icon of the Dormition of Our Lady
In Orthodoxy, as in the language of scripture, death is often called a "sleeping" or "falling asleep" (Greek κοίμησις; whence κοιμητήριον > coemetērium > cemetery, a place of sleeping). A prominent example of this is the name of this feast; another is the Dormition of Anna, Mary's mother. The Orthodox believe that Mary, having spent her life after Pentecost supporting and serving the nascent Church, was living in the house of the Apostle John, in Jerusalem, when the Archangel Gabriel revealed to her that her repose would occur three days later. The apostles, scattered throughout the world, are said to have been miraculously transported to be at her side when she died. The sole exception was Thomas, who was characteristically late. He is said to have arrived three days after her death, and asked to see her grave so that he could bid her goodbye. Mary had been buried in Gethsemane, according to her request. When they arrived at the grave, her body was gone, leaving a sweet fragrance. An apparition is said to have confirmed that Christ had taken her body to heaven after her soul and reunited them, as a foretaste of the general resurrection to come. The Dormition of the Theotokos Mary is sometimes called the "Summer Pascha," or "Pascha of the Theotokos." This is because Mary's repose is linked with her passage to heaven in anticipation of the general resurrection and follows in the path created by Christ in his rising, and also because the Dormition fast that precedes the feast resembles that of Great Lent.
Dormition versus Assumption
The Dormition of the Theotokos is celebrated on August 15 (August 28, New Style for those following the Julian Calendar), the same calendar day as the Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption of Mary. The Dormition and the Assumption are different names for the same event, Mary's departure from the earth, although the beliefs are not entirely the same.
The Orthodox Church teaches that Mary died a natural death, like any human being; that her soul was received by Christ upon death; and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her repose, at which time she was taken up, soul and body, into heaven in anticipation of the general resurrection. Her tomb was found empty on the third day. As Bishop Kallistos (Ware) says:
...Orthodox tradition is clear and unwavering in regard to the central point [of the Dormition]: the Holy Virgin underwent, as did her Son, a physical death, but her body — like His — was afterwards raised from the dead and she was taken up into heaven, in her body as well as in her soul. She has passed beyond death and judgement, and lives wholly in the Age to Come. The Resurrection of the Body ... has in her case been anticipated and is already an accomplished fact. That does not mean, however, that she is dissociated from the rest of humanity and placed in a wholly different category: for we all hope to share one day in that same glory of the Resurrection of the Body which she enjoys even now.
Icon of the Dormition by Theophan the Greek, 1392. The Theotokos is depicted lying on a bier, surrounded by the Twelve Apostles. At center, Jesus Christ is shown in a mandorla, swadling the soul of the Virgin Mary (a red seraph is shown above his head). To either side of him are depicted the Hieromartyrs Dionysius the Areopagite and Ignatius the God-Bearer who, according to sacred tradition, are responsible for transmiting the account of the dormition.
Roman Catholic teaching holds that Mary was "assumed" into heaven in bodily form. Some Catholics agree with the Orthodox that this happened after Mary's death, while some hold that she did not experience death. Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (1950), which dogmatically defined the Assumption, in these words:
We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.........
appears to have left open the question of whether or not Mary actually underwent death in connection with her departure, but alludes to the fact of her death at least five times.
Both churches agree that she was taken up into heaven bodily. The Orthodox belief regarding Mary's falling asleep are expressed in the liturgical texts used on the feast of the Dormition (August 15) which is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, and is held by all pious Orthodox Christians; however, this belief has never been formally defined as dogma by the Orthodox Church nor made a precondition of baptism.
The Eastern Catholic observance of the feast corresponds to that of their Orthodox counterparts, whether Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox.
Liturgical PracticesIt is customary in many places to bless fragrant herbage on the Feast of the Dormition.
In some places, the Rite of the "Burial of the Theotokos" is celebrated at the Dormition, during the All-Night Vigil. The order of the service is based on the service of the Burial of Christ on Great Saturday. An Epitaphios of the Theotokos, a richly embroidered cloth icon portraying her lying in state is used, together with specially composed hymns of lamentation which are sung with Psalm 118. The Epitaphios is placed on a bier, and carried in procession in the same way as the Epitaphios of Christ is during Holy Week.
This practice began in Jerusalem, and from there it was carried to Russia, where it was followed in various Dormition Cathedrals, in particular that of Moscow. The practice slowly spread among the Russian Orthodox, though it is not by any means a standard service in all parishes, or even most cathedrals or monasteries. In Jerusalem , the service is chanted during the Vigil of the Dormition. In some Russian churches and monasteries, it is served on the third day after Dormition.
The Feast of the Dormition has a one-day Forefeast and 8 days of Afterfeast. The feast is framed and accentuated by three feasts in honour of Jesus Christ, known as the "Three Feasts of the Saviour in August". These are: the Procession of the Cross (August 1), the Transfiguration (August 6), and the Icon of Christ "Not Made by Hand" (August 16).
Development of the Dormition Tradition
Our Lady of Fatima
The Dormition tradition is associated with various places, most notably with Jerusalem, which contains Mary's Tomb and the Basilica of the Dormition, and Ephesus, which contains the House of the Virgin Mary, and also with Constantinople.
The first four Christian centuries are silent regarding the end of the Virgin Mary's life, though it is asserted, without surviving documentation, that the feast of the Dormition was being observed in Jerusalem shortly after the Council of Ephesus.
At the point in the later fifth century when the earliest Dormition traditions surface in manuscripts, Stephen Shoemaker has detected the sudden appearance of three distinct narrative traditions describing the end of Mary's life: he has characterised them as the "Palm of the Tree of Life" narratives, the "Bethlehem" narratives, and the "Coptic" narratives — aside from a handful of atypical narratives.
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