The Great Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God
August 15, 2011
“He made thy body into a throne, and thy womb he made more spacious than the heavens.”
—Hymn to the Theotokos at St. Basil’s Liturgy
Dearly beloved in the Lord:
All of Creation rejoices in the Mother of God. This woman, full of the grace of God, shows us through her silence and humility what great glory is laid up for those who do not shut the door of their hearts to this grace. In the preceding feast, we stood with the disciples, falling to the ground with them as we beheld the flesh of Christ radiant with this glory on Mount Tabor. Today, in her accustomed modesty, the Mother of God veils the glory she shares with Christ, concealing it by the death which she also shares with Him. Yet through faith in the Church’s witness, we know that as she partook of Christ’s death, so also she partook of His resurrection, for death could have no power over her who bore our Life; and that body, from which God himself borrowed human flesh, could not see corruption in the grave.
All of us baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians are stewards of God’s grace (cf. 1 Peter 4:10), and in the Mother of God we possess a flawless icon of this stewardship. Though the height of her unmitigated dedication to God is unique, still we must make a daily, unrelenting effort to offer more of ourselves than we did the day before. We must give of ourselves, our lives, our goods, our money, and – as we see so beautifully in this feast – our bodies. The Holy Virgin shows us how deserving of care and respect is the human body. She perfectly fulfills the Apostle’s words: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
Our culture places very high demands on our bodies. On the one hand, the pursuit of physical health can become an end in itself, independent of the goal of glorifying God in our body; and the drive to retain the allure of youth long into adulthood fills many with an ascetic zeal that would be far more worthwhile if poured out in desire for God. On the other hand, so often our culture cheapens the body by treating it as a mere vehicle for pleasure to be altered or disposed of at will when it no longer gratifies the passions. And, ironically, such exploitation goes hand-in-hand with the fashionable courting of non-Christian forms of mysticism which dismiss the body as irrelevant or illusory.
This attitude is a grave symptom of the deep self-loathing that grips much of Western society. But a healthy respect for our bodies, born of the knowledge that “we are not our own,” can help us become more aware of our true human dignity and worth, a dignity wholly dependent upon God, for it is God’s free and irrevocable gift in the bestowal of His divine image upon our nature. Christ alone is the key to this dignity; therefore it is our task, as the members of his Body, to cultivate awareness of this in our own lives and share it with those around us in our ailing society.
We do this by manifesting our bodies – both in life and in death – as precious vessels of the priceless grace of God. In life: by our honest and godly labor; by chastity, either in holy celibacy or godly marriage; by modest appearance free from distracting dress or bodily disfigurement; by avoiding activities or substances harmful to our health; by fasting and vigil; by decorous speech; and by custody of the senses. And also in death: by giving proper love and attention to the bodies of the newly-departed, preparing them for honorable burial in a way that clearly reveals the intimacy of the Church community that bridges the gap between life and death. Such was the care the Apostles showed for the Mother of their Savior.
Ultimately, the dignity of the human body is fully realized in the Resurrection of Christ – in the very flesh He shares with us. He has already translated His Mother to the glory of this Resurrection, but our bodies too will be imbued with this glory after His second and glorious Coming. Today, as we celebrate this joyful summer Pascha of the Mother of God, let us anticipate our own coming resurrection – with fear, with faith, and with love, knowing that we are stewards of a great mystery.
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your rational worship (Romans 12:1).
The Mother of God is praying for us that we may come to entrust our whole lives to the loving care of her Son.
With love in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada