Today is a major feast day for our Church. Today marks the annual contemplation of an event so monumental that it reveals the nature of what it means to be a human being. Today’s feast invites you and me to know our true purpose, and the comfort of true meaning in the face of the very event that you and I and all of us will face, whether we want to or not.
Today is the Feast of the Dormition, and you must stop your everyday routine and reorient your life to the wisdom revealed in this moment. I mean it. Abandon your day as much as you can for prayers and liturgy and contemplation. This is more important than anything else you will do today.
And why is this moment so significant? Because this feast (known in many places as the “Summer Pascha”) reveals God’s intended destiny for each of us. If we can pay attention to what the Theotokos reveals to us in her life and devotion to God, we will begin seeing our true purpose for our lives as well.
Look at our familiar Gospel Lesson today in Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28:
At that time, Jesus entered a village; and a woman called Martha received 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 to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve you alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
This story is so familiar to us, but it contained the key to unpacking the spiritual riches of this Feast Day.
You know the story of Martha and Mary, two sisters who have different temperaments and see things differently. The Lord deals with one such “difference” here in this passage as He encouraged Martha to both value her work and see that there are others who choose differently and are still valued as well. It wasn’t wrong for Marthat to serve her guests. It wasn’t even wrong for Martha to ask for Mary’s help. But the weakness was revealed in her insisting her sister make the same priority choices she made. Two different people; two different ways of showing attentiveness. And an invitation from the Lord to consider the “one thing needful.”
But that isn’t the focus of this Feast Day. Today we remember the story around the moment in time when Mary, the Theotokos, came to the end of her earthly life and experienced what all we, humans, experience. Death. The story is beautiful and makes the last statement of the Lord in our passage today come alive with revelation and insight if only we will see it.
Notice how the Lord reorients the praise shouted out to Him at this moment: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” The KEY to understanding the power of the life of the Theotokos is in her constant obedience to the Word given to her by the Lord. And that’s where our true faithfulness and true spiritual freedom with be – Hear the Word and Keep it!
Mary was living with the Apostle John in his home in Jerusalem. Jesus had given His mother to the Apostle John so she would be cared for after His death. John took the Theotokos into his home from that day forward. When Mary knew she was coming to the end of her life, she wanted to say goodbye to all the Apostles. Of course, these men were scattered all over the Roman Empire preaching and doing the work of an apostle to establish the Lord’s Church all over the world to fulfill the Lord’s last command to His disciples to “go and make disciples” all over the world. The Apostles all returned to Jerusalem to see Mary before she passed. The only Apostle who was absent was Thomas. The Apostles were grief-stricken to see the Theotokos in this moment of her death, but she comforted them all with the same direction she has always given: “Turn to my Son and trust Him.”
When Mary passed, she was taken in procession to a tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane and laid to rest there. Three days later, St. Thomas arrived and desired to see Mary’s body. When they went to the tomb to allow Thomas to pay his respects, her body was gone. An angel told the Apostles that the Lord had taken her body to heaven so she would know the power of the Resurrection of the Dead. And even Mary, herself, appeared to the Apostles to tell them she had been taken to heaven.
So, now you know the story. But let’s unpack this treasure and see what it has to tell us.
First, for us Christians, mortality is not the end of us. Jesus Christ has conquered death, and to make sure we knew just how all-encompassing this victory over death was, He gave His mother the first taste of this victory. We may fall under the false impression that Jesus rising from the dead was because of His special existence as the “Theanthropos” the “God-Man.” But now this physical victory over death has been shared with one of us, Mary, the Lord’s mother. The message of the Dormition is that we are truly meant to live with God forever, and not just as some “specter” or “spirit being” but as a whole human, body, and soul.
Next, the fear of death no longer intoxicated us. For most without faith, their lives are driven by this fear of mortality. “You only go around once in life,” they say and their lives are scrambles to attain or achieve or consume as much as they can because they are blind to the treasure of eternal life. But we Christians are called to prioritize our lives very differently. We are called to soberly live our lives with the sure knowledge that our actions and priorities here and now must reflect our eternal life with Christ.
Today, as we celebrate this awesome Feast of the Church, let’s throw off the lingering drunkenness of fear of death, and embrace the wisdom and revelation that our lives are meant to reflect our faith that death is conquered and we will live forever. Being a Normal Orthodox Christian means living life now in light of our life forever in Christ.
P.S. In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As the mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.
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