Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28
It is entirely fitting that we have celebrated the holy mysteries of baptism and chrismation on this great feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. We are baptized into the death of Christ in order to rise up with Him as we are illumined and reborn for eternal life. We put Him on like a garment in baptism for restoration and fulfillment as those who bear the divine image and likeness. In chrismation, we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit as we become His living temples with Christ in our hearts. The newly baptized and chrismated will be the first to commune in our Lord’s Body and Blood today as participants in the heavenly banquet. These holy mysteries point toward the renewal of all things in the coming fullness of the Kingdom of God.
The Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos also directs us toward our ultimate destination as those who have united ourselves to Christ. At the end of her earthly life, the Apostles were miraculously assembled in the Theotokos’ presence. St. Thomas, however, arrived three days late. When her tomb was opened for him to pay his last respects, her body was not there. Even as she was the first to accept Christ into her life—and in a unique way into her womb as His virgin mother—she was the first to follow Him as a whole, complete person into the Kingdom of Heaven. Her Dormition is an icon of our hope for eternal life and shows us the path we must pursue.
In order to appreciate her astounding witness, we must remember that the Theotokos is as fully human as the rest of us. We call her “Theotokos” because she is the “Bearer” or “Mother of God.” The One to Whom she gave birth is our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. In order for Him to be truly human, He had to have a mother like the rest of us. From ancient times, Christians have honored her with this title for that very reason. The only ones who refused to call her Theotokos were those who did not believe in the divinity of the Child born to her, such as the heretic Nestorius. The Orthodox Church makes a clear distinction between worship and honor or veneration. We worship only God, but we honor or venerate those whose lives are shining examples of God’s holiness. The honor that we give them magnifies the glory of God Who has illumined them. Honoring the Theotokos does not distract us from worshiping her Son, but inspires us all the more to welcome Him into our lives as she did. And since she followed Him into the heavenly kingdom at her Dormition, how could we not ask for her prayers even as we celebrate her wonderful example of loving and serving the Lord? Remember that Christ performed His first miraculous sign in St. John’s gospel, turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, at His mother’s request.
She died to the corrupting power of sin by always saying “yes” to God. In responding to the shocking angelic message that she was to become the virgin mother of the Savior, she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” In doing so, the Theotokos offered herself completely to God and received the fullness of the Holy Spirit in a unique way. As the Archangel Gabriel said in response to her question about how these things could happen, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” (Luke 1: 35) Through her astounding obedience, the Savior came into the world.
It is no accident, of course, that the Theotokos is female, for obviously only a woman could be the mother of our Lord. Her unique role reminds us that God creates us male and female in the divine image and likeness, and uses both sexes to bring healing to our world of corruption. The Church knows the Theotokos as “the New Eve” through whom the Son of God became “the Second Adam.” The first Eve came from the body of the first Adam, while the Second Adam became a human being through the body of the New Eve. At her Dormition, the New Eve enters Paradise through the Second Adam. He rose up from the grave with a glorified body, and now she follows Him into the Kingdom of Heaven as a glorious sign of the restoration and fulfillment of embodied persons, both men and women.
The imagery of male and female continues with the Church as the Bride of Christ, born from the blood and water which flowed from the Lord’s body at His crucifixion. His blood symbolizes the Eucharist and the water symbolizes baptism through which we are reborn into the life of our Lord. He is the Groom and we, the Church, are His bride. The biblical drama of salvation culminates in the wedding feast of the Lamb in Revelation, which fulfills so much imagery from Christ’s teaching and ministry about the “one flesh” union of man and woman in marriage as a sign of the salvation of the world. Again, it is no accident that “the Second Adam” and “the New Eve” attended the wedding in Cana of Galilee where He turned water into wine at her request, and thus healed the broken natural relationship of man and woman, making it a point of entrance to eternal life.
The particulars of our callings are different from those of the Theotokos, but the underlying vocation is the same. Like her, we may become participants in the eternal life of our Lord by obeying Him in humble faith, by opening our lives to Him to the point that His holy glory shines through us. She became the living temple of the Lord in a unique way when she contained within her own body the Son of God. We also become temples of the Holy Spirit by the presence of Christ in our hearts. We are living members of His own Body, the Church. We receive His Body and Blood into ours in Communion. We, too, are called to give life to Christ in this world, offering ourselves in obedience such that He becomes incarnate in all that we say, do, and think.
The Theotokos stands as a powerful model for us all. Married, single, widowed, or divorced, we must all keep a close watch on our thoughts and desires, especially concerning the relationship between man and woman. If not, they will control us instead of us controlling how we respond to them. No matter how busy or distracting our lives may be, we may pray to God from our hearts and read the Scriptures daily. If we do not make doing so a priority, then we will end up putting the world before God without even noticing it. We must unite ourselves to Him in obedient love each day as we keep His commandments, not out of legalism, but because we want to share more fully in His life. His holiness must shine through us if we are to follow the way of the Theotokos back to Paradise.
The feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos calls us to live faithfully as those who have put on Christ like a garment in baptism, been filled with the Holy Spirit in chrismation, and become guests at the heavenly banquet in the Eucharist. Inspired by her great example, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) That is how we will already enjoy a foretaste of heavenly glory as we prepare, by God’s grace, to follow the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary into eternal joy as the distinctive persons God created us to become.