Salvation is a journey from birth to death—and then to birth again.
The calendar of our Church begins and ends with the story of salvation through Jesus Christ. And in that salvation story, the gateway—from birth to death—is the life of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
The ecclesiastical year begins on indiction, or September 1st, following the calendar established for the Christian Roman Empire. There are twelve Great Feasts of the Church year, plus Pascha (Easter). The first Great Feast of the year is the Nativity of Mary (Sept. 8). Our year in the Lord begins with the birth of the Theotokos to her faithful parents Joachim and Anna, by which we understand how God was working with his people in the smallest of ways to help bring about our reunion with him in Christ. And by design, the year concludes with her death—her “dormition” or “falling asleep,” commemorated on August 15th.
The Dormition commemoration (preceded by 14 days of fasting) has been likened to a “Summer Pascha,” and there are many similarities between the death of Christ and the death of his holy mother.
According to tradition, the Mother of God reposed at 3 pm on August 13th, at the very hour her own son died on the cross. She spent three days in Hades, and was assumed or received bodily into Paradise when her time was complete—just as with her son. The apostle Thomas is late-arriving to the funeral for the Mother of God, and goes in despair to see her tomb. When he examines the tomb, he is both delighted and astonished, along with the rest of the apostles, to find her body missing—just as the myrrh-bearing women had discovered with Christ.
If the birth of Mary teaches us about the careful providence and orchestration of the Lord in the restoration of creation through the second person of the Trinity, then her death and assumption teaches us about the promise of salvation given to us in him.
Mary is the first Christian, the first bodily temple of the Holy Spirit, the new ark of the covenant, and the first-fruit of the resurrection after Christ. She is an example both for individual Christians and the Church as a whole. As many references as are found in the Scriptures to the Church (whether in typology, prophecy, apocalypse, or epistle), just as many can be rightly applied and understood as a reference to the Mother of God. Rather than being either/or, it is a clear case of both/and.
By following Mary’s example—saying “yes” to God and receiving his Spirit within us—we are led through the doorway of salvation. She is Jacob’s ladder, to be sure, but she is also our mother, our guide, and our heavenly intercessor. She is the woman and the new Eve, and—just as with the wedding at Cana—Jesus listens to her prayers.
In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.
By book-ending our liturgical commemorations with her birth and death, the Church has given us a clear picture of how we are to be saved.
It is between her birth and death that we may find salvation; it is between her birth and death that we may find Christ. She is the true mother of life, and has departed this world in death to seek out true life for all who call upon both her and her son.
And so, we rightly cry out: “Most holy Theotokos, save us.”