St. Silouan the Athonite Mission Parish

Priest Musings

The Mother of God
by Fr Roberto Ubertino

We are standing in one of the most beautiful feast days of the year. There is a very ancient tradition that places a celebration in honour of the Mother of God at this time of the year. It started in Palestine and evolved to this present feast day that we call the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God (falling asleep the Christian term for death.)

 

More recently it has also been referred to as the Pascha of the Virgin. The evolution of some of the services reflect this sense that the Virgin’s death was a real death like the one we will experience, more it was a death that truly participated in the death of her Son. Because of her unique role in the redemption of humanity her death in Christ opened for her the doors of the Kingdom in such a complete way that she entered the Kingdom with her body and soul. For we are one, body and soul and until our souls are joined again with our bodies in the Resurrection there will be something lacking to our joy in heaven. On this day this perfection joy and fulfillment was given completely to Mary the Bearer-of-God. In her today we see the fulfillment of what is promised to everyone who in baptism has died with Christ.

 

This day is full of joy because we now understand that this world, as we know it, is coming to an end and death no longer holds us tight in its cold grip. There is a tomb among us that is full of sweet flowers and radiates light and joy.

 

The Theotokos was only a woman, only human, she is not a goddess or some super-human person, her greatness comes from her humility. She humbly bore the Son of the Father in the flesh with out any mixing of her pride or selfishness. She was a perfect instrument in the hands of God. She said, each moment, a total and perfect yes, surrender to the will of the Father in her life. Never once did she refuse this will. She loved her Son perfectly, completely with all her soul and body and spirit.

 

In death as in life she did the same. Her death should be the model for all of us as we prepare for the day of our Dormition.

 

But there is another profound reality to this feast. Normally, death means separation from those we love. Death is about loss, distance, the silence of the grave. What this feast sings and dances about is the joy and the surprise that this death does not bring about a leave-taking.

 

Her death does not make her leave us, abandon us. Rather, the opposite, we experience her death as a deeper form of presence among us. This was the experience of the early Christians. There never was a relic of the Virgin in the church only, always, a very strong sense of her presence, a powerful intercession.

 

Her death is not part of the Apostles’ teachings (kerygma) and the different ancient traditions that surround her death and bodily assumption are not meant to satisfy the curiosity of unbelievers or to dogmatize.

 

The hymns unceasingly sing about her, but few are the words tradition attributes to her. She is silent, yet our longings and sorrows find in her an echo, a home, no-one who approaches her is ever turned away.

 

We stand in her presence of this tomb, in apophatic silence and this silence takes us to the heart of the mystery we celebrate today. This silence leads us the very experience of the Kingdom of God.

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