St. Silouan the Athonite Mission Parish

Sermons

Oh how does the Source of Life pass from death to life? Aug 15, 2013
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 honor 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 Dormition or Falling Asleep of the Mother of God (falling asleep is the Christian term for death.)

          "Oh how does the source of life pass from death to life?

          Today the grace of the Holy Spirit leads to a tomb to gaze at the Body that was the source of our life the vessel of God. With the apostles we keep vigil besides this tomb."

          More recently this feast has also been referred to as the Pascha of the Holy Virgin.

          The evolution of the services reflects this growing understanding that the Virgin's death was a real death like the one we all experience. 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. Unlike us, who must wait until the Day of Judgment. 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 the day of her Dormition, this perfect joy and fulfillment was given completely to Mary, the God Bearer.

          In her today, we see the fulfillment of what is promised to very one who in baptism has put on Christ.

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

          The Theotokos was only a woman, only human. She is not a goddess or some super creature; her greatness comes from her humility. She humbly bore the Son of the Father in the flesh, without any mixing of her pride or selfishness.

          She was a perfect instrument in the hands of God. She said in each moment of Her life on earth a total and perfect yes to the will of God. In her life, she lived a total surrender of her will to the will of the Father. Never once did she refuse to do His will. She loved her Son perfectly - completely with all her soul and body.

          In death as in life, she was the same. Her death should be a model for all of us as we prepare for the day of our Falling Asleep.

          At her Dormition she completely experiences this leap into the dark, that we call death. In Her death like us, she relinquishes all that she has come to know and love of God's creation. And finally, she lets go that conscious control of one’s own mind and body, that none of us can imagine doing without.

          Tradition of the church speaks that she, like her son, entered death and descended into Hades.

          Her death, like her life, is described as a mystery: The mystery of the triumph over death. This victory over death is rooted in the unique mystery of Christ her son, who died and rose from the dead. She is so united to her son's victory over death, that the tomb does not lead her to destruction, but rather to a transformation. She is translated (μεταθεσις) body and soul into eternal life.

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

          Her tomb after the tomb of her son is the most sacred of tombs. We approach this tomb as the apostles, in fear and awe, seeking her as the living table that received the bread of life and the new book in which the word of God was written.

          "Blessed are they who have eyes to see how countless angels acclaim the death of the life giving mother;

          blessed are the eyes to see how the word of God who deigned in his mercy to became her son;

          blessed are our eyes who today see her son minister with his own hands his mother and receives her soul into his arms."

          In her death she does not leave us or abandon us! Rather the opposite. We experience her death as a deeper form of her presence among us. This was the experience of the early Christians. There never has been a relic of the body of Virgin in the church... only always a very strong almost physical experience of her presence and 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. Modestus of Jerusalem said it well; "He raised her from the grave and took her to Himself in way known only to Him."

          Oh how does the source of life pass from death to life?

          We ask the tomb show us the life-giving fountain. Show us O sacred tomb, the sweet and beloved body of God's mother. Thus we keep vigil by this holy tomb and in the deep silence of the night we hear the tomb reply to us.

          "Why do you seek in the tomb one who has been assumed to heaven? Why do you make me responsible for not keeping her? I had no power to go against the divine commandments. Angles now surround me and divine grace abound in me.

          Come and approach you weak of faith all you who thirst for water and have no money come and drink from me.

          Let all those who long for healing of body spirit. Forgiveness of sins or desire to be delivered from misfortune approach this tomb.

          I have received a precious ointment and now I am impregnated with sweet fragrance I have sheltered the source of joy and have became an eternal fountain."

          The hymns unceasingly sing about her, but few are the words tradition attributes to her - she is mostly 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 at this empty tomb in apophatic silence and this silence takes us to the heart of the mystery we celebrate today. "Oh how does the source of life pass through death to life?"

          This mystery, hidden in silence, leads us today to the very experience of the future kingdom, given to us, each time we turn in faith to Her, who in her Dormition does not forsake us.

 

Note: Quotes come from St John of Damascus' "Three Sermons on the Dormition of the Virgin."

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