SOURCE: St. Gregory of Nyssa
The Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. Fragment of a fresco
Today, we begin the two week fast in preparation for the final feast of the Church year: the Dormition or falling asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos. This feast is commonly referred to as the “summer Pascha.” As we see in the verse above taken from the Vespers for this feast, the tomb of the Virgin becomes a ladder to heaven. The Theotokos, she from whom our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ received His flesh, is rightfully the first to share in the fulness of the promise of the Resurrection. Just as she carried the Incarnate Word made flesh in her arms, now she is carried by Him, body and soul, into the joy of eternal life.
It is right to call this the feast the “summer Pascha” because it reminds us once again how Christ has trampled down death by His death. It carries with it, somber similarities to the Feast of Feasts in how we celebrate it. Just as we, in procession, carry the shroud of our Lord and lay it in a tomb on Holy Friday, so too, on the eve of the Feast, do we carry a shroud of the Theotokos, lay flowers before it, and venerate it.
Therefore, it is also right that we should fast in preparation for this Feast. The Mother of our Lord is approaching death, and we do well to prepare, to be attentive, and to be vigilant. If, in our own families, a dear loved one were approaching death, would we not “drop everything” to be at their side? So too, this fast allows us to “drop” the cares of the world, to remind ourselves of our need to imitate the humble obedience of the Theotokos, and to view death in light of Christ’s Resurrection, not as an end, but as a beginning to eternal life.
In our times today, this fast comes at an advantageous time. Summer is drawing near to its conclusion. School will be starting again soon. The carefree days of summer vacations give way to a reminder of the ever constant spiritual battle we are all engaged in on a daily basis. This year, even more so, how advantageous this fast is. Due to the late celebration of Pascha, we were not afforded the opportunity to participate in the Apostle’s Fast. So, let us approach this fast and view it as an opportunity, for prayer, for quiet reflection, for increased participation in the services of the Church, as a call to repentance. My prayer for all of us is that these next two weeks will bear much fruit in each and every one of our lives, and in the life of our parish. May God, through the prayers of His most pure mother, bless you and keep you in His loving kindness!