The Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated on August 15. This feast, which is also sometimes called the Assumption, commemorates the death, resurrection and glorification of Christ's mother. It proclaims that Mary has been "assumed" by God into the heavenly kingdom of Christ in the fullness of her spiritual and bodily existence.
About the feast
The Orthodox feast of the Dormition is very similar to what Roman Catholicism calls the Assumption of Mary. According to Orthodox Tradition, Mary died like all humanity, "falling asleep," so to speak, as the name of the feast indicates. She died as all people die, not "voluntarily" as her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature which is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world.
Thomas arrived a few days later, and desiring to see her one more time, convinced the others to open her tomb. Upon doing so, the Apostles discovered that her body was no longer present. This event is seen as a firstfruits of the resurrection of the faithful that will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. The event is normally called the Dormition, though there are many Orthodox parishes in English-speaking countries with the name Assumption. In Greek, Dormition is Koimisis—falling asleep in death—from which the word cemetery derives.
As with the nativity of the Virgin and the feast of her entrance to the temple, there are no biblical or historical sources for this feast. The Orthodox Church teaches that Mary is without personal sins, as well that Mary truly needed to be saved by Christ as all human persons are saved from the trials, sufferings, and death of this world. She truly died and was raised up by her Son as the Mother of Life and participates already in the eternal life of paradise. This life of paradise is prepared and promised to all who "hear the word of God and keep it." (Luke 11:27-28)
Celebration of the feast
The feast is preceded by 14 days of strict fasting, with the exceptions that fish is eaten on the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6). On weekdays before the feast, either the Great Paraklesis (service of supplication) or the Small Paraklesis is celebrated.
On the eve of the feast, Vespers is served and contains three Old Testament readings that have New Testament meaning. In Genesis 28:10-17, Jacob's Ladder which unites heaven and earth points to the union of God with men which is realized most fully and perfectly in Mary the bearer of God. "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" In Ezekiel 43:27-44:4, the vision of the temple with the door to the East perpetually closed and filled with the glory of the Lord, symbolizes Mary. And in Proverbs 9:1-11, Mary is also identified with the "house" which the Divine Wisdom has built for herself.
Sometimes Matins is served on the morning of the feast. The Gospel reading is from Luke 1:39-49, 56. It is read on all feasts of the Theotokos and includes the Theotokos' saying: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed."
Divine Liturgy is served on the day on the feast. In some churches, it is the custom to bless flowers on this feast before the Liturgy. The epistle reading is from Philippians 2:5-11, and speaks of "Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men." The gospel reading is taken from Luke 10:38-42 and 11:27-28 together; this reading is also always read on all feasts of the Theotokos. In it, the Lord says, "blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
- In giving birth you preserved your virginity,
- In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos.
- You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
- And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.
Kontakion (Tone 2)
- Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
- Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
- For being the Mother of Life,
- She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.
Troparion (Tone 4)
- Dance with joy, O peoples!
- Clap your hands with gladness!
- Gather today with fervor and jubilation;
- Sing with exultation.
- The Mother of God is about to rise in glory,
- Ascending from earth to heaven.
- We ceaselessly praise her in song as truly Theotokos.
Kontakion (Tone 4)
- Today the universe dances with joy at your glorious memorial,
- And cries out to you, O Mother of God:
- "Rejoice, O Virgin, pride of Christians!"
- Dormition of the Theotokos The Orthodox Faith by the V. Rev. Thomas Hopko
- Although St. John Maximovitch in Zeal Not According to Knowledge (Romans 10:2) warns against the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, he asserts that any sinlessness on Mary's part was not due to God's grace, which would belittle any triumph of the Theotokos over temptations: "The teaching that the Mother of God was preserved from original sin, as likewise the teaching that She was preserved by God's grace from personal sins, makes God unmerciful and unjust; because if God could preserve Mary from sin and purify Her before Her birth, then why does He not purify other men before their birth, but rather leaves them in sin? It follows likewise that God saves men apart from their will, predetermining certain ones before their birth to salvation." Indeed, St. John Maximovitch supports the teaching of her lack of personal sins: "However, even then, as Sts. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom speak of this [the cleansing of the Holy Spirit at Christ's birth], She was not placed in the state of being unable to sin, but continued to take care for Her salvation and overcame all temptations (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on John, Homily 85; St. Basil the Great, Epistle 160)."
- The Dormition of the Theotokos from Orthodox Family Life
- The Assumption (Dormition) of the Virgin, a descriptive commentary of festal icons
- Icons of the Dormition of Mary
- The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary (OCA)
- August 15: Feast of the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary (GOARCH)