Sermon on the Dormition of the Most-Holy Mother of God
by Protopresbyter Vasily Boshchanovsky
“The heavens rejoice in thy glorious dormition, the armies of the angels are jubilant, and all the earth is glad, giving utterance unto a parting hymn for thee” (Stichos).
What a strange sight! The Mother of the Incarnate Lord dies, of Whom the heavenly messenger declared: ”Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:28-35). This wondrous Offspring of righteous Israel, the Mother of the Savior, dies, and the Church not only does not grieve, but makes this day a spiritual celebration and time of bright joy. “Rejoice, mankind, Heavens celebrate, the earth is filled with bliss seeing the Mother of the Savior ascending from earth to Heaven.”
What does this mean? Why is the death of common people a day of inexpressible sorrow, abundant tears and bitter weeping, but the death of the Theotokos, the finest of the daughters of mankind, becomes a source of spiritual triumph and bright joy? Was not the death of the Ever-Virgin Mary the end of the life of the Mother of God?
What is the reason? Why on the day of the death of the Theotokos does the Church call upon her loyal flock to rejoice and celebrate?
Death from a simple point of view is indeed the destruction and end of the visible, bodily life, or victory of corruption and destruction. That is why it is so grievous and repugnant to the sons of mankind. No ordinary person so senses his own nothingness and weakness, does not so feel his profound grief and sorrow as at the grave of a person dear to him.
Viewing death in the light of Christianity, faith and hope is a different matter. Remember the words of the God-Man, Christ, spoken to Martha, the sister of the dead Lazarus: “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (John 11:25). Read the inspired 15th chapter of the first Epistle of Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, ending with a hymn to life over death: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). In the Christian light, the darkness of death is replaced with light, sorrow turns to joy, the victory of evil is routed. Why is this so?
Death in the Christian view is falling asleep, or a form of slumber—rest from earthly concerns, this is the transitional stage from one form of existence to another; a move from the bad to the good; from the vale of sorrow, labor and weeping to the kingdom of luminous joy and blessed eternity.
You might be puzzled and bewildered by this. No, do not be! Better carefully observe nature around you, and take to heart the Word of Heavenly Truth: Christ’s blessed message. Studying nature gives us remarkable parallels which clarify and justify the truth we now ponder.
We behold a seed which a farmer throws into the soil. There, in the earth, it decays, falls apart, but only in order to grant life in germination, a shoot, a stalk and finally an abundance of grains. Here is another example, more apt: the egg. It is lain and placed under incubation. But over some time, under the force of various factors, it changes its inner form, bursting through and destroying its shell, but again, only to offer new life. If such is the case in mindless nature, can we allow that it is different in the reign of reason, of moral cognizance? Of course not. And this refutation is joyously confirmed by the Word of God—the Christian gospel of the victory of light over darkness, life over death, truth over deceit.
Death ruled in the world as long as sin reigned. But since sin was nailed to the proverbial cross through the podvig of the God-Man Christ and removed from humankind, death lost its barb and hell lost its victory. The Lamb of God died, taking upon Himself the sin of the world, only so that His death would be crowned with the glory of Resurrection: His Resurrection lay the foundations for our own resurrection. ”But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20), says the holy Apostle. Before the Resurrection of Christ, death ruled the world; after the Resurrection, life reigns supreme, not only in the form of the Resurrected One, but in all that love Him.
The Dormition of the Mother of God is the best confirmation and revelation of this truth. Just as Her Divine Son, the Mother submitted to the law of death, in order to overcome this death not only by Her spirit, but by Her body. The death of the Theotokos, or in fact Her Dormition, divided the soul from the perishable body, so that later, clothed in incorruption, will enjoy the presence of Her Divine Son. But for the body of the Mother of God, death proved only the passing from the worse to the better, from the temporary to the eternal, from the dead to the undying. The Ever-Virgin experienced the joy of beholding Her Divine Son at the moment that Her spirit departed from Her body: for the soul of the great Mother was received by none other than Him, Who appeared Himself at the death-bed of the Theotokos. But even the body of the Ever-Virgin died only in order to pass through the law of death, through the gates of death, to be crowned by the glory of resurrection and ascension into Heaven. This was confirmed by the absence of the body of the Mother of God in the tomb, when it was opened to show Apostle Thomas, who wished to see the face of the deceased Theotokos, as well as the appearance of the Mother of God Herself, announcing to the Apostles that Her body was taken on the third day by Her Divine Son into Heaven.
Death suffered its first defeat from the Incarnate God-Man Christ; powerless was it proved to be before the Person of the Mother of God; death’s chains are broken also by all those who come to love Christ. This victory of life over death was first foreseen by the prophet [Hosea], and then by the Christian herald: “O death, where is thy sting?” and the Church of Christ sees the dormition of the Mother of God as a day of bright celebration and profound spiritual joy.
Beloved brothers and sisters: let us not be deaf to the voice of eternal truth declared to the world by the Incarnate Son of God---the Son of the Virgin preached today by the Church of Christ. In this—in eternal Truth—Divine Wisdom foresaw our sorrow, our tears, our torment of death. But seeing this and cautioning us in advance, Sophia-Wisdom also gave us consolation, assuring us in the undoubted coming eternal bliss, where everything will be restored, where the fateful questions of our minds, where our tortured hearts will find rejoicing; where thirst for Divine Truth will be quenched; where people will be present with their relations and siblings; where children will joyfully greet their parents; where parents will bask in the eternal glory of their children; where God will dwell with mankind; where He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death will be no longer, for “the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
This is the source of today’s joy—the Dormition of the Mother of God.
Let us therefore lift our heads, and facing the death that approaches us all, joyfully confess: “Death, where is thy sting? Hades, where is thy victory?”
Most-Holy Mother of God, save us!
Lakewood, NJ, 1957.