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The Dormition

Listers, while the West celebrates the Feast of Our Lady, the Assumption, our brethren in the East celebrate with us under a different name. Known in the Byzantine theological and liturgical tradition as the Dormition (in Greek, the kimesis, or “falling asleep”), this feast commemorates the death of the Mother of God, as well as her subsequent Assumption into heaven after three days. The feast itself, which originated in the East, likewise entered into the Latin West as the Dormitio B. Mariae Virginis, where after several centuries it assumed its own unique character as a celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

The feast of the Dormition, being one of the more solemn Marian feasts in the Byzantine liturgical calendar on account of its antiquity, is preceded by a period of fasting and spiritual preparation known as the “Dormition Fast.” Of the four annual fasts in the Byzantine tradition, it is the strictest, except of course the Great Fast during Lent. Lasting for fourteen days, it begins with the feast of the Procession of the Cross on the 1st of August, and ends at sundown on the 14th, when the feast of the Dormition officially commences.

The Synaxarion, the martyrology of the Byzantine churches, relates that the dormition and the assumption of Our Lady were announced by an Angel to the Blessed Mother. According to tradition in the East, this final stage of Our Lady’s earthly life took place in Jerusalem, witnessed by all but one of the Apostles, who had been gathered together by Divine power. At the moment decreed beforehand by God, the all-holy Virgin, surrounded by her children committed her spirit into the hands of her Divine Son. A funeral procession followed to Gethsemane, where a tomb had been prepared for her, and with hymns and chants she was solemnly interred in her place of repose.

The Apostle Thomas, however, was making his way from India at the time of her burial. Being greatly saddened at his late arrival, he began to be distressed. The rest of the Apostles decided to open the tomb of the Virgin, in order that he might be able to honor her all-blameless body. But upon opening the tomb, they discovered that she had been taken into heaven, leaving the burial shroud remaining. Throughout the whole tomb, a garden of beautiful and fragrant flowers had bloomed, as a celebration of the miracle of Our Lady’s Assumption. To this day, the tomb of the Virgin remains in the garden of Gethsemane, enclosed in the shrine dedicated to her Dormition.

In honor of this solemn feast, this list will include** eight odes in honor of Our Lady’s Dormition**, from the Canon sung during Matins and composed by St. John Damascene:

 

First Ode

I will open my mouth, and it will be filled with the Spirit; and I will utter a word for the Queen and Mother: I will be seen keeping glad festival,and rejoicing, I will hymn her falling asleep.

The divine tabernacles of heaven fittingly received you as a living heaven, O Virgin all-pure; and as a blameless bride, you stand radiantly adorned before your King and God. [1]

 

Third Ode

O marvelous wonder, to see the living heaven of the King universal going down below the hollows of the earth. How wondrous are Your works: glory to Your power, O Lord!

At your Assumption, O Mother of God, the hosts of Angels in fear and joy covered your body with hallowed wings, that had been spacious enough to receive God. 

 

Fourth Ode

If her Fruit, who is incomprehensible—because of Whom, she was called ‘Heaven, willingly underwent burial as a mortal—how will she refuse burial, who bore him without wedlock? 

 

Fifth Ode

The universe was amazed at your glory divine: for you, O Virgin who knew not wedlock, have passed over from earth to mansions eternal and to life without end, as you give salvation as the prize to all who sing your praise.

Let the trumpets of the theologians ring out today, and let the mortal tongue now sound praises with many voices. Let the air re-echo, shining with infinite light. Let angels honor with hymns the Dormition of the Virgin.

 

Sixth Ode

As we celebrate this divine and honored feast of the Mother of God, come O godly-minded people, let us clap our hands as we glorify God Who was born of her.

 

Seventh Ode

The most sacred Assumption of Your hallowed and undefiled Mother has gathered the celestial ranks of the Powers on high to rejoice together with those on earth who sing to You: ‘O God, blessed are You!’

 

Eighth Ode

He, when taking flesh made his dwelling marvelously in your immaculate womb, Himself received your all-holy spirit and, as a dutiful Son, gave it rest with Himself. And so, we praise you, O Virgin, and exalt you above all to all the ages.

 

Ninth Ode

The angelic Powers were amazed as they looked down on Zion, upon their own Master bearing in His hands the soul of a woman; for as befitted a Son, he was saying to the one who gave him birth without stain:

‘Come, O honored Lady: be glorified with your Son and God.’

The choir of the Apostles shrouded your body, which had received God, as they looked with awe and addressed you with clear voice: ‘As you depart into the heavenly bridal chambers to your Son, may you ever save your inheritance.’

 

[1] All quotes are taken from Ephrem Lash’s copyrighted translation of the Menaion (with slight modifications), unless otherwise noted. Also, the numbering of the odes - with the missing “second ode” - is intentionally and in accordance with the liturgical tradition.