UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
The Feast of the Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God in NY City!
By Subdeacon Vasyl Pasakas
Photos - Panimatka Ivanka Wronsky and Subdeacon Ivan Chopko
On Tuesday, August 28, 2012, the feast day of the Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God, and upon the invitation of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in New York City, NY, the Ruling Hierarch of the Eastern Eparchy and Locum Tenens of the UOC of the USA His Eminence Archbishop Antony and His Grace Bishop Daniel, the Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Church concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with the local NY clergy and faithful. Six priest (Very Rev. Todor Mazur, Very Rev. Volodymyr Muzychka, Very Rev. Fr. Ivan and Fr. John from the Romanian Orthodox Church, Rev. Fr. Voctor Wronsky, Deacon Vasyl Dovgan) and 200 people gathered for the celebration on the occasion of the Dormition of the Theotokos, one of the main holidays of the Orthodox calendar.
As the hierarchs, escorted by the seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, entered the cathedral, the children of the parish community presented them with flowers of love, while the parish sisterhood greeted the bishops with the traditional bread and salt. Very Rev. Fr. Todor Mazur, welcomed His Eminence Archbishop Antony to his cathedral, stating that it has become a pious tradition of the cathedral parish community to invite both bishops of the Church to one of the major feast days on the Church calendar throughout the year to the cathedral community.
Following the Gospel reading, His Grace Bishop Daniel delivered a sermon, reflecting upon the meaning of the feast of the Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God and its meaning for the Orthodox Christians of the 21st century, especially for the Orthodox in the Western society that are constantly challenged by daily secular responsibilities.
The bishop reflected on the feast: “The Holy Scriptures tell us that when our Lord was dying on the Cross, He saw His mother and His disciple John and said to the Virgin Mary, "Woman, behold your son!" and to John, "Behold your mother!" From that hour, the Apostle took care of the Mother of God in his own home.
Along with the biblical reference in Acts 1:14 that confirms that the Virgin Mary was with the Holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the tradition of the Church holds that she remained in the home of the Apostle John in Jerusalem, continuing a ministry in word and deed.
The Dormition (death, falling asleep) of the Mother of God dates back to the year of 48 BC. After Christ’s death, Virgin Mary lived for 15 years, and she spent all these years in praying and fasting. That is why the Feast of the Dormition is preceded by a two-week fast.
According to the legend, the Mother of God departure from the earth after the Archangel Gabriel appeared before her and announced her near assumption into Heaven; and he left a palm branch as a symbol of it. And it miraculously happened so that by the day of the assumption of the Virgin Mary, all the Apostles had gathered in Jerusalem 9but Holy Apostle Thomas), where she lived at the time.
After two o’clock, a dazzling light began to shine in the house, where Mary and the disciples of Jesus were staying. The ceiling disappeared in its radiation, and Christ appeared in the room surrounded by angels. Then the Holy Virgin stood up from her deathbed, and bowed to Him. She handed her soul over to her Son and God without any bodily suffering, as though in a pleasant dream, the legend tells.
The Mother of God was buried in the garden of Gethsemane, but three days later, when the apostles opened the grave, they only found grave wrappings in it, as not only the soul, but the body of Mary had been taken to Heaven by God. That same evening she appeared before the apostles and said: “Rejoice! I am with you forever”.
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 Tradition of the Church is that Mary 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.
The Holy Orthodox Church teaches that Mary is without personal sins. In the Gospel of the feast, however, in the liturgical services and in the Dormition icon, the Church proclaims 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; and that having truly died, she was raised up by her Son as the Mother of Life and participates already in the eternal life of paradise which is prepared and promised to all who “hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:27-28)
It also must be mentioned that, in all of the feasts of the Virgin Mother of God in the Church, the Orthodox Christians celebrate facts of their own lives in Christ and the Holy Spirit. What happens to Mary happens to all who imitate her holy life of humility, obedience, and love. With her all people will be “blessed” to be “more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim” if they follow her example. All will have Christ born in them by the Holy Spirit. All will become temples of the living God. All will share in the eternal life of His Kingdom who live the life that Mary lived.
In this sense everything that is praised and glorified in Mary is a sign of what is offered to all persons in the life of the Church. It is for this reason that Mary, with the divine child Jesus within her, is call in the Orthodox Tradition the Image of the Church. For the assembly of the saved is those in whom Christ dwells.
When we reflect on this extraordinary experience of the Apostles of our Lord, we can see how this blessed Feast and the witness of the Theotokos inspire us in our sacred work of sharing the Gospel. The commemoration of the Dormition and the event of the gathering of the Apostles affirms that they had obeyed the commands of Christ to go and preach the Gospel, teach all nations, and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). At the time of the repose of the Birth-Giver of God, the Apostles were engaged faithfully and fervently in the work of ministry. However, when they were called by Christ to return in honor of the life, the witness, and the dormition of the Virgin Mary, they did it wholeheartedly.
Certainly, the Apostles had each been chosen and appointed by God to go and bear fruit to the ends of the earth (John 15:16). Now they were gathered to honor the one who had been chosen above all others to bear the Son of God. During her final earthly days, the Apostles were in the presence of the one who had born the True Vine, the source of great spiritual fruit in her own life of service and in the lives of all who have come to Christ in faith. Because of her commitment to God’s will, her faithfulness to our Lord, and her lifetime of witness of His power and grace, the Theotokos in her Dormition became a center of celebration and power.
It is in this spirit that the Apostles returned to the work they were called to do. The witness of the Virgin Mary, a witness of Christ, filled their hearts with joy. They rejoiced in the miraculous events of her repose, and they were emboldened even more by the manifestation of grace and holiness. They had once again seen and heard the power of the Gospel, and they could only go forth and be witnesses of the great and mighty acts of God, seeking to bear spiritual fruit in the lives of others (Acts 4:20).
As we commemorate the Feast of the Dormition, we do so in honor of the Mother of God and her witness. We also gather to celebrate her life and repose as a superb example of being chosen and appointed by God to go and bear fruit. We do not weep, but we sing praises to God for the witness of His power and grace in her life. We do not mourn, for we are strengthened in our commitment, we are assured in our message of truth and life, and we are empowered to go out and share the Gospel so that we can see great spiritual fruit produced in the lives of our fellow human beings.
At the celebration of the Divine Liturgy both hierarchs blessed flowers, according the ancient tradition of the Church.
Following the liturgical celebration, the parish hosted those in attendance to a deliciously prepared luncheon, during which the youth of the cathedral community presented a short concert in honor of the feast day of the Birth-Giver of God.