By Archim. Theologos Alexandrakis*
In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions. (Apolytikion of Dormition of the Theotokos, First Tone)
August is a month for our Orthodox race dedicated to Panagia, where everything is flooded with her grace, due to the great feast of the Dormition and the Assumption of the Most Holy Theotokos. Through the daily services and the parakleses, the redemptive character of the Christian faith is confirmed once again, as the mother of Christ, who is the mother of us all, is honored.The Apolytikion of Dormition of the Theotokos reflects some very characteristic aspects of the religious semantic significance of the life and the dormition of the Theotokos. In fact, the tone of Apolytikion is triumphant and majestic, perfectly coinciding with the great event of the feast, which evokes a set of human emotions.
“In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos”: In these phrases are found two critical contradictions to the logic and experience of man in a soteriological dimension. Panagia was ever-virgin and incorruptible before, during and after Jesus birth. She brings together the grace of virginity and the grace of motherhood. Of course, this unnatural fact is a natural consequence of her place in all creation. She, after all, from all creation, according to Saint Gregory Palamas, receives the grace of God, which she then distributes “by value” to all creations.
“You departed to the source of life”: The Mother of Christ, three days after her Dormition and burial, “departed” to heaven. The “metastasis” of the Theotokos is both a resurrection and an ascension. That is, her dead body was reconnected with her soul and “was ascended” by the Son. It was not possible for the one who gave birth to the winner of death to be possessed by death. However, this “metastasis” did not separate the Theotokos from the world. Therefore, the hymn writer chants: “in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos”: In this sentence is the second contradiction to human nature. Death marks for us a permanent separation. It separates irrevocably loved ones. However, death became dormition by Christ and more than all the Saints, the Theotokos, despite her “dormition”, continues to be present in the world with her uninterrupted protection. She helps and redeems us, advocates for our forgiveness and heals us mentally and physically each one personally and individually. This is evidenced by Her countless miracles.
“As mother of life you delivered our souls from death by your intercessions”: Hundreds of aliases, Hodegetria (leader), Giatrissa (doctor), Platytera, Vrefokratousa (infant bearer), Glykophilousa (sweet kisser), Eleousa (merciful), Pantanassa, Kecharitomeni (full of grace), Gorgoepikoos, Prousiotissa, Eleftherotria (liberator), Atheniotissa, Everyone’s Joy, and many others, embrace her venerably, mystically, with tears of gratitude. She is Panagia, the mother of us all. Hence the feasts of the Mother of God and the innumerable pilgrimages, where a multitude of believers kneel reverently, dazzled and ecstatic in front of the sparkling splendor of Her face. They enlighten her and honor her with one soul and one mouth. The life and name of the Theotokos become one with the life of the Church and of the faithful individually. There is no service, where Her honored name will not be mentioned. We commemorate every time we offer a hymn of praise and supplication to God, “our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary.” The Theotokos is the bridge that leads us from earth to heaven. She is the mediator who unites earth with the Heavien, God with the fallen man. The blessed people of God, therefore, see in the face of the Theotokos the New Eve – Life, the obedient response of man to the redemptive decision of divine love. Man experiences her as the representative of all people, as the “fruit of God’s creations”. (Saint N. Kavasilas).
However, the question arises what do we celebrate on the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos and how is the festal tone explained in such an event. The Dormition of the Theotokos is celebrated with joy because it is not the dormition of a common mortal. She is the one who gave birth to the Leader of life. She could not remain in the grave and be consumed by death, because her Son, who with his Resurrection defeated death, transported her to eternal life and took her up to heaven. Reasonably, a festal tone prevailed, with which the Church celebrates the Metastasis of the Theotokos to heaven. In fact, Saint Andreas of Crete mentions that during the feast of the Dormition “Every language joyfully honors and salutes the Thetokos,” showing the laudatory tone of the greeting to the Theotokos in every way. This feast moves the hearts of all Orthodox, who run to fill the churches and ask for the grace and help of Panagia. They try in every way to honor the One who raised the human race to Holiness, to thank Her and to beg Her for pain relief and strong protection.
Therefore, we all turn to Her grace, especially on the days of the Feast of the Dormition. We all build a unique relationship with Her and we feel that as a tireless Mother she protects us and by praying to Her she offers us joy in moments of despair. This uninterrupted dimension of mediation is also revealed in the words with which the priest extracts and deposits the portion of the Virgin Mary on the sacred platter, to the right of the Lamb, performing the bloodless divine worship, “The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.” The Mystery of the Holy Communion becomes “exceptional” for Her with her offering.
Her example, Her boundless faith, Her voluntary obedience to the Divine Will, Her heavenly character and Her patience inspire, guide, direct us all to our Lord. Thus we kneel before Her Icon and constantly invoke Her name, because this very action is the most effortless metaphysical dimension of our soul.
In the summer, therefore, the Feast of Panagia “makes our homeland smell spiritually”, as Fotis Kontoglou used to say, emphasizing that the Theotokos is the mother of Orthodoxy and whoever loves and trusts his life in Her hands then lives peacefully and spiritually! Therefore it is the duty of all of us not only to be grateful to Her, but also to strive to live as She lived.
However, we must all reflect on our relationship with the Theotokos. Is it a substantial and experiential relationship or a formalistic one? Especially in our time we need to build a personal experiential and Holy Spiritual relationship with Her. It is important to stand in prayer and with absolute humility and devotion to the Theotokos. To chant the Greetings and the Paraklesis daily as an Antidoron (instead of the gifts) for Her love and protection. As Orthodox Christians we have many opportunities to rejoice, to banish fear, despair and to live in hope, joy, peace and light. We should not be hurt by minor issues because we have great spiritual treasures, including the Theotokos. We celebrate with our hearts and every breath full of hope that the Theotokos will again become the shield, the roof and the hope, as long as we turn with unity and solidarity to her Son and God. Then we will experience again the miracle of Her Phovera Prostasia (Awesome Protection) for every wronged and wounded soul and above all for our homeland Greece.
Concluding the above thoughts, I wish the Theotokos to prosper the spiritual struggle of each of us, through Her mediation to Her Son and Her God.
So let us worship Her honorably and let us fervently pray to her with the following words: “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!”