Feasts of the Theotokos – Dormition
Explanation of the Dormition troparion
In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity; /
in thy dormition thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos. /
Thou wast translated unto life, /
since thou art the Mother of Life, /
and by thine intercessions doest thou deliver our souls from death.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We can learn almost everything that we need to know from listening and praying in the services.
The Dormition troparion, “In giving birth Thou did preserve Thy virginity,” proclaims our belief, that the Theotokos was a virgin before birth, during birth and after birth. And if you want to have this explained, then you do not understand. It is a mystery that we cannot understand, but the Church has been unanimous about this for well over a millennium, almost two millennia.
But of course we always look at the deeper meaning of things. Virginity is not just to not have intercourse with a man. Virginity is purity, it is holiness, and the Theotokos, above all human mortals that were born, preserved Her holiness and Her purity.
“In Thy dormition Thou did not forsake the world, 0 Theotokos.”
Dormition means “Falling asleep”. We believe and our services proclaim over and over again, that the Theotokos, being born of Adam, being of human stuff, died and was buried. And we know then that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to take Her soul with Her body to Heaven.
But She did die, because the services proclaimed very poetically at one point last night, that, if the Lord Jesus Christ must have gone to the Cross and died, why wouldn’t also the Theotokos also die?
So, “In Thy dormition Thou did not forsake the world, 0 Theotokos.” This also proclaims our belief not only about the Theotokos but about all the saints, about the Resurrection. She died but she has not forsaken us.
In this She is not unique. The saints have not forsaken us either. She is par excellence, the intercessor for the Church, but only one of many intercessors for the Church because God is the God of the living, not of the dead. So we proclaim that in Her dormition She has not forsaken us because She is not dead. And we say this emphatically.
“Thou was translated unto life, since Thou art the Mother of Life.”
I find it interesting in the service how it is said of her that she was “translated”, many times, but the mystery of Her being translated bodily by our Lord is sort of hinted at but not said explicitly. And I think this is because, for the mysteries of the Church, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Those who have eyes to see, let them see.” Those who do not really care about holy things will not understand this.
But those who love holy things, love the things of God, will treasure the Mother of God, Her Ever Virginity, Her holiness, Her special treatment by Her Son in which She alone, of all mortals, after Her death was escorted into the Heavenly Mansions, body and soul, by Her Savior and Her Son.
The services over and over speak about how this must be so, that She would be translated into life. She is the Mother of Life. God was within Her womb. We call Her “Platytera” - More spacious than the Heavens. And we cannot understand this. And yet we speak of it and meditate about it in our services over and over again because it’s so magnificent, so wonderful, so terrible, that a human being, with human failings, with a need of a savior, would bear the very Savior that She and all of the human race needed. This is an amazing thing. Only those who have become holy can really understand it.
My namesake, Seraphim of Sarov, would pray before an icon of the Mother of God on his knees all the time. He had a great love for the Mother of God. The Mother of God visited him. He understood Her because they were of the same kind. They were holy. They had preserved their virginity, not the bodily virginity, but the spiritual virginity.
Alas, we must say that many times we are not preserving our virginity. Of course, with God’s help we can always regain it.
“Thou was translated unto life, since Thou art the Mother of Life, and by Thine intercessions Thou did save our souls from death.”
We believe that the Theotokos prays for us. Her intercessions to Her Savior are beneficial to us. We have a balanced view of the Mother of God.
Recently someone was asking me about differences in the services. All of the services about the Theotokos, are high feasts, highly ranked but not as highly ranked as Feasts of the Lord.
There are differences in Feasts of the Lord. Feasts of the Lord supersede everything. Only Feasts of the Lord have an entrance On Feasts of the Lord, all fasting is omitted on that day, with the exception of Transfiguration, but that’s during a fast. On Feasts of a Theotokos that fall on a fasting day, we can have fish, wine and oil. but we still fast from meat, cheese and eggs. This is because Her feast is of a lower rank because She is of a lower rank than God, and also highest rank of all humans. We have a balanced view of Her.
We believe … Sometimes when I say “believe,” I remember that our society has a very poor definition of “belief.” For them, “belief” means, “I’m pretty sure this is the case.” For us, “belief” is, “We know and confess that this is true.”
We believe that the Mother of God prays for us, and by Her intercessions we are saved. She hears what we need. She brings our needs before Her Son. As the saints do. As the angels do. As our Guardian Angel does. But we are especially comforted that the Mother of our Lord would bring our petitions before Her Son, and we have great confidence in Her petitions, although not in our own.
The entire Dormition troparion teaches, in a nutshell, our understanding of the Theotokos. You can do this, by the way, with almost any troparion. You can see that the troparion, together with the kontakion, gives a summation of the theology of the feast.
She preserved Her virginity because She was pure and holy and loved God above all things. It is impossible to imagine that someone who had borne God would live a mundane life afterwards, would just be just a Jewish village woman having children and going to the market place to catch up on the latest gossip, living just a regular life. How can this be? Our services continually speak of how She was so changed that she no longer lived a mundane life.
Now, She was still a human being, completely human, not anything greater than human, just human. She was just like us, with failings, with misunderstandings. The Gospel shows that She did not completely understand everything all at once. But what caused Her to eventually have such profound understanding with Her Son is that She treasured everything in Her heart. So should we. We should be more like Her. We should emulate Her. We know that She preserved Her virginity. So should we.
We have confidence in the Resurrection. So we know that Her intercessions are heard by our Savior and help to save us.
May God, through the prayers of the Theotokos, save us, Amen.
Transcribed by the handmaiden Helen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.
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