Dear Parish Faithful,
Just a reminder that we will celebrate the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos this evening with the Vesperal Liturgy, beginning at 6:00 p.m. I am eagerly anticipating a church filled with worshippers as we commemorate the falling asleep of the Virgin Mary and her translation to the Kingdom of God. This will end the two-week Dormition fast that has prepared us for the feast.
The Feast of the Dormition clearly raises the issue of death and dying, and what we mean by a “Christian ending to our life.” For the moment, though, here is a challenging paragraph from Fr. Thomas Hopko about some of our own misconceptions – basically our fears – that often find us wandering far from an Orthodox approach to death and dying:
I believe that the issue of death and dying is in need of serious attention in contemporary Orthodoxy, especially in the West, where most members of the Church seem to be “pagan” before people did and “Platonists” afterwards. By this I mean that they beg the Church to keep people alive, healthy, and happy as long as possible, and then demand that the Church assure them after people die that their immortal souls are “in a better place, basking in heavenly bliss” no matter what they may have done in their earthly lives. — From Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attractions, p. 89, note 2.
To add a bit more to this, here is a passage from Bp. Ilarion Alfeyev, that reinforces the Christian understanding – and hope – that accompanies us at the moment of death:
For the non-believing person, death is a catastrophe and a tragedy, a rupture and a break. For the Christian, though, death is neither a catastrophe nor something evil. Death is a “falling asleep,” a temporary condition of separation from the body until the final unification with it. As Isaac the Syrian emphasizes, the sleep of death is short in comparison with the expectant eternity of a person. — From Orthodox Christianity, Vol. 2, p. 496.
St. Gregory of Nyssa states this Christian hope with clarity:
By the divine Providence death has been introduced as a dispensation into the nature of man, so that, sin having flowed away at the dissolution of the union of soul and body, man, through the resurrection, might be refashioned, sound, passionless, stainless, and removed from any touch of evil. – Great Catechetical Oration, 35.
This is precisely why we can call the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, “pascha in the summer!” The Virgin Mary and Theotokos died a “deathless death.” Now we have the opportunity to participate in this mystery in the celebration of this event as nothing less than a Feast. Looking forward to seeing you this evening!