The Dormition of the most holy Theotokos is one of the important feasts in Orthodox Christianity. It is indeed a great feast which depicts ‘falling asleep’ of the Mother of God and her bodily resurrection before being taken up into heaven. This feast is celebrated with much significance and importance among Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families.
Mother Mary or the holy Theotokos occupies the most important place in the Orthodox Church next to that of Jesus Christ.
The feast of Dormition is celebrated by two weeks of fasting, known as the Dormition fast beginning from 1st of August to the 15th of August. The fasting is quite strict in nature. Believers abstain from red meat, poultry, meat products, dairy products (eggs and milk products), fish, oil, and wine.
In some places and Churches weekday services during the fast are similar to that of the Great Lent. The Russian Orthodox Church performs Lenten services on at least the first day of the Dormition Fast. The Great Paraklesis (Supplicatory Canon) or the Small Paraklesis are celebrated every evening except Saturday evening and on the eves of the Transfiguration and the Dormition.
The first day of the Dormition fast is called ‘Procession of the Cross’ and on this day crucession (Cross procession) and perform the Lesser Sanctification of Water is performed (holy water used by Priest for baptism and other blessings). In Some places the rite of burial of Holy Theotokos is celebrated during Dormition all night vigil.
In Eastern Orthodox Churches the Epitaphios (an icon made of large cloth, embroidered and richly adorned, and it is used for services of Good Friday and Holy Saturday) is placed on a bier, and carried in procession in the same way as the Epitaphios of Christ is during Holy Week. This practice began in Jerusalem and spread to Russia, though it is not considered standard service in all Russian parishes.
More on Dormition:
The Dormition of Holy Theotokos is known by the name ‘Filsata’ in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and it is observed on August 16th.
The Armenian Orthodox Churches does not celebrate the Dormition on a fixed date but on a Sunday nearest to August 15th.
‘Shunooyo’ is the name given to the Dormition of Holy Theotkos in the Syrian Orthodox Church and ‘Daiva Mathavinte Vaangippu Perunnal’ is the term used by the Indian Malankra Orthodox Church to denote the feast of Dormition.
Dormition and Assumption is two different term denting the same feast. Assumption is used by the Roman Catholic Church which teaches that Mother Mary was ‘assumed’ into heaven in bodily form just as her beloved son Jesus Christ Ascended.
The Orthodox Church teaches that Holy Theotokos had natural death like any other human beings and her soul was received by Christ upon her death. She was resurrected on the third day after her demise and was taken bodily into heaven.
There is traditional story about the Dormition of Holy Theotokos where Christ and all Apostles except St. Thomas were present for the holy occasion.
St. Thomas was in India at that time but he was informed of the falling asleep of the Theotokos. It is believed that he was carried on a cloud by an Angel from India to Jerusalem. Nearing Jerusalem, St Thomas saw the holy Theotokos taken up into the heaven by angels. He cried out in anguish and by seeing the apostle the Theotokos removed her belt and dropped it down which landed in the hands of Apostle St. Thomas. Apart from that he also inspected the tomb of holy Theotokos and found it to be empty.
It is to be noted that the Orthodox Church teaches the bodily assumption of holy Prophet Elijah based on the holy gospel and the Dormition of the Mother of God is taught to be true based on the Holy oral tradition.
May the Intercession of the Holy Theotokos bring abundance of blessings to all of you and your loved ones.
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George Alexander writes regularly for Travelujah on Orthodox Christianity, He is the Secretary and Spokesperson for Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE and can be reached at www.theorthodoxchurch.info