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Major Orthodox Feasts: The Dormition of the Mother of God

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The Dormition of the Mother of God

In eastern Christian churches, the Dormition of the of the Mother of God is a holiday that commemorates the death of Mary and her resurrection prior to ascending into Heaven. It is celebrated on August 15 (August 28, for those following the Julian Calendar) as the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God.

The Feast of the Dormition is honored by a 2 week fast before the holiday. From August 1 through the 14, Orthodox Christians exclude red meat, poultry, meat products, dairy products, fish, oil, and wine. It is far stricter than both the Nativity Fast and the Apostles Fast, with only wine and oil allowed on weekends. During this fast, there falls a major feast called Transfiguration, on August 6, in which fish, wine, and oil are allowed for consumption. Many Russian churches and monasteries perform services of Lent on at least the first day of the Dormition Fast. During this fast, the Great Paraklesis or the Small Paraklesis are celebrated on every evening, except Saturday and the Eves of the Transfiguration and Dormition. The first day of the Dormition Fast is called The Feast of The Procession of The Cross, on which is it customary to have a crucession.

In Orthodoxy, and Catholicism alike, death is considered a "falling asleep" of the body, but the mind and soul continue on. After spending her life after Pentecost serving the nascent Church, Mary was living in the Apostle John's home in Jerusalem, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared before her and told her she would die in three days. All of the apostles who were spread around the world were miraculously transported to her side during her death. The apostle Thomas was the only one who was late, but when he appeared on a cloud 3 days after her death, he witnessed her body ascending to Heaven. Thomas asked to see her body to bid her farewell, however when he arrived to Gethsemane, her resting place, her body was gone, leaving only a sweet fragrance. A ghost is said to have confirmed that Christ took her body to be reunited with her soul in Heaven.

In liturgical practices, it is customary to bless fragrant herbage on the Feast of the Dormition. In some places, the Rite of the Burial of the Virgin Mary is celebrated at the Dormition, during the All-Night Vigil. This service is based on the service of the Burial of Christ on Great Saturday. A special embroidered cloth icon portraying Mary lying in her state, called a Epitaphios of the Theotokos, is used with specially composed hymns of lamentation which are sung with Psalm 118. There are special chants of Evlogitaria of the Dormition, similar to the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection which are chanted on Great Saturday and at Sunday Matins throughout the year. The Epitaphios is carried in procession in the same way as the Epitaphios of Christ is during Holy Week.

Dormition of the Mother of God is observed on 28/15(old) of August.

Troparion (Tone I)

In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity,
and in thy falling asleep thou hast not forsaken the world, O Theotokos.
Thou hast been, translated to life, as thou art the Mother of Life.
And by thy supplications thou dost deliver our souls from death.

Kontakion (Tone II)

The tomb and mortality could not hold the Theotokos,
who is untiring in her supplications/ and our certain hope in her intercessions.
For, as the Mother of Life, she hath passed over to the Life
Who dwelt within her ever-virgin womb

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