- Fr. Garabed Kochakian
The Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother-of-God
The Feast of the Assumption or Dormition of the Mother of God is of great significance for the Church. The Armenian Orthodox Church has revered the mystery of this Feast of Mary more as part of the oral sacred Holy Tradition of the Church rather than Apostolic preaching and Biblical texts. Though it is not scripturally recorded, nonetheless it is a testament to the living Mystery of God with us.
In Armenian, we call this Feast Վերափոխում / Verapokhoom acknowledging both the physical and spiritual 'transport' and translation of the Holy Mother into the embrace of her son and the glorious realm of heaven. She who served the incarnation of God who became human was 'assumed' into heaven and like her Son and ascended bodily into heaven by Christ's action.
Here in this Armenian Icon Illumination, we see details of this event and joyful day.
At the center of this sacred image, we first note the Blessed Mother St. Mary reclined on her deathbed, in the midst of the Apostles. The angels descending from the realm of heaven leaping forth from the burst of blue color in the both corners are shown attending to Christ -Who in His Glory- is looking at the body of His mother reclined on the death-bier. He receives her soul, depicted as an innocent infant, into his arms. The golden field of color behind the Lord tells us that He descends from the uncreated Light of Heaven and has come into our world to take her up and transport His mother into eternity. In some icon illumination of that light behind Christ is shown as a large halo of concentric bands of bright color.
Gathered around Christ are eleven Apostles, looking at the Mother of God with sorrow and trembling. The missing Apostle -the twelfth- St. Bartholomew was not present at the time of her death. He was in Armenia preaching the Gospel. Tradition relates that upon his return after her burial he was presented a sacred icon of her face painted by St. Luke. Though this was of comfort to him, he had requested to see St. Mary and that is when her tomb was discovered to be empty. For Christ, her Son had come to take her home.
Looking further at this holy image, we see St. John the Beloved one, and youngest Apostle bending toward her and embracing her. She was entrusted to his care by Christ as his 'mother' when they both stood at the foot of the Cross. His facial expression sadness tells us of the great pain in his heart because they were together in Jerusalem and Ephesus for many years after the Resurrection.
There are three bishops attired in black and white checker robes; one is St. James, the brother of the Lord-the first Bishop of Jerusalem holding a Cross as the chief officiant of her burial. Two other bishops accompany him often assumed to be Timothy and Hierotheus who had come with St. Paul who is standing in the foreground.
There is an apocryphal detail portrayed here showing Athonios, a fanatical Jew, who often spoke against the Lord's Resurrection, the Apostles and Holy mother. The Angle standing to his left has cut off his hands because he attempted to touch the couch on which she lay in order to profane the sanctity and holiness of her, body and soul Notice the separation of his two arms from his body. Those who deny the plan of God with St. Mary bearing into this world Jesus our Saviour, God remains out of reach for them.
Though this scene of the Dormition is one of sorrow and sadness, there is a joy that comes to us all, and that is that St. Mary, the image of the Church has a place in heaven with her Son Jesus because she said Yes to God the Father when St. Gabriel announced to her the role she would play to bring Salvation into the world I Christ Jesus.
She participated fully accepting God's will. As she took part in God's plan she was guaranteed a place in heaven. No less for us who believe in the Divinity of Christ the reward to be in heaven is ours only if we do the same, by participating in the Divine Nature of Jesus; receiving His Body and Blood, doing his work and will upon this earth, so that in the end, our inheritance will also be a place at his eternal banquet table.
And so we pray to St. Mary: "Mother of God, Mother of Light, and the temple of the Word of God, reconcile us to the Father, and by your intercession to Him, receive our supplications and save us."