Dormition of Theotokos. History and Traditions

On August 28 according to the new style (Julian calendar) and August 15 according to the old style (Gregorian calendar) Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary. It is one of the twelve major feasts of the Orthodox Church. The feast is preceded by the two-week Dormition Fast which is considered to be among the strictest ones in the Orthodox tradition.

Origin of the Feast

Up to the 8th century AD Dormition of the Theotokos wasn’t as widespread as other feasts of the Orthodox Church calendar and is barely mentioned in the records. The earliest reference to the Virgin Mary’s passing can be found in the work of St Gregory of Tours Glory of the Martyrs, written at the end of the 8th century.

After the Ascension of Christ, the Mother of God was in care of the Apostle John. She spent the last days of Her earthly life in the house of his parents in Ephesus and prayed passionately so that the Lord takes Her to His Kingdom sooner.

According to Christian tradition, it was Archangel Gabriel who revealed to the Virgin Mary that Her death was near. But She embraced that news not like all mortal beings – with fear and lament – but as an opportunity to finally greet Her beloved Son again. On the third day after the Archangel’s visit, the Most Holy Mother of God reposed in the Lord, painlessly and peacefully.

The Apostles buried Virgin Mary in the garden of Gethsemane in the tomb of Her parents, Holy Joachim and Anna, and stayed there for three days praying for Her soul. Apostle Thomas  wasn’t present at the burial, so on the third day after the funeral other Apostles opened the tomb to let him pay his last tribute to the Deceased. But the body of the Most Holy Mother of God was nowhere to be found. Thus they understood that Her body was taken to Heaven. On the same day She appeared among the Apostles gathered for supper and said to them: “Greetings! I am with you always!” 

Feast of Dormition in Orthodox Iconography

According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons devoted to this feast depict Jesus Christ holding the soul of Virgin Mary represented as a child in swanding cloths.

Celebration of Dormition in St Elisabeth Convent

A day before the Feast of Dormition nuns decorate churches of the convent  with real flowers, which – just as the chamber of the Virgin Mary on the day of Her falling asleep – exhale fragrance and fill the celebration with beauty and light.

On the eve of the feast the clergy celebrate an all-night vigil, which is dedicated to remembering the earthly path of the Birthgiver of God. During the Great Doxology the priests come up to the epitaphios, or the shroud, in the centre of the church, cense it and take it to the procession around the church. Then the clergy anoint those present at the service with holy oil.  

On the day of the Dormition Feast several Divine Liturgies are celebrated in the churches of St Elisabeth Convent. On the third day after the feast the rite of the deposition of the epitaphios takes place, which symbolizes the burial of the body of the Virgin Mary.

Let us pray to the Queen of Heaven so that She covers us sinners with Her Holy Omophorium and protects us from sorrows and calamities.