By Fr. Dimitri Burikas
It is that time of year when we in the Orthodox Church once again approach the joyful celebration of the feast of Pascha. You may say, “How did this priest graduate seminary? Pascha was on April 16th this year.” And you would be right, but I’m right too. The Pascha I’m referring to is celebrated every year on August 15th and is known as the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, a.k.a. the Pascha of Summer.
What do these two feasts have to do with each other? One is the Resurrection of Christ, the other is the falling asleep of the Virgin Mary. Yet they are intimately connected. The life, teachings, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ liberated mankind from the power of death and come with a promise for humanity: “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). Not only did Christ break death’s power over us, but Christ promises eternal life to those who hear His voice.
Even so, it’s easy for our faith to be challenged. How can we really know that this will happen? How do we know that there is a life waiting for us beyond the grave?
God has given us the assurance of His promise in the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. Holy Tradition tells us that after her death and burial, the disciples of Christ found her tomb empty and beheld her alive in the Heavenly Kingdom. As we hear in the hymn of this feast: “You were translated unto life, you who are the mother of Life.”
This feast strengthens us as Christians living in the modern world that the promise which God has made us is true and will be fulfilled, that one day we too will rise and dwell forever in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!
As Orthodox Christians, there are many ways in which we can celebrate this feast. The Orthodox Church observes a two-week fasting period before the feast itself as a way of preparing. On each weekday evening, our churches hold Paraklesis or Supplication services to the Virgin Mary. On August 14th, Great Vespers will be held at the various parishes named in honor of this feast. And on August 15th, we will complete the festivities with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
During this time, the Church gives us many opportunities to connect with God through the prayers of His Holy Mother. Just as we flock to our parishes for Holy Week and Pascha services, let us again flock to the church to celebrate the Pascha of Summer, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. With her intercessions and help, we are sure to receive the gift promised to us, life everlasting in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.
Most Holy Theotokos, save us!