Homily 424 – Dormition of theTheotokos
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 15, 2020
Epistle: (240) Philippians 2:5-11
Gospel: (54) Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
First of all, let me apologize for the sermon about storms last week. In speaking of not letting the storms distract us, I had no idea how quickly a storm would come to dominate our lives. We pray for all those impacted by the storm.
Not just the windstorm, although that may be foremost in our minds. The storm of the pandemic. The storm of the political and social divisions we find in our country, and indeed in the world. The storm of selfishness in our world.
Our blessed Theotokos was just like us. She provides for us an example of not just how to live, but hope that like her we can be successful at it. Many of the saints experience what the Theotokos experienced.
Many became selfless, by setting aside everything – everything – and attending to Christ. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, experienced this, and Christ commended her.
Some of what Mary experienced is relatively common in reading about the saints. Many knew in advance of their impending death. They were given time to prepare. Mary was told by the Archangel Gabriel that she would die in three days.
Her only request was that the Apostles visit her – which was granted with the exception of Thomas.
It is because Thomas wasn’t there that we know of this feast we celebrate. He arrived after the burial and wanted to venerate the body of the Virgin birth-giver. When the tomb was opened, her body wasn’t there.
Now they knew that she likely hadn’t risen, because she hadn’t appeared to anyone. And she didn’t appear to anyone immediately and did not appear in a body. But her body was not in the tomb.
So, the Church concluded rightfully that her body was taken into heaven and returned to her. Just as our Lord has a physical body, a resurrected body, so too does His mother.
There have been some distortions of that knowledge. The Roman Church says that the Virgin never actually died, and was assumed into heaven while living. That is not what we understand to be true.
We know that this is possible – it happened to Elijah – but the Church reports that Mary died, and was buried.
How did this happen? Well, the mechanics of what happened are unknown to us. The only evidence we have to go on is the life which led to this miraculous occurrence. A life of selflessness.
From the preparation before the Annunciation, living in the Temple spinning liturgical thread, to the acceptance of God’s will at the Annunciation, to the all the other events of the life of Christ, Mary asked nothing except that we follow her son in all things.
That we set aside any agenda or desire, and stand ready to act when directed by Christ to act.
Note that I said, “stand ready.” That is an important aspect of our lives. Soldiers don’t spend every moment in battle. In fact, time in battle is rare. Rather, they train, and keep themselves ready, to be called on in a moment’s notice.
What is Christ asking us to do? To stand ready. To prepare ourselves for the battle. There is a temptation to want to jump ahead and fight – and yet, in doing so, we may not be following our Lord and Commander, but simply picking a fight with someone.
In my view, this is why God doesn’t reveal to us what is plans are – He holds them closely, not allowing us to see so that we don’t get the wrong message and do what is not His will.
Getting ahead of God, our protector and defender, and getting in front of our fellow troops – well, that is a recipe for a bad experience.
If we are one, just as Christ prayed we would be, then we move together and create a more formidable force than going solo.
But until the command is given, we stand ready. We train, through our ascetical disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We abstain from worldly concerns and distractions, focusing only on Christ.
Some I think wisely ask about the role planning plays in the process. Most of us here in this city are transient. We are here preparing for something else.
That is no different than the training offered – no, required – of the soldier. There are at least two distinct aspects of standing ready. First, we have the self-discipline to follow direction. This comes through ascetical practices.
And second, to be prepared with skills and talents we can offer to Christ. St. Paul describes the variety of roles within the Church – preaching, prophesying, teaching, even administration!
And not just within the Church, but in life in general. St. Paul was a tentmaker. The Theotokos knew how to spin yarn. The apostles were fishermen, tax collectors. The disciples were doctors, merchants, religious lawyers, scholars.
So those of us studying here because of the University, we are training and studying the Creation of God, and His work, and how to be of service to His people, and all those created in His image.
On this auspicious day, like the Theotokos herself, we must stand ready, awaiting the command of the Lord. So that we may also be found worthy of the Kingdom of Her Son.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!