THE V. Reverend Protopresbyter Dr. Stelyios S. Muksuris, Ph.D. [BA, MDiv, MLitt, PhD, ThD (post-doc.)], serves the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church in Aliquippa, PA, and is Professor of Liturgy and Languages at SS. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. A native of Boston and a graduate of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, he received his postgraduate degrees and his doctorate in liturgical theology from the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. He is an active member of several academic societies (AAR, SL, SOL, BSC, OTSA), a frequent conference speaker both nationally and internationally, the author of a monograph, Economia and Eschatology: Liturgical Mystagogy in the Byzantine Prothesis Rite (Boston, 2013), and the author of an introductory chapter for a textbook on Christianity, as well as numerous papers and studies in theological journals. He is a frequent consultant on liturgical matters for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh.
Now that I have your attention with the radically unusual title you see above, I want to assure you that no prayer within the corpus of Orthodox Christian writings begins with these words. The ‘paternal’ version of the “Our Father” prayer is well known to us all; and yet during the month of August, what the Church celebrates is the bodily translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven, rendering her as our heavenly Mother who fervently and constantly intercedes for her fallen and suffering children in this life — from one age to the next.
The feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is not related to us in any of the four Gospels from Scripture. Instead, our immediate source is an apocryphal manuscript that comes to us from roughly the middle of the second century, called the Gospel of James (alternately, the Infancy Gospel of James or the Protoevangelium of James). The feast was celebrated by the Church early on, and several Church Fathers offered remarkable homilies on the event that laud the unique nature of Panagia as the first human being who experiences well before the Final Judgment the transfigured life in Christ. She tastes physical death but is spared the corruption that typically accompanies it, precisely like her divine Son. She is raised from the dead and enters the fullness of the transformed life (a central theme of the Transfiguration feast on August 6), receiving a glorified, resurrected body and assuming her place as the Mother who oversees all of humanity from her heavenly throne.
Our Bridge Between Heaven and Earth
The purity of the Theotokos’ life is the model par excellence for us. It is a life that views the bitterness of conflict not as an end or as a defeat but as an opportunity, as the continuation of God’s will to work with us and eventually make things right. In this purity are highlighted four chief virtues: faith, hope, love, and patience. In the Panagia, all four qualities appear as perfectly as they possibly can. In us, they often pale and waver. Nevertheless, all Christians from the beginnings of the Church until now have shared the same call to sainthood. In the Church begins our unique journey to eternalize the family unity we discover here. In other words, like the Theotokos — indeed, like Christ — as we are moving toward the General Resurrection, we too will one day receive a glorified, resurrected body. In that day, we will also be heavenly dwellers like our Father and our Mother who are in heaven, sharing the same polity and bound by the grace and love of Almighty God.
However, until that blessed moment comes, our lives remain attached to the earth. Yet, our attention is unceasingly being drawn toward the celestial and eternal. Nowhere is this truth more prominent than in the divine worship of the Church. As we flock to our churches during this period of preparation for the Summer Pascha, to honor the death and resurrection of our heavenly Mother and to laud the fullness of life she now shares with her Son and God, let us joyfully recall with hope, as we do during the Great and Holy Pascha, our own imminent translation into eternal life, a life to be shared with the earthly and heavenly family we call the Church. Amen.
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