The third of the great feasts of the summer is the commemoration of the death of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. This, from the liturgical point of view, is the most important of the feasts dedicated to the Theotokos (Greek for God-bearer).
Many features of this feast are taken from other feasts dedicated to the Theotokos. Thus the gospel for matins tells of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). The epistle (Phil 2:5-11) and the gospel (Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28) for the liturgy are those that are read for September 8, the day of Mary’s nativity. It should be noted that there is no mention in the scriptural passages regarding her death. It is in the songs attached to the feast where we find the special significance.
This significance is twofold and is given exact expression in the phrase, “the source of life is laid in the grave and her tomb becomes a ladder to heaven.” This first part, “the source of life is laid in the grave” indicates that we are commemorating her death. We also remember the deaths of John the Baptist, the apostles and the martyrs. But we call her the “source of life” so we know that more is going on today than simply remembering a saint’s death. The Church, beginning with the glorious disciples knew the Mother of God to be a mortal woman and at the same time the Mother of God. She wasn’t more than human and yet she became the tabernacle that held God. But this feast is much more than just an annual commemoration of her death.
The second part of the phrase says, “and her tomb becomes a ladder to heaven.” The tomb of anyone that has died in Christ is, in a certain way, a ladder that leads to heaven. All the same, Mary’s case is exceptional. The liturgical texts which are sung imply something more: “Open wide the gates and receive above the world the Mother of the everlasting Light… For today heaven is opened to receive her… the Angels hymn thy most holy falling asleep… that we celebrate with faith… let the sons of earth tremble in spirit… and celebrate with joy the venerable Assumption of the Mother of God.” St. Gregory Palamas said that earth, the grave and death did not hold forever her life originating and God-receiving body – the dwelling more favored than Heaven.’ According to our tradition Mary’s body did not suffer the corruption that follows death; it did not stay in the tomb. Mary’s assumption differs from Christ’s Ascension in that He rose on His own power. We affirm that the wages of sin is death. We don’t go so far as to say that she was an exception to this but we do say that she had a victory over sin that so few have ever approached. Her holiness is the height.
The Dormition is a feast not only for Mary but also for all human nature. For in Mary human natural has reached its goal. St. Gregory called her the only frontier between the created and the uncreated. The call for us is to be made new like she was. One week into the liturgical year we will celebrate her birth. Mary’s life manifests the destiny and development of a human entirely faithful to God.
And here is the most important thing: with Mary we marvel because her spiritual life is for any soul that applies itself to making progress. All the things we say about her could be said about us. But will they? We are baptized, we commit our life to Jesus Christ in Chrismation and over and over again we following him and His teachings. We need to say, “YES” to Jesus and we need to do it today.
Much of this entry is quoting directly or indirectly from “The Year of Grace of the Lord” by A Monk of Eastern Church.