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  Excerpts from: An Encomium on the Dormition of the Theotokos

by Modestus, Archbishop of Jerusalem [+634 AD]

 



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…..Those holy angels we have mentioned, sent by God, stood by the side of God’s Mother; being spiritual and invisible, they gazed at the sublime glory of the divine grace and power that accompanied her, and stood dumbstruck by the incomprehensible divine mystery that enfolded her.   They rejoiced in exaltation to receive her as the Mother of their Lord; but the apostles, who were now left orphans by the Mother of God, as far as her bodily presence was concerned, grieved no less than they had done on that sacred night when they were initiated into the sacraments of the whole world’s salvation, and heard from Christ the Savior:  “Grief has filled your heart” [John 16.6].   Then, as the Mother of God was surrounded by both choirs singing her praises, visibly and invisibly, both hear, it is said, the divine decree for her: Christ, our good God, according to his promise, did not disdain to “be in their midst” [Matthew 28.20] and to appear to his Mother, in a way known only to him.   And that blessed one, gazing on him and deeply moved, as always, by the holy yearning of her divinely maternal heart, left her body behind and “committed into his hands” [Psalm 30.6] her blessed, holy soul.


What a marvel!   She has fallen asleep!   She has fallen asleep!   She who gave birth to the life and resurrection of the world has fallen asleep!   By the grace that came from her, every spiritual and intellectual nature shares eternal life.    Her Son is the one who has despoiled the underworld and death, who has “neutralized the devil” [Hebrews 2.14], who will raise up by his command those who have died since time began and who sleep in him [2 Thessalonians 4.16] – the One who is Lord, and who says, “I am the resurrection and the life” [John 11.24].  She follows him as his Mother, the all-holy one, and says to him in a kind of prophetic address:  “My heart has not grown tired of following after you, and has not longed for the day of men and women” [Jeremiah 17.16].


 Today, she who gave rest in her arms to the joy of the Cherubim and Seraphim and all the heavenly powers has fallen asleep.  He is the rest of the angels and of all things, and the holy and life-giving Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, rests in him as the Son who shares God’s very substance; he is the true rest, who says in the Gospels, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11.28].  She now closes her holy eyes, who once set the light of the world shining, who carried the Maker of lights himself in the world like a golden processional torch, untouched by human hands; “he it is who planted the ear and formed the eye” [Psalm 93.9], and who summons people from  all the ends of the earth “into his marvelous light” [1 Peter 2.9].  Her glorious body, the receptacle of life, must be laid to rest by holy hands, for it was the source of immortality and incorruptibility, which flowed from the Holy Spirit within the mortal and corruptible nature that belongs to all of us.   She clothed the Lord, who “wraps himself in light as in a robe” [Psalm 103.2], in the fleshy garments in which he advanced in age, for he was born of her.


Then, in fact, that holy body of the Mother of God – where the single Jesus was formed, where the God who is over all came truly to be called human – was lifted up on a bier.  O holy bier, who bears that truly immaculate body, through her which he who makes all things holy has come forth!   O holy bier, bearing another couch not made by hands, “where the God who laid down the heavens” has chosen to take his rest” [Psalm 17.10; 131.13].  O holy bier, bearing God’s workshop for the salvation of the universe!  O holy bier, bearing the palace of heaven’s king, built by him as the place of his real yet uncircumscribed presence – the presence of his Incarnation!    O holy bier, bearing that wonderful chariot, in which the God who sits upon the Cherubim” [Isaiah 17.16] came forth to ride over the earth!   Having fully clothed himself with the purple robe of our nature, “he rules over the nations” [Psalm 46.9].  About him, the prophet said, “Why are your robes red, as from a winepress when the grapes have been trodden down” [Isaiah 63.2]?   O holy bier, bearing the pure, chosen spiritual mine, from which the Creator and Lord wrought anew for himself his own creation!   O holy bier, bearing the blessed tent that came from Abraham and David – the tabernacle from which the most high and incorporeal God took his living, spiritual body, which did not exist before him, but took up its very existence in him!  O holy bier, bearing the spiritual incense that fills the whole world “with the fragrance of Christ, our God” [2 Corinthians 2.15].  O holy bier, bearing the sacred vessel filled with the myrrh of a divinity beyond all divinity!   O holy bier, bearing the all-holy body of the most glorious Mother of God, which is carried away amid celebration by the holy angels and the divine apostles, to the praise and glory of her Son and our God!


They placed it in a tomb as in a shrine of life, in the place called Gethsemane – they who had become the eye-witnesses and servants of the Word, and those holy ones who then were in their company.  Their desire in doing this was that through her, our kindly and just judge might be rendered merciful towards us – Christ our God, who came forth from her, and who will appear in glory like the lightning from heaven, to take his place where the prophets have foretold, to judge the living and the dead with the divine apostles, through the ministry of the holy angels.


What mighty feat of the mind, what power of the word can grasp and give worthy voice to the many things that took place then – things beyond our comprehension, performed and sung by many witnesses, to celebrate her glory?    God revealed to them ineffable mysteries; a variety of blessings were bestowed on them, and they were initiated, through her power, into gifts of healing beyond number.  For this reason, then, and because she is the glorious Mother of Christ, our God and Savior, who bestows life and immortality, she was raised to life by him, to share his bodily incorruptibility for all ages.   He raised her from the grave and took her to himself, in a way known only to him.  So to him be glory and power, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and for the ages of ages!  Amen.