minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Dormition

Orthodox Icon of the Dormition

The subject of Mary has often been an area of contention between the Catholic Church and many of the sects which were born out of the reformation. Accusations which often imply idolatry and pagan influence are flung in the face of the ancient church in complete disrespect of the this woman which the Bible testifies “Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes”. Adding to the propaganda and pessimism which are the platforms of anti Catholicism are the facts that some of the church’s doctrines weren’t formally defined until later years. The Assumption is one of these, being formally defined in the Catholic Church in 1950.

At first glance this seems fairly convincing, after all if this were an ancient belief in the church why did it take so long to be dogmatically and infallibly defined? Even for myself, while in the process of returning to the catholic faith, beliefs about Mary seemed like a hurdle which would be difficult to cross over.

One of the first surprises in my research came from the Lutherans. It was almost a shock to find that a non catholic church, whose founder played a huge part in the reformation, still prayed his rosary, though he did shorten the “Hail Mary” to avoid actually requesting intercession. The Anglicans also retained the rosary for a while. Today the practice isn’t as popular but can still be found in both denominations.

Dormition of Mary from a French Book of Hours, c 1530

Delving into the Orthodox and other Catholic rites; churches which were not part of the western empire, was also very helpful. After all most of the attack on Catholicism comes from people who never even considered the orthodox or eastern catholic rites. Here we find a common history, full of debates, councils, conflicts, controversies, but also a faith that was for the most part shared. All the proof that the Catholic Church’s beliefs were really consistent with early christianity could be backed up by simply looking at the beliefs of the churches which were not tagged with the stigma of “Rome”. The Real Presence in the Eucharist, the use of creeds, liturgy, priests, saints, monasticism, councils, art, and even beliefs about Mary are backed up by the tradition of the orthodox and easter catholic rites.

It was while seeking an Icon at a local Greek orthodox community that I first saw an Icon of the Dormition, or Kemisis. I remember thinking “Even this!”. It was true. Even I had my doubts about the Assumption; but the belief wasn’t a mere invention of some man in Rome. It was the defining of a belief that had been a part of the traditions of the church from the earliest times; and while there are some differences in the Dormition and Assumption, they are really talking about the same event, and celebrated on the same day, August the 15th.

The belief holds that Mary was bodily taken into heaven after her death, or falling asleep, which is what the word Dormition means.

The Dormition

The Dormition Icon has several startling elements that surround the central scene of Mary’s funeral. Apostles, Bishops and saints surround her, Peter holding incense on the left and Paul on the right. In the image at the top of the page an angel is seen cutting off the hands of a Jewish priest names Athonios. The traditional account relates that in hatred of the Theotokos, he attempted to knock over the funeral bier and the angel appeared and lopped his hands off. Seeing this miraculous intervention caused Athonios to repent, and his hands were healed and he became a faithful follower of Christ. This may also have something to do with the belief of Mary as the Ark, a typology mentioned by several early writers who saw the relation of Mary, as God bearer, to the Ark of the Covenant. Note the position of Peter and Paul like the cherubim on the Ark; Athonios like Uzzah, being struck down for touching the Ark.

What is most amazing is the juxtasposition of the most familiar iconic representation of the Mother and Child. Instead of Mary holding the infant Jesus, we see in the mystical light of heaven, Jesus, holding the soul of Mary, appearing like a child, in his arms. This to me is the most profound of all, for in everything concerning Mary there is a focus on her Son, and here is no different. Even in death, Mary points us toward Jesus, reminding us of the hope we all have in Christ.

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4 thoughts on “Dormition

  1. Yeah Mike that is a shame that they all miss allot of the real church teachings and wonder around making up their own and calling the true church a fake and demonic. I for one did this and I have asked for forgiveness for this and I am going back to the church this week for good. I don’t care about the past and all the wars and killing, both sides were responsible for, not just one. If the vessel that held the body of my saviour is not good enough to rise up like the one she carried 9 months then I don’t believe in any thing.Mother Mary was used for this and was pure without blemish like the child she carried why would Jesus not want her protected and ,lifted up as he?Every time I ask her for some thing she answers me and in a hurry I never wait more then a day for her to answer me. I love her with my heart and I am not ashamed of loving her and what she stood for not just flesh but part of Emanuel (God with us)She is very much the Arc as spoken of the the bible and she will answer your prayers if you ask of her and ask in her sons name. I am glad in the God head and family of God,if the Lord didn’t believe in families then he could have come as anything he wanted but he is all for families and we should be also. I have noticed that a family that prays together stay;s together. Without families we are wild and running free to do what ever we choose and that is the gate tat leads to destruction but we pas through the narrow gate like the Lord and we find it hard but it leads to eternal live,and there be not many who find it! Honor thy Father and thy Mother that thy days will belong upon the lands which the Lord thy God hath given thee. May Mother of God I honor thee and love thee with all my heart thank you for all you went through that the world may have the chance for eternal life,blessed was thy womb and blessed was the fruit of thy womb,so blessed are you.The evil of the flesh cannot live in a pure body,she was without sin! Let us not forget who started this country it was X Catholics and the system is formed like the Vatican is formed all but having the Pope instead we have the devil running things,open your eyes America!!!

  2. I’m sorry, I mean this with respect, but the evidence clearly shows that the currently held notions about the virgin Mary currently espoused by the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches developed gradually over the course of several centuries. The Assumption or Dormation of Mary in particular wasn’t even mentioned in Christian writings until some 400 years after the fact, and earlier witnesses such as saint Epiphanius testified that no one knew what became of her. The veneration and adoration of Mary as it now exists is not reflected one iota in the writings of the per-nicene era. They are man-made ideas, not the divine teachings of the Apostles.

    Protestants are simply trying to go by the actual and historic teachings of Christ and the Apostles, as witnessed by the New Testament. They are not disrespecting the Virgin Mary. Mary herself would tell you not the pray to her or honor her above measure, since it’s clear that the real Mary was just like us, a sinful human being saved by the grace of God. Blessed among women for her special role in the plan of God, worthy of honor for that reason and also for her faith and obedience to the will of God, but not to be thought of as an intersession of co-mediator of any sort, and not any more honorable than any other saint who has performed the will of God.

    • Mike LaFountain on said:

      Hi Cody, thanks for the input. I really do not want to have my blog turn into a debate site. If you are interested in some good discussion I can recommend this site http://www.speroforum.com/forum/.

      I would however like to make a few notations because having been a non catholic, and for a while an anti-catholic who was very vocal, I do understand where you are coming from. For myself, as a former protestant who was simply trying to go by the actual historical teachings of Christ and the Apostles as witnessed by the New Testament, it soon became apparent that the Ancient Church was the actual continuance of the early Christian Apostolic community. It is true that doctrines formed over time, even centuries. Some of this had to do with the fact of early persecution, and some had to do with the process of discerning the Faith. Even in the Book of Acts we see doctrine develop as concerns over the Jewish Law, specifically circumcision, were dealt with in council. The canon of scripture, the trinity, christologies, were also developed over much time, into the 4th and 5th centuries. To some this is an indication of tampering or invention by men and religious systems, but to me it seems not only consistent with what we see in the New Testament but also with common sense. If it took disputes over the nature of Christ to form our creeds and definitions of His nature, then it also seems reasonable for other doctrines to form over time as well.

      The point is that the catholic and orthodox churches are very biblical in their teachings, even more so than what is found in the sects which formed from the time of the reformation. My conclusion after many years of searching was that the reformation was not justified, it led to the invention of many man made sects and doctrines that bear no resemblance to the church of old, primarily because of its strict claims about the bible being the only source of guidance and interpretation being left in the hands of the individual. Not only is “sola scriptura” an example of a ‘doctrine’ which started long after the early church period but it is also a doctrine that has caused all of the tension and splitting among those sects which fall on the protestant/non denominational side of the fence. In truth every sects creates its own tradition, its own rules, its own religion while denying the use of this by the Ancient church. The very idea of sola scriptura is not expressed in the bible at all, rather we see the church as being apostolic with the bible itself being a product of the apostolic tradition of the church and as such is interpretted in light of the church and not the mere whim of individuals. But more to the point is that if one is to force a strict biblical interpretation in defining doctrine, and no scriptures can be found to support this claim then the belief in sola scriptura itself fails the test. More to the point is that Paul in his letters made it clear right at the start that he was an apostle. He is very biblical, like the church is very biblical, but he certainly doesn’t leave interpretation up to whoever. He asserts his authority to promote the faith and form the traditions which he himself was taught.

      I hope this hasn’t offended you as it is my hope to challenge people to think about faith, even if thinking requires us to challenge our own concepts and ideas about faith. Please come by Spero if you are interested in good dialogue and discussion concerning the catholic faith.

      Dominus Vobiscum

  3. “e con il tuo spirito”

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