Clicking here goes to information on the icon.Welcome to the St. Luke Web Page.
Search the site.Listen to Father Borichevsky's restored radio programsSee What St. Luke Orthodox Church has planned.Visit and sign our guest book.Contact the St. Luke Orthodox Church Web Development Team.
Find something on the site in a hurry.
St. Lukes Orthodox Church Home PageDonate Now!Shop for Orthodox goods from your Computerchurchdirectory Pages that deal with St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church. What's the news at St. Lukes.View all the previous and current Evangelist newsletters.View the Sunday bulletin.Information about St. Luke Orthodox Church including the Mission and Vision statements. Pages for 'keeping in touch' with God. Information on prayers and prayingView the prayer of the week and all other previos prayers of the week.Need to pray for something? What is the Orthodox Church and how/why do Orthodox Christians worship? What is the Orthodox Church of America?Who were the Saints, and why do we honor them?Find and explore many different liturgical texts we have available, including the Divine LiturgyWhat is Pascha?  See what it's like at St. Luke's.How is Orthodoxy playing a role in the present times?Learn what are icons and how are they used in the Orthodox Church today.BellsSee what we have to offer!Current Issues Pages for Organizations of St. Lukes. Christian Education, Youth Group, Music, Church Resource Center, Adult Education, and Junior Olympics.Maintenance, New Building, Strategic Planning, Cell Phone Tower, Inventory, Cemetery/Memorial Book, and Historian.Outreach, Charities, Internet, Evangelist Newsletter, Media, Prison, Sanctity of Life, and Mission.Liturgical, Altar Servers, Bell Ringers, Cemetery, Readers, Greeters, Choir, and Vestments.Fellowship, Supply Coordinator, Prayer, Women's Ministry, New Americans, Sunshinem, Flowers, and Vestments. Some stuff Study the bibleSearch the bibleOrthodoxy on the lighter side...Words of Wisdom...If you've got the taste for great Orthodox foods, this is the place to be.Children friendly section of the pageMessages


Dormition or Assumption?

Written by the Very Rev. John Breck - August 2008

In our Orthodox tradition we are usually very careful to distinguish between the "Dormition" of the Mother of God and her "Assumption" into heaven. The former, we feel, is properly Orthodox, while the latter strikes us as a purely Western designation, derived from a Roman Catholic "misunderstanding" of the meaning of this feast, celebrated universally on August 15.

It is true that some very genuine yet misguided interpretations of Mary's death and exaltation can be found both in Catholic spiritual writings and in contemporary Western icons: a tendency, for example, to exalt the Holy Virgin to a level of "divinity" that effectively erases the crucial and absolute distinction between human and divine life. Orthodox theologians will insist that the "deification" (theƓsis) known by the Mother of God in no way involves an ontological transformation of her being from created humanity to divinity. She was and will always remain a human creature: the most exalted of all those who bear God's image, yet always a human being, whose glory appears in her humility, her simple desire to "let it be" according to the divine will.

Traditional Orthodox icons of her "falling asleep," therefore, focus especially on her death and entombment. The disciples, "gathered together from all the ends of the earth," surround her in an attitude of grief and lament. Behind the bier on which she is laid there stands her glorified Son, holding in His arms a child clothed in radiant white garments, an image of His Mother's soul. This is a theme of reversal. On every Orthodox iconastasis there is found a sacred image of the Mother of God, holding in her arms her newborn child, the God-Man who "took flesh" in order to save and sanctify a fallen, sinful, broken world. Here, in the icon of the Dormition, the Son embraces and offers to that world His Holy Mother, as she did Him at the time of His birth. At her falling asleep He receives her soul, her life, in order to exalt it in Himself and with Himself, to the glory, beauty and joy of eternal life.

In many Orthodox icons, however, this primary image is complemented by another: the depiction of the Mother of God ascending to heaven, accompanied by a host of angels. We find this double motif especially in post-byzantine icons such as the koimesis (Dormition) of the Koutloumousiou monastery of Mount Athos, dated from around 1657. (Vladimir Lossky notes other such representations in his commentary on the Dormition, The Meaning of Icons, Boston, 1969, p. 215.) Should we conclude that this dual theme, depicting both the Dormition and the Assumption of the Mother of God, is simply the result of Western influence?

In fact, whether we label it the "Assumption" or the "Ascension" of the Theotokos, this image complements that of the koimesis in a way that is in perfect accord with Orthodox theology. Just as Christ died and lay in the tomb, to be resurrected and exalted into heaven, so His Holy Mother "falls asleep," to be raised up by her Son and exalted with Him into heaven. By His Resurrection and Ascension, He provides the means by which the "Mother of Life," together with all those who dwell in Him, can be raised from death and exalted to transcendent Life.

If we understand the "Assumption" of the Mother of God in the light of the Ascension of her divine Son, then we can appreciate the dual depiction of Dormition and Ascension found in many of our Orthodox icons. The Holy Mother of God, the Theotokos or "God-bearer," is the first fruits of the eschatological fulfillment that will bring all of God's creative and redeeming work to a close. She is the vessel in which the Second Person of the Holy Trinity "took flesh" and became (a) man, in order to bestow salvation on the human race. Her womb, "more spacious than the heavens," contained the uncontainable One. He drew his human existence from her, and she accompanied Him with love and prayer throughout the time of His earthly ministry, even to the foot of the Cross. She shared His suffering to the full, bearing His crucifixion and death in the depths of her soul. Accordingly, she is the perfect image of the Church, the eternal communion of all those who live and die in Christ.

They, like her, will be raised in Him and exalted to the same glory to which He raised and transformed their fallen human nature. She is thus a forerunner of their salvation, a prophetic image of the glorified life that awaits all those who bear Christ in the inner depths of their being, as she bore Him within the depths of her womb.

Yet she is more than this. She is not only a model of the common destiny of Christian people. She also accompanies them at every step of their journey, offering them - offering us - her incessant prayer and love. In her falling asleep and in her exaltation to heaven, she "did not forsake the world," but remains, as the liturgical hymns of the feast proclaim, the Mother of Life, who is "constant in prayer" and "our firm hope," who by her prayers "delivers our souls from death!"

Back to The Faith