On the Dormition Fast, and the Cross of Christ

    

Again, by God’s mercy, we are entering the Dormition fast. This is the shortest and sweetest of the fasts. It begins with the blessing of honey, and then the blessing of the fruits. This fast is also the lightest, because the Mother of God takes care that the yoke of Christ would be light for us. She takes care for our bodies as well as our souls.

This fast begins with the blessing of honey, so that we would know not only of the sweetness that the Lord provides for our bodies, but also of spiritual sweetness; so that the sweetness that comes from the Cross of Christ would be revealed to us throughout the fast. Just as once in the Old Testament the wood was lowered into the bitter waters of Marah and they became sweet and pleasant, so let it be with all our lives—let our bitterness be changed to sweetness from our touching the Cross of Christ.

We begin the fast with the worship of Christ’s Cross because the Dormition fast is a contemplation of the mystery of death and the mystery of life, earthly and heavenly; so that this mystery would become sweet for us, so that it would be more deeply revealed to us during this fast. August 1 according to the old calendar, on which the Dormition fast begins, is considered the day of the Baptism of Rus’. Baptism is an immersion in the water of the cross, the grace of Christ, and so the mystery of the Cross is revealed to people and they are ready to offer up everything to the Lord—both their life and their death, that they may always be with Him. You know that martyrs are always depicted on icons with crosses. And the life of every person is also completed by the cross. Over our graves will stand crosses, if we are found worthy of this mercy. May God grant that the cross would grow out of our whole lives; that this would be the tree of life, which we also nourish by participating in what Christ did.

The entire Dormition fast is a fast of the cross. At the beginning of the Dormition fast is the Cross, and in the center of it is the Cross, the Transfiguation of the Lord, with His light announcing His impending departure in Jerusalem. And the feast of the Icon of the Savior Made Without Hands, which is as if the completion of this path of ours, is also a feast of the Cross—for the Lord stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51), and His most pure face shines to us on the background of the Cross. The Church prepares us with the Cross to receive the mystery of the departure of the Mother of God, for her Dormition is a revelation of the victory of the Cross of Christ, which is inseparable from His Resurrection.

Yes, the more love there is the more sorrow there is, as the holy fathers say. But on the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God we recall the words of a great ascetic, whom his disciples unexpectedly found in prayer with a transfigured countenance. At their persistent questioning about what had happened to him, he replied, “I was in the place where the Mother of God and the beloved disciple are standing at the Cross of the Lord. I would like to remain there in thought always.” Where the Cross of Christ and His Resurrection is, there is the beauty of all virtues, the flourishing of a person’s soul and body. The joy of soul that God gives us is not like that which the world gives us. And bodily purity, which partakes in the Body of Christ and the Mother of God, knows that it is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).

We have prayed throughout the course of the fast so that the Lord would preserve us from the two greatest calamities that threaten the human race today, and especially the Russian people—the sin of despondency and the sin of impurity, unchasteness. Both of these sins are equally serious. These are the most terrible sins, because, as we know, the sin of despondency is the gloom of all sins taken together. And the sin of impurity, when it reaches the scale that we see today, should naturally remind us about the first end of the world, when the Lord put an end to the physical existence of the human race, saying, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years (Gen. 6:3).[1]

Let us overcome all despondency, because Christ has conquered all. And the meaning of our life consists in only one thing: that we through the sorrows of the cross would enter into this victory—in the steps of the martyrs and everyone who has learned the mystery of the Cross. Furthermore there is no reason to be despondent, because the Mother of God intercedes mightily for all of us before the Lord.

So that we would not despond, so that we would have the courage to withstand all corruption, the Church suggests today that we think about what took place at the Lord’s Cross, about the words that the Lord spoke when He beheld His Mother and the disciple whom He loved standing by the Cross: “Woman, this is thy son.” The Lord addresses His Mother in her bitterest, most sorrowful moment.

Why is it the bitterest? Because she is giving up to God the Father her Son, born of her flesh. And the prophecy spoken by Simeon the God-receiver that her own soul would be pierced with a lance was now being fulfilled. She gives her Son up to God the Father, and what is left for her on earth? In His place she receives another son. Could such a replacement, if we can call it that, console her? The Lord gives her His beloved disciple as He departs this earthly life. In the person of the apostle John the Theologian, as we know, the Church sees all Christians—and finally, the whole human race.

In the person of the apostle John the Theologian, God gives His Most Pure Mother all mankind in place of Himself, her Son. In giving birth to the Son of God, her virginal motherhood becomes, at the Cross, motherhood of the whole human race. This is a mystery of life; through the grace of the Cross, in place of the Only-Begotten Son, comes all mankind. The whole race of man, as St. Irenaus of Lyons says, is called to become the only-begotten son of God by Christ’s gift of it. These are terrible, unfathomable words, but on the Cross the Lord truly works our salvation. And the grace of His redemption, which pours out upon the Mother of God and on all people, makes all people in their new birth, in the most profound and realest sense, brothers and sisters, and children of the Mother of God.

In this new birth is revealed the mystery of virginity. Every human mother has a limited number of children born according to the flesh. But the grace of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God works the ineffable. Through the grace of the Ever-Virgin, her motherhood encompasses all people. The Mother of God has a virginal motherhood. It is virginal because it is bound up with her divine Son. And for this reason, it has encompassed all people.

Let us contemplate today and all the days of our lives the mystery of motherhood and virginity, which is being subjected to unprecedented mockery and profanation in today’s world. There is no higher virtue, says St. Seraphim of Sarov, than the podvig of virginity. This is even truer in this era of all-around corruption.

Nevertheless, any virginity bears the seal of divinity on itself—of what surpasses all human nature. It is only fruitful when it is the expression of love for the Lord and the giving over to Him of all your life. Virginity that is not based upon this, even if it apparently has love for purity, remains simply barren. It is the same for any true Christian motherhood—it is virginal if it offers up to God its highest gift, not limiting itself to human relationships, but before all giving itself joyfully to the Creator.

Let us never forget that the word by which the Lord entrusts His disciple to His Mother was pronounced from the heights of the Cross. And let us remember the words spoken by the Lord on the Cross to His beloved disciple: “This is Thy Mother.” The Lord gives His beloved Mother to His beloved disciple. This is an act of perfect love, and it extends not only to death, to her departure from here, or to John’s death. This is an act of perfect love that will never end. So also will this act of love, our adoption by the Mother of God at the Cross of the Lord, endure forever.

At the Cross is also revealed the mystery of virginity. Virginity is the mystery of the future age, the holy fathers tell us. Here, on earth, when someone carries out the podvig of virginity, we see only abstinence or deprivation. But even here it is participation in the abundant life of the future age, when it is carried out for the sake of Christ. It is partaking of the purity and love that the Lord Himself has. Virginity in Christ is always connected with obedience to the Lord, that is, with love for Him. According to the measure of our maturity in obedience to all of God’s commandments, we learn chastity and purity. On the contrary, disobedience to even one commandment corrupts a person. And bodily defilement is an injury to the whole person—the soul, body, and entire personality. That is why this sin is so terrible, and why before the antichrist comes, before the Second Coming of Christ, satan is manifesting his vile evil to the extreme degree.

Virginity—and here is the essence of the matter—does not consist in only the mortification of the flesh, but in the acquisition of the ability to become a loving person, in learning this from the Lord, from the Mother of God, and from the beloved disciple of Christ. Virginity is not a life that exalts itself over marriage, or has contempt for the flesh. To the contrary, before Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where the Lord offers Himself up for the salvation of all, in his love for the Lord a person recognizes the insignificance of his own offering and is filled with true humility. Christian virginity has the Cross as its beginning. On the Cross the Lord reveals to His closest disciples the hidden mysteries of life to the end of the ages. Therefore God’s revelation speaks of one hundred forty thousand virgins, chosen by the Lord, to whom all the mysteries of life are entrusted. They are the beloved friends of the Lord unto the ages of ages.

But we see that by the Cross of Christ stand not only the Mother of God and not only the beloved disciple, the virgin St. John the Theologian, but also two Marys: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Cleopa. Mary Magdalene was a sinner out of whom the Lord cast seven demons; that is, the totality of sins. And the totality of sins, as we see, consists in the corruption of body and soul. This sinner was one of those for whom the Lord carried out His entire path to the Cross; for whose sake he came to earth, in order to turn her and those like her to His way; so that she would also become a virgin, as we sing on Great Wednesday: “The woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving Thy divinity, O Lord, fulfilled the part of a myrrh-bearer; and with lamentations she brought sweet-smelling oil of myrrh to The before Thy burial.”[2] And the corrupted harlot, as the Church testifies, become an immaculate virgin—as a gift of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Standing there also is Maria the mother of Cleopa. She was also chosen by the Lord to stand at the foot of the Cross. We know nothing about her. She is distinguished by some especial purity, some especial holiness, and neither does she have any particularly terrible sins. She as if represents all Marys, all women, and all people—every human soul, the average person, so to say, who quite unnoticeably lives a modest life, and tries according to his or her strength to fulfill at least some virtue. And the Lord’s gaze is always turned not only to His Most Pure Mother, not only to His beloved disciple, the virgin John the Theologian, not only to the great sinner whom He had cleansed from the worst sins. The Lord sees also Maria the Mother of Cleopa.

If the Lord’s sufferings on the Cross is suffering for all, then any person, the most unknown and modest can stand; and all are called to stand at the foot of His Cross. For the Church of God consists not only of those who loved Christ from their youth and preserved their purity, or those who were exclusively cleansed of their terrible sins like Mary Magdalene or St. Mary of Egypt and brought to Christ through repentance, but also the apparently unknown, unnoticed people. But it is needful that each of us would see in ourselves all our impurity, for the sake of which the Lord was incarnate and accepted suffering; all the multitude of sins behind which stand seven demons.

Perfect purity, says St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), is given to the one who sees his impurity and laments it with his whole heart, praying to the Lord to be granted purity. We must pray also for this to the Mother of God. Each one of us must partake of the purity that she and the beloved disciple of Christ has. Through the grace of the Cross the Lord entrusts all people to the Mother of God, so that she as a Mother would participate in bringing all people to His Cross and to His likeness through His Cross, and through our own cross; by uniting all our lives and deaths with His life and death.

The infinite light of the Divinity radiates from the Cross of Christ and fills with itself the virginity and motherhood of the Mother of God, the mystery of her Dormition, the life and death of every person who loves Christ; that is, who seeks Him through the fulfillment of His holy commandments. For in them is life eternal (Jn. 12:50), the Resurrection of Christ, and the Pascha of the Mother of God.

[1] A reference to the flood that destroyed life on earth, which God sent due to mankind’s incorrigible impurity.—Trans.

[2] Aposticha for Matins of Wednesday in Holy Week (translation from The Lenten Triodion, trans. by Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware (South Canaan:St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1999).—Trans.

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