The two-week Dormition Fast, beginning August 1/14, has three main ecclesiastical-liturgical milestones. The feast with which it starts—the Procession of the Precious Wood of the Lifegiving Cross of the Lord, the Transfiguration of the Lord on August 6/19, and the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos itself on August 15/28, crown this short journey, strict in its fasting rule (for example, fish is allowed only once the entire fast—on the Transfiguation, August 6/19).
The first feast turns us to the veneration of the Cross of the Lord, which is multi-faceted in the Church. We glorify the Cross as the instrument of our salvation, as a reminder of the price paid for our redemption, as a reminder of the Golgothic sacrifice, the symbol and victorious banner of the Christian faith, and the archetype for every Christian’s bearing of his own cross.
Now, at the beginning of the Dormition Fast, we remember the Cross of the Lord predominantly as having great power as the weapon of victory over the unseen enemies of our salvation. For us, the Cross of Christ is a force that conquers all kinds of evil. For he who truly has great faith, who walks the straight and narrow way, believing in the immutability of God’s promises, his entire life seeks to correspond to His truth, and he will not be put to shame in this hope.
The second significant milestone of the Dormition Fast is the feast of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration of the Lord, which occurred not long before the Savior’s suffering on the Cross, is the sole feast of the Lord in the Church’s liturgical year that is taken out of the chronology of the Gospel events. It is transferred to August so as not to lose its importance as an independent stage in the history of our salvation. Because on this day the Lord, appearing to His three closest disciples—Peter, James, and John—on Mt. Tabor, strengthens their faith for the correct understanding of the coming days of the Passion and shows that the radiance of the Godhead of which they were found to be participants, the closeness of communion with God of which they were accounted worthy in a very special way, is a gift to those who believe in Him. He reminds us that Heaven is our ultimate and sole true Fatherland, and that on the path of the ascent up the mountain, the goal and reward for man will be not simply the gifts of God, not simply deliverance from punishment for our sins, but an encounter with the living God and such closeness with Him—communion with God, in the truest sense of the word.
Finally, the peak, the result of the two-week fast is the feast of the Pascha of the Theotokos—the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. It is final act of the most important stage of human history, which began with the coming of God into the world on the night of the Nativity, continued with the public ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reached its pinnacle in the days of the sufferings on the Cross and the Resurrection, and then showed the fruits of this wonder in the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. The last phase of the history of our salvation worked by God is the ascension into Heaven of the first fully deified person. The Mother of God, because of her special election, because she was the summit of the fruits of all of mankind, experiences death in a completely special way. Having known death as the separation of the soul and the body, she did not know death as the destruction of her body; she knew neither its decomposition nor any damage to it. Her beloved Son resurrects her on the third day, and she ascends to Heavenly glory in the unity of body and soul, ascending as a human, as an intercessor and patroness for us.
The path of the Dormition Fast leads us to this feast of the Pascha of the Theotokos, reminding us of the final dignity of the human person and the final calling of man. It is a strict but short fast. It reminds us of the brevity of our life and the greatness of the task of creating within ourselves a truly beautiful, that is, God-like, identity, which we see in the face of the Mother of God in the full revealing of everything that is attainable for man. And even if it is not always easy for a Christian to limit himself in modern secular life, we know that we are walking that path that she has already tread, and we know that at the end of this path we hope to meet her for whose sake we will labor now, both in these coming two weeks, and for the entire remainder of our lives.