The following homily was delivered by Fr. Christopher Rocknage at St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church in Steelton, PA on the great feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, August 28, 2015.
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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the falling asleep, the death of the Mother of God. Today we remember how she died. Today she teaches us how we should die. Think about it for a second. She was the greatest Christian. She is the greatest Christian. She lived her life completely for God. Never once was there a question.
From the time she was conceived, it was miraculous. People in their 80’s conceived the Mother of God—Sts. Joachim and Anna. That’s a miraculous conception. And my dear brothers and sisters she lived her life for God. She was dedicated to the temple. She was dedicated in all that she did to serving God, even when it meant her own humiliation—cause if you don’t think an unwed mother was thrown out two thousand years ago, you’ve got another thing coming. She was cast off by everybody except for Joseph. That’s the only reason she wasn’t completely ostracized and stoned.
She knew what it meant to be humiliated, to humble herself for God’s sake. And yet she rejoiced in it, because she knew what it meant. She knew that what she carried in her womb was the Son of God. She lived for Him. So when Christ in the Gospel this morning is correcting the woman who yelled blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked, He says no, you’re missing the point. The point isn’t the physical, the point is the fact that blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it. She did that. She heard the word of God and kept it, with every single moment of every single days. She lived to be with her Son.
She lived her life in repentance, she who was sinless. Think about that for a second—she lived her life in repentance she who was sinless. She constantly repented of everything before God, and because of that, proclaiming her own unworthiness always, humbling herself always before God, she was exalted above all. She is the greatest Christian, the greatest saint, my dear brothers and sisters. And on this day, as we celebrate and remember her death, we also remember, as we heard in the Exapostilarion and in the hymns of the Praises, that she was to be resurrected by Her Son. She came and appeared to the Apostles and said “Rejoice!” after she had died, after she was buried. She came and appeared and said “Rejoice! for I am with you.”
That is the model of the Christian death. It truly is. Those who live their life in Christ, those who follow the word of God and keep it like the Mother of God did, and does, have that to look forward to—a resurrection to eternal life, a resurrection not unto judgment but unto life. And if you notice in the icon of the Holy Dormition in the center of the church today, yes, her body is laid out to be taken to her tomb in Gethsemane, but Christ is there with her soul wrapped in swaddling clothes as an infant, and He’s carrying her.
As it said in the Synaxarion this morning, the Apostle Thomas, as I said, was late. All the rest of the Apostles were gathered from the ends of the earth, but he was a little bit late, and so he missed everything, and it was the third day after her death that he came and joined the Apostles. And he said “Please, please my brothers, open up the tomb so that I might venerate her, that I might pay my respects.” And they did. And it was empty. The tomb was empty. And from that moment the Apostles knew that she had resurrected. From that moment at every single Liturgy, in the Liturgy of Preparation as we’re preparing the Lamb we take out a particle for the Mother of God and we place it on the diskos. And there, brothers and sisters, is where we’re all called to be—in the Body of Christ, in the offering of the Church.
She offered herself to God. She said “yes” to God when she could have said “no.” Let today be our call to do the same. Let today be that time when we say “yes” to God, deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, hearing His word and keeping it, unto eternal life, so that we might glorify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.