Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eve of the Feast of the Dormition

Today is the final day of the Dormition Fast under the New Calendar (Julian, Revised).  It has been ridiculously trying this year.  During the several fasts of the year (Nativity/Advent, Great Lent, The Apostles' Fast, the Dormition Fast) I make a special effort to go to Confession, as well as additional services during the week.  The fasting periods always concentrate my mind on the church calendar; five years ago, it led my then-fiancee Tina (now Official Wife Tina, or OW Tina for short) to calculate the percentage of fasting days on the calendar.  In a year with a long Apostles' Fast, up to 52% of the days on the calendar are fasting days.  I spend more time each year fasting than I do sleeping.

Of course, the recompense for the fast is the Feasts of the Church.  Even, when as tomorrow, the feast falls on a fasting day, it is joyful.  But the Dormition Feast is bittersweet; it marks the last feast of the Church year (which begins on Indiction, the first of September), and it also marks that moment that the Theotokos's service to God on this Earth has ended, in the way that all of our lives must end.

The Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1):

In giving birth you preserved your virginity!
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos!
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers you deliver our souls from death!

The troparion is the short hymn that delivers the theme of the day to the congregation.  It is a reminder of the purpose of that particular divine service's commemoration, and the liturgical significance of the day.  In this case, we are reminded of the ever-virginity of the Theotokos, and her translation to heaven while she still maintains the protection of her loving care over the world.

The Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 2):

Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life, She was translated to life
By the One Who dwelt in her virginal womb.

The kontakion as we sing it today is typically a portion of the canon to the saint.  It is a form of Byzantine poetry adopted to liturgical service by St. Romanos the Melodist.  Originally, the first letter of each line formed an acrostic, a conceit which does not cross translation, and which was abandoned by Sts. Cyril and Methodius when they created the Slavonic orthography and written language.  Generally the verse chosen for the liturgy from the Canon contains either a trenchant example from the earthly life of the saint, or a particularly intense dogmatic point.  In this case, we are reminded that the prayers of the Theotokos sustain us in her union with God, and that even she who bore Christ and thus is most honored among humankind required the mercy of God to enjoy eternal life with God.  Above all, we are called to venerate her mercy in prayer towards us, for her prayers inure to the good will of the Master, Christ the Lord.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

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