If you have not yet read “You Did Not Forsake the World: A Sermon for the Dormition” by David Armstrong at A Perennial Digression, please leave this page and do so. With David’s permission, I’m reposting much of it here with two brief connections of my own afterward (in hopes that another few readers might find David’s sermon and also so that my mind can benefit from writing out the two simple links that I note).
She goes to heaven, which, to be clear, is always a form of cosmic promotion and accession to rule: it is not what we think of it, as a kind of cosmic Disney World (though that sounds fun for other reasons, I’m sure). Heaven comes with responsibilities, duties, officia, and ongoing education we cannot now imagine (unless, of course, we are Origen of Alexandria, who did exactly that in the most influential form in De Principiis II.11). And now, the second entity in all of creation to enjoy not just some measure of such power, but plenipotentiary, absolute power over creation? A bereaved mother, essentially a non-person in the eyes of wealthy well-to-dos, aristocratic priestly elites, and Roman occupiers alike.
. . .Perhaps then the ultimate Eastern theology of the Theotokos comes through in the Eastern hymn to her on this Dormition feast:
In giving birth you retained your virginity;
and in Dormition you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos.
You were translated unto life, being the Mother of Life.
And thus by virtue of your intercessions,
You deliver our souls from death.
“In Dormition you did not forsake the world”: like your Son, Jesus, O Mother of God, your departure from the world made you more present to it, not less, by the power of the Spirit in whom you now are fully alive by having died to this world.
. . .One believes into the Dormition less by historical testimony (which again is quite lacking) and more by the experience of Mary’s maternal presence to the Christian life, in liturgy, at prayer, in the small niches of grace that she has filled with herself throughout the cosmos just as Christ in ascending has filled all things with himself. She is the sweetness of May air, and the early hints of autumnal relief from summer heat as August wanes, as though gentler winds promising the Fall were some of her last breaths gone out like zephyrs into the air, returned each year at her leisure. She is now the creaturely beauty of everything, even as Christ is the Divine Wisdom of everything (and even Christ’s summation in his human nature of all creation is really her presence to the universe, since it is after all her humanity). She is bride to God, but she has also been the true love of every poet and knight, every woman or man seeking God in the bedroom, for what point is there in her perennial virginity if it is not that by dedicating her body to God her soul might become the very beacon of the eros of God and self for the world? She is every lovely thing. She is mother to God as well, and so therefore mother to all of us. But she is also daughter, the daughter: anyone who has daughters venerate her in loving all of their preciousness, tenacity, intelligence, and power. All of this we experience and name by her daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly in ways that we never would have had she not departed, just as had Christ not departed there would be no Spirit to facilitate her presence to us and ours to her in the first place.
And this very mode and manner of being present to the world is also the paradigm of our own departure from this life. Early Christians debated if death was the doorway to a waiting room or the wedding feast itself, that is, if the Kingdom for which Christ labored would indeed be realized in this world with apocalyptic theater and pageantry or if, already being realized in the heavens, it was simply a matter of cosmic progression towards it. Irenaeus represented the first view, Origen the second, Augustine something of a via media between the two with his Two Cities and amillenialism. But whatever the case ultimately with the cosmos, it is clear that death begins a profound journey for us, one in which we shall need all kinds of help we cannot now guess, and through which we shall come to places and states far beyond our ken, perhaps by circuits we could not have imagined. Christ and Mary have gone ahead of us; so too have the other saints. They both help us along the way and stand as hope that we too can make it where they now are. It is, after all, our souls that we praise Mary for saving from death, not simply our bodies: embodiment only ever reflects what is going on in the soul anyway. And Mary will accompany our souls: in the grand reversal, she will take us into her own from that day forward (Jn 19:27). And so, as she closes her eyes in this world for the final time, as the year begins to turn its face towards the long decline into autumn and winter, we must train ourselves to hear above tears and mourning Christ’s own voice of reassurance: “It is good for you that I should go away…”
Two simple connections:
- With “she is the sweetness of May air,” I was reminded of “The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89) and more generally of much from the book The Meaning of Blue: Recovering a Contemplative Spirit by Luke Bell which I have reflected on here.
- With “she is now the creaturely beauty of everything, even as Christ is the Divine Wisdom of everything (and even Christ’s summation in his human nature of all creation is really her presence to the universe, since it is after all her humanity),” I find helpful connections to the visions found within the tradition of Sophiology.
There would be much more to say, of course, with all that David drew out so wonderfully. However, that seems enough.