Homily of St. Luke of Simferopol on the Dormition of the Theotokos
Each of us is tormented with the question: what will happen to us and what awaits us after death? A sure answer to this question we cannot find by ourselves. But the Holy Scripture, and first of all the word of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals the secret to us. It is also revealed by the apolytikion and kontakion of this great feast of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos, along with the church hymns that we chant at this feast.
I want all of you to understand why the death of the Most-Holy Theotokos and Virgin Mary is called “Dormition”. The great apostle John the Theologian, in the 20th chapter of the Revelation speaks of the first and second death. The first death, which alone is inescapable to all men, also awaits the saints and righteous ones. But the second, the fearsome and eternal death, awaits the great and unrepentant sinners, who denied the love and the righteousness of God and are condemned to eternity in communion with the devil and his angels.
In the Gospel of the same great apostle and evangelist John the Theologian, we read the words of Christ, which are very closely associated with those written in the Revelation: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24).
Do you hear this, do you understand this? I think that this probably strikes you as strange, that all those who are obedient to the word of Christ and believe in the Heavenly Father Who sent Him passes immediately after death to eternal life. There is no reason to judge those who have living faith in God and who follow his commandments.
And to the great twelve apostles, our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Amen, I say to you that you who follow me, in the age to come, when the Son of man sits upon his throne of glory, will also sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Judges and condemners the Apostles of Christ will be during the Terrible Judgment of God, and of course, we are totally unable to imagine the Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary being judged*, along with the Baptist of the Lord John, the great Prophets of God, Elias and Enoch whom God took to Heaven alive, all the countless mass of martyrs of Christ, the holy hierarchs and wonderworkers who were glorified by God, foremost being St. Nicholas, archbishop of Myra of Lycia.
[*Note: St. Luke is in no way denying Christ's Awesome Judgment of all mankind at His Second Coming, but is saying that all the righteous made worthy of Paradise will join Christ and the Theotokos with body and soul in the New Heaven and New Earth of His eternal Kingdom.]
We are unable to pass the thought from our minds that they would be judged, they who heard from the mouth of Christ: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). In those great strugglers of Christ, as if in precious temples, dwelt the Holy Spirit. And while they were alive on earth, they were in close communion with God, for thus Christ said: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
The Most-Holy Virgin Mary was the spotless temple of the Savior in which dwelt the Holy Spirit, and from her most-holy womb the Son of God received his human body, He Who descended from the Heavens. Because of this, the bodily death is not death, but Dormition, in other words, an immediate passage from the Kingdom of God within to the Kingdom of the Heavens and to eternal life.
Something new just came to mind. In one of the previous sermons, I told you that we have every reason to believe that the body of the Most-Holy Theotokos, through the power of God, remained incorrupt and ascended to the heavens. The kontakion of the great feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos tells us this: “Neither the grave nor death could contain the Theotokos, the unshakable hope, ever vigilant in intercession and protection. As Mother of life, He who dwelt in the ever-virginal womb transposed her to life.”
Note that it says: “neither the grave nor death could contain her”. Think that, as we remember the Holy Scripture writes regarding the death of the greatest prophet of the Old Testement, Moses, in the 34th chaper of the book of Deuteronomy, that he died according to the word of God on Mount Nebo, and was buried in the land of Moab. They grave of this great prophet must have been a place of pilgrimage for the whole people of Israel. However in the Bible we read that: “no one knows of his tomb until the current day” (Deuteronomy 34:6). However, at the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor, Moses appeared to his Lord and Master, Jesus, together with the prophet Elias, who was seized alive into heaven.
I think that it would not be a sin to say that the body of the great Moses, as the body of the Most-Holy Theotokos, remained incorrupt.** Because of this his tomb is unknown.
[**Note: As is clear above, St. Luke acknowledges the distinction that the Theotokos (in accordance with Tradition) ascended bodily to Heaven following her Dormition, as opposed to the incorrupt bodies of the Saints, which await the general Resurrection.]
Let us think, brothers and sisters, about the blessed Dormition of the Most-Holy Virgin Mary and remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24). May God also make us sinners worthy to experience this great joy, through the joy and love for man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belong all glory and dominion with His beginningless Father and His All-Holy Spirit, unto the ages. Amen.