Jesus is Who He is Because of God and Mary
Sermon preached on Sunday, August 14, 2022 by Fr. Antony Hughes for the Feast of the Dormition
A long time ago when my family left our Baptist church we ended up at the Presbyterian church just a few blocks away. It was there that I heard the first sermon about the Virgin Mary. It startled me. The pastor just as plain as day preached that there was nothing special about her. Any girl or woman of child-bearing age would have been fine. Not only that, he continued by saying that the Lord took nothing from her. He passed through her like water through a sieve. Even as a little Protestant kid I felt that something was wrong with that and there was. Orthodoxy opened my eyes, my mind, and my heart to the Mother of God.
As I was wrestling with whether to convert, I reached a turning point. Could I accept Mary as an intercessor? One afternoon, alone in my apartment, I finally decided to give it a try and I asked for her help. What I feared might happen didn't. Lightening didn't strike. Only one thing changed. I felt warmth. I felt free. I felt more in touch with God. That was the last hurdle on my journey into the Church. I began to understand what role the "great cloud of witnesses" could play in the Christian life.
At the Vespers service last night I began to feel what I felt long ago. The stark raving beauty of the Feast moved me deeply. The hymns, the chanting, the atmosphere seemed to penetrate the thick skin of my mind's resistance. It is no surprise to me that the Dormition is so important to so many Orthodox Christians.
Although it is not a dogma of the Church that she was taken into heaven bodily, this belief has a strong foundation in the life and history of Orthodoxy. We can learn much from it. Here are two things. First, the Theotokos is greatly loved because she gave birth to our Lord, God, and Savior. Her womb was his home for 9 months. We venerate her as the one through whom salvation came into the world. Jesus is not only who he is because God is his father, but also because Mary is his mother. She shared her whole being with him. His birth was a real, human birth. "Ours is a God who sneezed and rubbed His eyes when He was sleepy. Ours is a God who knew longing, heartbreak, excitement, frustration—the full range of what it means to be human. A God who knows what it means to live in a body." —Kate Bowler
A wise rabbi was once asked, "When will the Messiah come?" His answer, "When one is found who will say yes to God." The Theotokos is the one who said yes. No, not just any girl would have sufficed.
Secondly, the belief in her bodily assumption points to a very important article of faith. Christ came to save the whole person including the body. We are not Manichaens who see the body as corrupt and evil. The body is good. We are not disembodied souls. Without our bodies we are not truly ourselves. We believe in a bodily Resurrection for everyone. The Incarnation of the Son of God is confirmation that the body is to be revered as well as the soul. The bodily assumption of the Virgin serves to buttress our firm belief in the deifying power of the Incarnation of Our Lord.
In fact, think with me a moment about the soul. Where is it? In what part of the body does it reside? Here is a quote from the Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue that might help answer the question.
"The soul is not simply within the body, hidden somewhere within its recesses. The truth is rather the converse. Your body is in the soul and the soul suffuses you completely."
That puts a brand new spin on it. The Dormition Feast is celebrated because of the Incarnation and its collateral effect on everything. I think if we just allow these truths to settle into our consciousness we will come better to understand what love the Lord has for us.