The Feast of the Assumption of Saint Mary
The Assumption of Virgin Mary is the most highly honored feast among all the feasts of the Saints. Observed on August 22, the Feast of the Assumption commemorates the entrance of Saint Mary’s corporeal body and soul into heaven as she preceded the faithful believers, taking her seat at the right hand of her bridegroom and Son. The feast is based on the conviction that the Lord did not permit the body in which He Himself had dwelt to fall prey to corruption and dissolution: though Mary as a human being underwent death, she was taken up into heaven. To Ethiopians, the celebration of this event bears a powerful witness to the eschatological truth of their faith. As members of the Church, they await the final consummation. On the Last Day, the righteous will rise from the grave and be united once more to a body–not a body such as we possess now, but one that is transfigured and “spiritual” a body in which inward sanctity is made outwardly manifest. The Ethiopian faithful, assured of their resurrection first and foremost by the resurrection of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, are being further assured by the Assumption of their sister, the Virgin Mary, and therefore observe the Feast of the Assumption with high honor and supreme joy. (1 Cor. 15:40-42)
Ethiopian Orthodox Christians have a striking loyalty to their faith which is easily observed during such seasons as the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. This devotion is expressed, as we have seen, through the rich and varied hymns and prayers dedicated to the Virgin, in addition to the splendid titles and the poetic imagery which are associated with her. Thus, Ethiopians have retained a sense of the mystery and miracle of the incarnation of God, God’s relationship with humanity, the divine maternity of Mary, her favor with God and her identity with the people of God throughout the ages. Almost every facet of the Ethiopian Orthodox liturgy and worship is an elaboration of the grace of God extended to humanity in the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord anti Savior Jesus Christ through the holy Virgin Mary. In this respect, Ethiopian Christians see the election of the Virgin by God as the instrument for the work of salvation.
The Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is important for Ethiopian Orthodox believers for several reasons. For one thing, much of the life of the Orthodox is spent in recitation of the prayers and of the devotional literature honoring the Virgin Mary. Throughout their lives, they listen time and again to the stories of the Virgin’s life and hardships, joys and sorrows contained in the apocryphal gospels and The Book of the Miracles, as well as others. These stories form a part of the Orthodox Christian’s very consciousness; they strengthen his or her identity and experience in its similarity to the Virgin Mary From the beginning of their Christian life, the Orthodox believers are assured that Mary, in so far as she is a human being, is their sister; and because she has suffered in a fallen world like all human beings, she is their Mother, well acquainted with the pain and agony of this world and ready to comfort and save. Finally, because the Virgin is above all the Mother of God, she is their hope, for through her our salvation has become accessible in her Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thus, the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption is not merely an interlude between engagements; for the Ethiopian Christian, the annual Feast of the Virgin is the ever-repeated Culmination of a life-time of teaching and learning, listening and believing. In this Feast, the believer celebrates all that the Virgin Mary has come to mean to him or her. It is here, in the context of her Assumption, that the faithful affirm the attributes of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. She is to them the intercessor, the virgin mother, the sister, the Lady of Sorrows, the queen–seated beside her Son, our Lord and Saviour, in heavenly glory.
In addition, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary emphasizes the nature of God, God’s concern for the world which He created, His desire to redeem and save it through the willing participation of a humble woman, the two-fold Virgin Mary, who was pure in body and in soul. In this respect, the Feast of the Virgin represents a celebration of God’s love and charity. God gave His only Son to the world that the world might live through Him; the Virgin Mary willingly chose to participate in that salvation, and to bear to the world God Himself! Thus, the Feast of the Assumption is a time when the faithful express their gratitude to Mary through the works of charity, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked; visiting the sick; comforting the sorrowful, welcoming the stranger. In this way, they hope to express something of the unconditional love of God as expressed in the life of the Virgin Mary, His Mother. Indeed, the very name of Mary, understood within the context of the life of the Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation Church, has come to be associated with the kindness, the tenderness, the love, and the mercy of God Himself. The Feast of the Assumption is also a time when the faithful examine their lives in light of the purity, holiness, and obedience of the virgin. Remembering her faithfulness to God and sacrificial love for her precious Son, the faithful are reminded of their own relationship to Him, or lack thereof. In this spirit one fasts, one prays, one dedicates anew his or her life to God. The Virgin Mary is associated with all of this. In her, the Orthodox see the purity of her virginity and thus, the willingness and capacity for serving God. In the purity of her obedience to God expressed in her response to the angel’s message, “Behold, I am thy handmaiden, let it be done to me according to thy word”, they see her faithfulness
and in the purity of her gratitude and love for God. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name! they see the meaning of humility and thanksgiving. Mary is the expression of what God intends for them; she is the one, though human, who expresses the perfect will of God; she is humanity par excellence. One could say that like the Apostles before them the faithful fast in order to see and perceive the attributes, the holiness, the purity, the wonder of the Virgin Mary. (Luke 1:38, 1:49)
The celebration of the Feast of the Virgin is clearly a celebration of God’s victory over death as expressed in the assumption of the Virgin Mary and of the eschatological assurance that what Mary enjoys, eternal life in heaven’s glory, is that to which we can look forward in the future. Because the Virgin Mary shares in our death and has assumed her place in God’s kingdom, we have the sure hope that we will one day share her victory over a world of sin, decay, and corruption. She is the first-fruit of God’s eternal kingdom. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has received her in the heavenly places; He has made a place for His blessed Mother. For this reason, we, too, await the day when we will be joined together with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Mary, who is in every way a human being, like ourselves a daughter of Adam, assures us of our hope. In a sense, one could say that for the Ethiopian Christian, Mary is the guarantee of the promise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Source: “The Ever Virgin Mother of God” by Priest Georges Vasilievich Florovsky