Sunday, August 16, 2009

Assumption/Dormition: both and...

The two images of this feast are powerful, as are the two names the Assumption and the Dormition. Though the title of the "Dormition" for this feast is Eastern, the image of The Blessed Virgin's Dormition is widely used in both East and West. In it the Mother of God falls asleep or dies, the Pius XII's definition of the dogma is inconclusive over this. What we know is she did not taste the corruption of death. The icon of the Dormition presents a Christian funeral, at which the whole Church gathers, as Peter, the one given the power of the keys, incenses her body and the other Apostles -and later bishops too, pray- they are oblivious, it seems, to the presence of Christ and the heavenly host who accompany him. He takes her soul which is wrapped in swaddling bands in a gesture reminiscent of icon of Mary herself holding the infant Christ child, a deliberate allusion presumably, which speaks of the human bond between mother and child, not destroyed by her "passing".
The Dormition icon could be anyone's Christian funeral, there is no reference to the "bodily" taking up of the Blessed Virgin, except in the icon I show where the angel chops off the hand of the impious relic stealer. The idea of the bodily Assumption is better illustrated in the El Greco image, here she is supported by angels whilst the Apostles discuss and are amazed at her empty tomb.
At the heart of this mystery the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body, of the Christian following where Christ has gone. It adds a certain piquancy to those who speak of Heavan as being a state, because it is a state where there are at least two physical bodies, of Mother and Son.

1 comment:

old believer said...

My understanding is that the Dormition Icon shows the day of the Mother of God's repose. Tradition has it that three days later when Her tomb was opened so St. Thomas could see Her for a final time the tomb was empty.

The Byzantines keep liturgical commemoration of this as we did, in a more reserved way, with the readings at Mattins on the 18th with St. John Damascene's second discourse on the Dormition of the Mother of God.