The Feast of the Assumption on August 15th in the Roman Church and the Feast of the Dormition in the Eastern Church both celebrate the belief that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was taken up body and soul into heaven by her welcoming Son.
The Feast of the Dormition ends the church year for the Eastern Church, which begins the year with the Feast of the Birth of Mary, September 8th. The mysteries of Jesus take place within these two feasts.
The two churches express the mystery differently in art. In the Western Church Mary, radiantly dressed, turns her face to heaven, often surrounded by angels.
The Eastern Church invariably has Jesus standing over his mother’s body, carrying her soul in his arms as a little child. How else would she be at death? Jesus said we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we become a little child. She became one.
Her Son brings her body and soul to heaven. She bore him in her womb through grace, now she enters heaven through grace. The apostles, surrounding her body, have been summoned from the ends of the earth to be witnesses to her death and resurrection. She is the “first fruits” of her Son’s redemption. Angels cry out for heaven’s gates to be opened.
“Open your gates and welcome the One who gave birth to the Creator of Heaven and earth; let us celebrate with hymns of glory her holy and venerable body which housed the Lord who is unseen by us. We also cry out: O worthy of all praise, lift up our heads and save our souls”. (Troparion, Feast of the Dormition)
“Today, the Virgin Mother of God
was assumed into heaven
as the beginning and image
of your church’s coming to perfection
and a sign of sure hope and comfort
to your pilgrim people.” (Preface of the Assumption)
God took Mary, the lowly one, and “raised her up to this grace, that your Only-Begotten Son was born to her according to the flesh and that she was crowned this day with surpassing glory. Grant through her prayers that, saved by the mysteries of your redemption, we may merit to be exalted by you on high.” (Collect, Feast of the Assumption)
Because Mary shares in her Son’s resurrection, she also share his desire that “all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” She joins her voice to his and intercedes for us.
“In falling asleep, you did not forsake the world, O Mother of God,
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life.
And by your prayers you deliver our souls from death.” (Troparion)