Christian: Mary’s Assumption, the Olympics, and—a tree

Meseret Defar waves to the crowd at the 2012 Olympics. She carried her cloth icon between her shirt and her Olympic nametag.WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 15: The Virgin Mary certainly is alive and well in popular culture—hailed by an Olympic athlete and spotted on a tree by thousands of believers.

There are many traditional observances of Mary throughout the Christian year and, today, Christians mark her dormition, or “falling asleep,” a phrase particulary used in Eastern Christianity to describe the end of one’s life. Following a strict two-week Orthodox Dormition Fast, both Eastern and Western Christians mark Mary’s departure from earth today. Eastern and Western traditions differ: Orthodox Christians hold that Mary died a natural death, had her soul received by Christ and then—and only then— was bodily resurrected on the third day. (Read more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) Catholics believe Mary was assumed almost immediately after death (similar to Jesus). Some Catholics even believe that Mary didn’t experience death at all. (Get the Catholic POV at American Catholic.)

Christian tradition holds that Mary died with the apostles around her, and was later buried in Gethsemane (per her request). Days after her death, her grave was found empty and a sweet scent was left behind. In honor of her reposed body’s fragrance, aromatic herbs are blessed on the Feast of the Dormition. Orthodox theology grants that the Theotokos (god-bearer) has already experienced the bodily resurrection that will come to all at the Second coming.

The Feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in several countries, including Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Poland and Chile. (Wikipedia has details.) In a service that originated in Jerusalem, the Orthodox All-Night Vigil includes the Rite of the “Burial of the Theotokos” and continues in many Russian Dormition Cathedrals.

Meseret Defar and the Icon of Mary Seen ‘Round the World

The Catholic News Agency headlined the story: “Virgin Mary Crosses the Finish Line with Olympic Gold Runner.” Many other faith-related news outlets immediately carried the story as well. Ethiopian Olympian Meseret Defar is one of the world’s top runners in 3,000- and 5,000-meter distances. (Wikipedia has a profile of her.) When she won the Gold, this time, she pulled a cloth image of Christ and Mary from her jersey upon crossing the finish line. (The Examiner has the icon story, too.) A devout Orthodox Christian, Defar told reporters that she had entrusted her efforts in that race to God, praying that she would do her best.


Meanwhile, thousands of curious men and women are flocking to a new type of shrine: a tree in New Jersey. Following a recent car crash, the tree was imprinted with a “scar” that many say perfectly mirrors images of the Virgin Mary. (The LA Times has an article. And USA Today also covered it.) Since the fatal car crash, both locals and travelers have been visiting the tree with cameras and gifts of flowers, candles and religious icons.

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