WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 1: She who owns “the highest title bestowed upon any member of the human race” is venerated by Eastern Orthodox Christians today, on the first day of the Dormition Fast. During the first two weeks of August, Eastern Christians strictly fast and in prayer honor the Virgin Mary, who is also known as Theotokos, or “God bearer,” in their faith tradition. Having led an exemplary life second only to Christ, Mary is regarded as the queen of angels and saints. (Wikipedia has details.) The one who bore Christ is therefore extended into the mother of all mankind.
Why the period of fasting—and why before a death? Similarly to the Nativity Fast that precedes Christmas and the Lenten Fast that precedes Pascha, the Dormition Fast encourages the faithful to prepare themselves for a coming feast. (In Orthodox terminology, a holy person’s death is referred to in English as “falling asleep.”) During these two weeks, the faithful recall Mary’s place beside the throne of Jesus; it’s understood that Jesus’ Mother plays a vital role in the intercession of prayers between humans and God. (Read more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.) The petition “Most Holy Mother of God, save us” is prayed most often during these two weeks than at any other time of the year. A respected Orthodox theologian reports that “the warm veneration of the Theotokos is the soul of Orthodox Piety.”
In this season of reflection on saintly death, Russian Orthodox families are contemplating far more modern deaths. Many around the world are awaiting the Russian Orthodox Church’s concluding position on the recent recognition of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II’s family members. (Read more from a Russian news agency.) In July 1918, members of the Romanov family—which included the last tsar of Russia—were shot to death by Bolsheviks. The remains of most of the family and their servants were found and buried in the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg; other remains were left undiscovered. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia revealed that “very important information” had recently been received by the Church, and that its position on the matter would be clarified soon.
Eastern Christians who follow the Julian Calendar will observe the Dormition Fast Aug. 14-28.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.