“Today is the Feast of the Dormition… ” (reposted from a couple of years ago)

14 Aug

15 Aug

…the day that the Virgin Mary, a mortal woman, “fell alseep” — died.

Icon of the Dormition from one of the Churches of the Pecherskaya Lavra monastery complex in Kiev.

Marianism, which it would be absurd to argue doesn’t exist in the eastern Church (see “…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.”), has for many centuries been significantly more central to Catholicism than it has been to Orthodox beliefs.  The Orthodox Church either couldn’t (under Muslim rule) or didn’t need to (Russia) engage the challenges of Protestantism or modernity like the Catholic Church did.  That has led, in many Western eyes, to sterile ritualism and ossification.  It has led, in my eyes, to the freedom to remain a Church, and not a panel member at the Ethics Roundtable that most of Western Christianity has devolved into.

Catholicism met the first of the above challenges with the Inquisition and some of the most spectacular art in the entire human experience.  It met both challenges with a wave of renewed dogmatism.

In the case of the nineteenth century that meant dogmatism in the real sense of creating new dogmas (dogmas? dogmata?), all by itself, the way the Vatican has always done things.  One of those was Papal Infallibility.  And because, along with Phallus, Mother is perhaps the most exploitable symbol in the collective unconscious, the other two new dogmas were the Assumption of the Virgin and her Immaculate Conception.  Together with the miracle-ization of several Mary appearance locations in Europe, the new upgrade of these previously popular but unofficially held Catholic beliefs were intended to, and successfully did, provoke a hysterical wave of Marianism in the nineteenth century that I imagine the Vatican thought would keep its straying flock close to home.  (That’s why Concetta or Assunta or Fatima or Lourdes are more likely to be your grandmother’s or one of her friends’ names and not yours.)  The outcome of never correcting the hysteria created by that whole shameless propaganda strategy has manifested itself lately in a completely insane movement to have Mary declared Co-Salvatrix, or some such nonsense, with Jesus, which would just be heresy pure and simple to anyone concerned which such things.

The Orthodox Church has always assumed some kind of assumption of Mary into heaven — see above, there she is, already in her Son’s arms, in what are both swaddling clothes and a shroud, His mother and child at the same time — but has rejected officializing the belief.  It has vehemently rejected the entire idea of the Immaculate Conception, which refers to Mary’s conception, not Jesus’, as lots of people think.  The basis for that is that both ideas come dangerously close to deifying her — the Immaculate Conception especially because it pre-destines and pre-sacralizes her.  And that cancels out the essence of who Mary is: a brave and terrified Jewish girl who said “Yes” to God when He asked her to perform something unfathomable to any human mind, including her own.

So today is the day that girl died (there is no Greek or Slavic word for Assumption), which we commemorate happily because we know she’s in good hands (I know, that sounds a little glib…).  It’s the most important of the Virgin’s holidays in the Orthodox Church, probably because it’s in the middle of the summer and has long been associated with village festivals and, these days, with vacation time.  It’s a day when Athens is even emptier than it is at Easter, because practically the entire city is only one generation away from the villages they return to every year.

It’s also on the list-obsessed Catholic Church’s silly list of “Holy Days of Obligation,” which means you get a demerit if you didn’t go to church…because they just can’t let go of the idea that the way to “pack ’em in” is to obligate them.

Below are some photos of the exterior and unbelievably beautiful interior (I’ve never been so overwhelmed by the magnificence of an Orthodox Church in my life: “For this we know, that God dwells there among men…”) of the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin, Russia’s Westminster, where Tsars from Ivan the Terrible in 1547 till Nicholas II in 1896 were crowned. (click)


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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