Homily on the first Sunday of the Dormition Fast, 3 August 7528 (civil calendar Aug. 16 2020)
Greetings in the Lord.
We stand in the beginning days of our summer Lent and Pascha, in which we remember the falling asleep of the Mother of our God, our Mother in the Church, our Most Holy Lady Theotokos.
The Holy Forefather and Prophet Solomon wrote that, “He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.”
Indeed, during this fast we soon also will celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, bringing first fruits of the harvest to the temple for a blessing.
Summer at Tall Timbers, a local old-growth forest and nature preserve, where one can find shelter from the heat in cool dells, and where our mission has gathered for parish picnics in the past.
Let us in these challenging yet joyful times of summer harvest be faithful sons and daughters of our Mother, also called the Bride of God, a title that she shares with the Church that she helped nurture during the time after the Ascension of her son, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, when Pentecost brought the uncreated energies of God, His grace and favor, into our innermost souls in the Body of Christ His Church.
All this was made possible too by her mothering of our Lord, about which the Paraklesis service often sung during this Dormition season says, “You are a gold-entwined tower and a twelvewall encircled city, a shining throne touched by the sun, a royal chair of the King, O unexplainable wonder! You that milk-feed the Master.”
The greatest ancient pagan sages Plato and Aristotle wondered at whether truth was transcendent and to be known through deduction from universal principles, as said Plato, or through induction from physical experience, as said Aristotle. Yet the birth of Christ to the Virgin, and the Cross, brought together the transcendent and the physical in the person of our Lord.
This ushered in the Holy Wisdom of Christ as experiential knowing, that mix of induction and deduction in the intuitive and embodied faith of the saints, the greatest of whom is Our Lady.
The summer season of fasting for her great feast begins with the Procession of the Cross on August 1 of the Julian Calendar, a time of looking to the Cross for healing, and traditionally continues with regular celebration of the Paraklesis service asking her intercession for us as our Mother and the greatest of saints, for just as our mothers would most fervently pray for us, so she does to the utmost when we ask her help.
The start of the Dormition Fast also marks the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ under St. Prince Vladimir the Great, the beginning of the summertime of the Church as what is called the Third Rome became established as the last great Christian Empire, the heir to the Christian Roman Empire of Byzantium in Russia. To Russia we owe the transmission of Orthodox Christianity to us in North America first through the Alaska mission and then through saints of the diaspora here, most notably our patron St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco and his disciple Blessed Seraphim of Platina, among many others of different ethnic and national backgrounds who have helped to evangelize North America.
Our mission is part of that story, and as we live in the autumn of the latter days, after the fall of the last great Orthodox empire a little more than a century ago to the spirit of anti-Christ expressed in atheistic communist totalitarianism, we must seek the prayerful intercession of our mother, our Lady the most Holy Theotokos, in whole-hearted devotion to the cause of evangelism through our mission.
Last night we did so as we often did before her icon of Port Arthur, an icon which is known both as the Icon of Unachieved Victory and the Icon of the Triumph of the Theotokos. Through her intercession, defeat is turned into victory, and the retreat from Russia before the Communists has been turned into a spiritual victory as Orthodox Christianity has spread around the world and now renews herself in Russia as well.
St. Luke the Surgeon of Crimea, whose intercession we ask in this time of pestilence and upheaval, witnessed against the spirit of anti-Christ in his time as both Bishop and surgeon under the Soviets, and when the time came for his repose, all efforts by the atheist authorities to suppress his funeral failed, as the outpouring of the people turned into a massive procession through the streets that the Bolsheviks could not stop.
In a sermon on the Dormition, St. Luke recalled the words of our Savior,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). That is the hope and example and help given us by our Mother in Christ the Theotokos.
The beginning of the Dormition feast, in addition to the traditional procession of the Cross, the remembering of our Lady, and the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’, is also in Russia a festival of honey, the first fruits of the harvest. Let us remember too that we live in sweet harvest time despite the trials of these latter days. One of the phrases used to describe the Theotokos is the spiritual Paradise, and she is depicted in the icon of the Joy of those who Sorrow beloved by St. John as in a spiritual garden, with Mount Athos often described as her garden. Let our mission be her garden too, and let us as followers of her son delight in our role as humble gardeners within the field of harvest of the Church of her Son.
The icon of the Joy of All Who Sorrow
Just as human parents and godparents and our spiritual fathers and mothers in the Church may protect us through prayer and other help in ways that we do not fully realize growing up, so too does Our Lady when we ask her intercession before her Son. The Joy of All Who Sorrow icon at our home chapel is charred by fire around the edges. It was with me when, just three years after my baptism into the Orthodox Church, I was returning from a long-distance trip to a job interview, and my car caught fire on the highway. The car was a wreck, books and files in it burned, but the icon was saved, and I was saved, through the prayers of the Theotokos on my behalf, also amid generally difficult and challenging times at that point, and in spite of my many sins. Through God’s grace I was given the job, and at the other end of the road on that trip waiting for me was my own beloved, whom I soon married, and we moved here, where our sons were born, and through God’s grace and the prayers of Our Lady we joined in this community all of us together, this Church family. Not coincidentally, our first name for our mission was Holy Protection, for her protection, taken from the monastery near here that commemorates her. And now we are blessed with the name of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who had such special reverence for her, that he wrote a classic little book that we should all study about the Mother of God in Christian teaching and history and experience, and reposed beneath the Kursk Root icon of the Mother of God, as he prayed for the evangelizing of North America. Now more than ever is the time for that evangelism, it is so needed. We seek the intercession of the Mother of God in our fervent efforts to bring our friends and family into the ark of the Church in these difficult times.
St. John Damascene wrote centuries ago of the Dormition Feast:
“Come, let us depart with her. Come, let us descend to that tomb with all our heart’s desire. Let us draw round that most sacred bed and sing the sweet words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, predestined Mother of God. Hail, thou chosen one in the design of God from all eternity, most sacred hope of earth, resting-place of divine fire, holiest delight of the Spirit, fountain of living water, paradise of the tree of life, divine vine-branch, bringing forth soul-sustaining nectar and ambrosia. Full river of spiritual graces, fertile land of the  divine pastures, rose of purity, with the sweet fragrance of grace, lily of the royal robe, pure Mother of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, token of our redemption, handmaid and Mother, surpassing angelic powers.” Come, let us stand round that pure tomb and draw grace to our hearts. Let us raise the ever-virginal body with spiritual arms, and go with her into the grave to die with her. Let us renounce our passions, and live with her in purity, listening to the divine canticles of angels in the heavenly courts. Let us go in adoring, and learn the wondrous mystery by which she is assumed to heaven, to be with her Son, higher than all the angelic choirs. No one stands between Son and Mother. This, O Mother of God, is my third sermon on thy departure, in lowly reverence to the Holy Trinity to whom thou didst minister, the goodness of the Father, the power of the Spirit, receiving the Uncreated Word, the Almighty Wisdom and Power of God. Accept, then, my good-will, which is greater than my capacity, and give us salvation. Heal our passions, cure our diseases, help us out of our difficulties, make our lives peaceful, send  us the illumination of the Spirit. Inflame us with the desire of thy son. Render us pleasing to Him, so that we may enjoy happiness with Him, seeing thee resplendent with thy Son’s glory, rejoicing for ever, keeping feast in the Church with those who worthily celebrate Him who worked our salvation through thee, Christ the Son of God, and our God. To Him be glory and majesty, with the uncreated Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever, through the endless ages of eternity. Amen.”