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​Archbishop makes first visit to Three Hierarchs Melkite Mission on the Assumption of Mary

September 17, 2021 | posted by Today's Catholic newspaper

Topics: Archbishop, In the Press, Breaking News

Archbishop makes first visit to Three Hierarchs Melkite Mission on the Assumption of Mary

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, made his first arch-pastoral visit to Three Hierarchs Byzantine Melkite Catholic Community on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos August 15.

Father John Mefrige, pastor, explained the significance of the feast in his homily at the liturgy.

The “Dormition” of Mary the Mother of God, as it is referred to in the Greek Catholic Churches, is one of the great feasts of all Catholics. The word “Dormition” is a derivative from the Latin word “dormitio”, f (genitive dormītiōnis) which means falling asleep or sleeping. This feast commemorates her burial, resurrection, and “translation” or assumption into heaven of her body.

The Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is one of the oldest Marian feasts in the Church. The roots of the feast go back to Jerusalem, where the apostles and the Christians of Jerusalem honored and kept alive the memory of the “falling asleep” of the Theotokos. Consequently, her empty tomb in Gethsemane, became a destination for pilgrims from Jerusalem and the surrounding neighborhoods.

After the proliferation of the doctrine of the divine Motherhood of the Virgin Mary at the third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431), where the Universal Church officially adopted her title as Theotokos (Θεοτόκος - The birth-giver of God) ,the commemoration of her Dormition -- or falling asleep -- became more popular amongst Christians in the vast majority of the Christian world.

In the late sixth century, the Byzantine Emperor Μαυρίκιος or Mauricius officially adopted the commemoration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos into the liturgical calendar in the entire Empire, and commanded that it be celebrated on August 15. In the second half of the seventh century, the feast of the Dormition appeared in the West under the influence of the East. It was accepted in Rome under Pope Sergius I (687­701), and from Rome it passed over to the rest of Europe.

The main sources of the narrative of the feast of the Dormition are based on the oral and written traditions of the church, which include the writings of Saints Dionysios the Areopagite; St. John of Damascus; St. Andrew of Crete; Hippolytus of Thebes, a Byzantine author of the late 7th or early 8th century; and an apocryphal narrative of the feast by Saint John the Theologian.

According to holy tradition, the Virgin Mary lived after Pentecost in the house of the Apostle John in Jerusalem. As the Mother of the Lord, she became the source of encouragement and help for the Apostles and all Christians. Three days before her death it was reported that the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and revealed to her the date of her departure into eternal life. Immediately, the Theotokos returned to her home and prepared herself for this event through fasting and prayer.

On the day of her repose, even though the apostles were scattered throughout the world, they were miraculously transported to her side. Exceptionally, the Apostle Thomas did not arrive on time to bid his final farewell to the Theotokos. While the Apostles were singing hymns in honor of the Mother of God, they saw a vision of Christ, accompanied by angels and saints, coming to escort the soul of His Most Holy Mother into heaven. With songs of praises, the Apostles carried the body of the Theotokos to the grave in Gethsemane to be buried near her parents.

At Gethsemane, the disciples gathered and remained around her tomb and kept a vigil for three days. On the third day, the Apostle Thomas arrived and asked to view for the last time the Most Holy Mother of God. When the Apostles opened the tomb of the Theotokos, her body was not there. The Apostles realized then that she was taken into heaven in the body to be reunited with her soul.

The Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos in the calendar of the Eastern Church is preceded by a two-week fasting period, which referred to as the “Dormition fast,” which begins on August 1 and ends August 14. It is considered to be a very strict fast, even stricter than both the Nativity and the Apostles fasts.

Up until the end of the ninth century, the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos was preceded by two periods of fasting. First, before the feast of the Transfiguration (August 1-5), and second, after the feast of the Transfiguration (August 7-15). In the tenth century, the two fasting periods were merged into one, which includes 14 fasting days from August 1 to August 14.

The hymnography and liturgical texts of the feast of the Dormition portrays the feast as mystical, eschatological, and ultimately paschal in nature.

The wordeschatological arises from the Greek ἔσχατος meaning “last” and -logy meaning “the study of,” and first appeared in English around 1844. The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as “the part of Christian theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.” The hymns of the feast recall the Dormition of the Theotokos as an eschatological event that confirms the destruction of hades and the defeat of death. The Dormition of the Theotokos confirms the reality of the transformation of death from a fearful enemy into a joyous passage into eternal life. The mystical nature of the feast of the Dormition is also evident in the mysterious gathering of the Apostles, who gathered to witness how Christ, Himself, comes to escort His mother to the kingdom of Heaven. They are mysteriously gathered to witness, again, to the truthfulness of resurrection of Christ and His victory over death.

The hymns of the feast assert that the Virgin Mary experienced her own personal Pascha by passing over through death and rising to eternal life.Pascha in Greek: Πάσχα, also called Easter in the west, is the great feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. The word Pascha is a transliteration of the Greek word, which is itself a transliteration of the Aramaic “pascha” and from the Hebrew “pesach” meaning Passover and referring to the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, a Jewish festival celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Her exodus here is that from life to death and to life eternal. Being alive in heaven, as a queen and mother of Christ, we, now, can ask her intercessions to help us transform our own forthcoming death into a Paschal victory over death.

In the tradition of the Church, the feast of Dormition of the Theotokos is called the “Summer Pascha.”This name is derived from the fact that the Theotokos experienced her own Pascha; a “Passover” from this life into life eternal.

St. John of Damascus confirms the Paschal nature of the Feast of the Dormition by calling the death of the Theotokos: “The Deathless Death.” He calls it the deathless death because of the fact that her death resulted in her translation into life eternal, into glorification and union with the Lord as he writes “O how does the source of life pass through death to life? She dies according to the flesh, destroys death by death, and through corruption gains incorruption, and makes her death the source of resurrection.” (St. John of Damascus)

The Dormition of the Theotokos for all Catholics is a confirmation of the resurrection of Christ and a source of hope for the faithful in the promise of their own personal resurrection, their personal Pascha. The death of the Theotokos and her translation into heaven confirms the divine promise of Christ to His faithful people that they will enjoy life eternal in everlasting communion with God.

What a paradox this is … while this feast is called the “Falling Asleep of the Theotokos,” it is in reality a celebration of her life and her participation in her Son’s victory over death, it is a celebration of her personal “Passover” from this life into life eternal.

Following the liturgy Archbishop Gustavo was presented with three gifts commemorating his visit:

The first was a copy of the liturgical calendar of the Melkite Church to be familiar with the different feasts and fasts of the Melkite Church and the lectionary of the gospels.

The second was a copy of the academic work entitled “History of the Melkite Patriarchates Volume III” Nicholas Samra ed., and Cyril Charon: Part 1: Institutions, Liturgy, Hierarchy and Part 2: Canon Law & Organization.

Lastly, the San Antonio prelate was gifted with a bishop’s Engolpion (Greek: ἐγκόλπιον, enkólpion, which literally means “on the chest”). It is a golden medallion with an icon of the Mother of God in the center worn around the neck by all Eastern Catholic bishops. In Eastern Catholic tradition all priests have the dignity of wearing a pectoral cross but Engolpia are reserved for bishops only. It is an icon is surrounded by jewels and topped by an Eastern-style mitre. The Engolpion is suspended from the neck by a long gold chain, sometimes made up of intricate links.