Saturday, August 23, 2008

closing the year with fasting and feasting

Dormition Fast
Afterfeast of the Transfiguration.
Holy Martyr and Archdeacon Euplus of Catania
August 11 Old Style

The final fast of the year is quickly coming to a close. September 1 begins the Church new year and the cycle of feasts and observances. Renewal is a continual theme in the Orthodox life: Nativity, the coming of the light; Lent, with clean week and Pascha, the eighth day that belongs to the Kingdom to come. Even the weekly experience of confession followed by communion on Sunday (a weekly experience of the eight day) is both a cleansing and a new beginning.

The liturgical year ends with two major feasts in August which continue this theme of renewal: Transfiguration and the Dormition of the Theotokos. Transfiguration (August 6) commemorates the revelation of Christ's glory on Mt. Tabor to the disciples Peter, James and John "as far as they could bear it." It is a foreshadowing of the Resurrection and the renewal of all creation in its glory. "His face shone like the sun, and His raiment became white as snow." St. Nikolai Velimirovic says in the Prologue from Ochrid, "Up to this moment, the Lord had many times shown His divine power to His disciples, but on Tabor He showed them His divine nature." And it is to this divine nature that humanity and all of creation are called. We have become partakers of the divine nature and if we persevere our faces and garments will shine with the same brightness seen on Mt. Tabor.

The final great feast, the Dormition of the Theotokos, shows the faithful what we can look forward to when we meet the veil separating this experience of life and the next. The most holy Theotokos lays on her funeral bier surrounded by the Church, its material and immaterial members. Her body is censed and the viewer can almost hear the prayers and hymns rising to commend her soul to heaven. Behind the bier we can see what would have been unseen to those present. The Lord Jesus Christ carries the soul of the Holy Theotokos, born again as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, to heaven.

What strikes me most is that after years of prayer, fasting and struggle, her soul at the time of death was at the developmental stage equivalent to that of an infant. And if that is true, I should not despair of my seeming lack of progress in things spiritual. The glorious Light of Mt. Tabor will surely shine in the meek, low, flawed and the stumbling. To God be the glory!

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