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Dormition of the Virgin



John of Damascus: First Homily on the Assumption

Angels with archangels bear thee up. Impure spirits trembled at thy departure. The air raises a hymn of praise at thy passage, and the atmosphere is purified. Heaven receives thy soul with joy. The heavenly powers greet thee with sacred canticles and with joyous praise, saying : "Who is this most pure creature ascending, shining as the dawn, beautiful as the moon, conspicuous as the sun? How sweet and lovely thou art, the lily of the field, the rose among thorns; therefore the young maidens loved thee. We are drawn after the odour of thy ointments. The King introduced thee into His chamber. There Powers protect thee, Principalities praise thee, Thrones proclaim thee, Cherubim are hushed in joy, and Seraphim magnify the true Mother by nature and by grace of their very Lord. Thou wert not taken into heaven as Elias was, nor didst thou penetrate to the third heaven with Paul, but thou didst reach the royal throne itself of thy Son, seeing it with thy own eyes, standing by it in joy and unspeakable familiarity. O gladness of angels and of all heavenly powers, sweetness of patriarchs and of the just, perpetual exultation of prophets, rejoicing the world and sanctifying all things, refreshment of the weary, comfort of the sorrowful, remission of sins, health of the sick, harbour of the storm-tossed, lasting strength of mourners, and perpetual succour of all who invoke thee."John of Damascus, On Holy Images, Followed by Three Sermons on the Assumption, 165–6.

Typikon of the Great Church: 15 August, Apolytikon

When you gave birth, you guarded your virginity; in your dormition, Mother of God, you did not abandon the world. You, who are the Mother of Life, passed over to life, and by your intercessions you have redeemed our souls from death.Mateos, Typicon de la Grande Église, 1:371.

Cod. Marc. Gr. 524: Εἰς τὴν κοίμησιν τῆς ὑπεραγίας θεοτόκου


The Dormition (ἡ κοίημησις), also called the Assumption, was the final of the five Marian Great Feasts. It commemorates the passage of the Virgin to heaven, either by dying or "falling asleep," a theological distinction elaborated in homilies. Drawn from New Testament apocrypha (as were the Birth of the Virgin and the Presentation of the Virgin), the Dormition became a fixed feast by the end of the sixth century, with iconography fully developed by its first appearance in the tenth.ODB 1:651–3

The Dormition of the Virgin appears as a scene on only eleven Byzantine seals, dating from the eleventh century onwards. The relatively low number of Dormition seals could be the result of the very complicated nature of the scene (compare the Nativity). In a relatively small area the craftsman has had to carve the reclining Virgin on a bed, Christ behind, holding her soul, the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, above and around the bier the mourning Apostles, one of whom (St. Peter) swings a censor. All of these elements make the Dormition of the Virgin one of the most crowded scenes to appear on a Byzantine seal.


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