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Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God
Last week, the Christian world celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary...

20 August   |   2002   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... And yet, although it is considered to be one of the most important feasts in the calendar of Orthodox and Catholic churches, it did not yield much of an echo! Even when Pope John-Paul II referred to it during his travels in his native Poland, it seemed to generate little interest in ‘Christian’ circles either!

My own lay estimation is that St Mary is either venerated beyond all imagination or else is totally eclipsed by other religious and not-so-religious feasts! I remember only too vividly the theological debates that took place a few years back about the role that Mary fulfils as co-mediatrix with Jesus. Many Orders - certainly Catholic ones - place her on an extremely high pedestal and attribute to her powers that she herself did not take on. Others - not only the Protestant churches - focus on the Risen Son without much deference to the Mother.

In the Bible, there is scant information concerning the details of Mary’s life. As a result, the double story of her death and Assumption some three to fifteen years after the Resurrection has been preserved and passed on more through the Apostolic Traditions of the Church than on the basis of Scripture. This short paper attempts to link Mary with the Armenian Orthodox Church and its traditions. In fact, it is on the Sunday closest to the date of 15 August, that the Armenian Church celebrates each year the Feast of the Assumption of the Mother of God. In the Calendar of the Church, this feast is the fourth of five major ones commemorated, and also happens to be the oldest one dedicated to Mary.

Following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Holy Virgin remained in Jerusalem and lived under the care of St John the Evangelist. For nearly twelve years, Mary lived by praying, fasting, and often visiting the empty tomb of her Son. During one such visit to the tomb, the Archangel Gabriel appeared and gave her the news of her imminent assumption to heaven. Mary relayed the news to her relatives and all Christians, asking them to inter her body in the valley of Kidron / Gethsemane. She also asked the Apostle John to celebrate a Divine Liturgy, so she may receive Holy Communion one final time. After receiving the sacrament, Mary returned to her room. As the Apostles prepared to mourn her death, St John asked the Mother of God to leave an image of her face on a board of wood. Mary took the board, crossed herself and brought it close to her face. Moistening the board with her tears, she asked God that people would be cured from disease. As the Apostles surrounded Mary, an inexpressible light appeared and the Son of God along with the angels of heaven appeared in the room. Seeing Christ, Mary died.

St Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles known also as the Son of Talmai and later martyr, was absent and did not participate in Mary’s burial service. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he wished to see her for the last time. Further to his request, the apostles opened the tomb, yet they did not find Mary’s remains. According to His promise, Jesus Christ had delivered His mother to His heavenly kingdom.

The apostles gave the board to St Bartholomew for consolation. According to the historiographer Moses of Khoren (Movses Khorenatsi, 5th century), St Bartholomew brought the board to Armenia. It was kept in the Province of Andzav, in a location called Darbnots. A church was built on the site, and a convent opened there later, in Mary’s honour.

The Armenian Church has a deep and abiding respect for Mary. Special emphasis is placed on her being a mother, as much as on her honesty, her unique spirit of humility, her virtuous behaviour and her unselfish dedication. It is a feast that is of special importance to all those sons and daughters who value the immeasurable affection their mothers hold for them, and the efforts that mothers deploy to preserve the sacredness of the family unit.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2002   |   20 August


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