By Father Konstantinos Koutroubas, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church
“Let us run to the Panagia in every circumstance, to ask her, to have her as our aid.”(Saint Anthimos of Chios, +1960).
With this spiritual advice in mind, on Sunday, August 1, the Dormition Fast begins for the Pascha, the Easter, of the summertime, the feast of feasts for the Mother of God, the feast of the Falling Asleep (Dormition or Kimisis, Κοίμησις) of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, our beloved Panagia, and the celebration of the resurrection of her body and soul 3 days after her death. This feast, on August 15, has been experienced in the life of the Church as a second Pascha. We celebrate the passing over from death to life of the Theotokos and her unceasing intercessions and presence for mankind up until this very day and moment, and unto the ages.
For two weeks, our churches are open for the Paraklesis (Supplication) services during which we ask for strength and consolation from the Panagia in our daily lives, as we try to bring ourselves closer to Her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church, of which we are a part of and of which the Panagia is a part- the most glorious member and the Church’s greatest and holiest Saint.
For the Orthodox Christians, these 15 days of August are opportunities- opportunities to repent, opportunities to change our ways, to try to reorient our minds, hearts, souls, and bodies towards Christ. I am 2000 % sure that, if there were repentance from all of us, the state of our world would be so much better! Given the current state of our world, are we up for the challenge of repentance?
Take advantage of these opportunities for increased personal prayer, participation in the liturgical services, including the Paraklesis Services to the Panagia, fasting, charity and good for one’s fellow man, spiritual reading, holy confession, and Holy Communion.
Take this opportunity to pray, both at home and as you go about your day. Take this opportunity to come to the church. Please plan to come to Paraklesis services. Come with your cares, concerns, burdens, and struggles to the Mother of God, who brings them before the Lord, Her Son. She is the closest human being to God. Let her guide you to Him. The Paraklesis Services are an opportunity to seek the Panagia’s prayers for our families and loved ones, for those who are sick and suffering, and for those with whom we may be at odds.
Take this opportunity to pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” Or just simply, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Take this opportunity to pray, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!”
Take this opportunity to fast both from food and from sin. It is a reminder to watch what comes out of our mouths and not just in. Fasting helps us with self-control and prayer and serves as a reminder to not devour our neighbor, our relatives, our friends, our co-workers, strangers, and even our enemies.
Take the opportunity for confession. Confession is spiritual healing, as Saint Nektarios in the 20th century would tell us or as Saint John Chrysostom whose Liturgy we celebrate would tell us in the 4th century, or as Saint James (Iakovos) would tell us in the 1st century.
If you are spiritually prepared, take this opportunity to receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, the food for the soul and the medicine of immortality.
Take this as an opportunity to do good for others, to read from the Holy Scriptures, to read or learn about the lives of the Saints, or the Panagia’s life. For those that like to read, read edifying books/articles. Take an opportunity to listen to the liturgical services and hymns via technology or to watch or listen to a helpful podcast or video. The assigned Scripture readings for each day can be found at https://www.goarch.org/
Let us learn from the example of the Panagia and be inspired by her prayers, her love, faithfulness, dedication to Christ, and her humility, her purity, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. If we seek to grow closer to Christ, we must develop a relationship with His Mother, our Mother. It is a basic spiritual principle, and there is not a single Saint who did not have a tremendous love for Christ’s Mother. The Church’s hymns and prayers remind us of this, as during this time period, we also celebrate the great feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. As we pray to the Lord in celebration of the Transfiguration, “Illuminate us sinners also with Thine everlasting light, through the intercessions of the Theotokos. Giver of light, glory to Thee.” In order to grow closer to Christ, it is life-saving to foster a close relationship with the Panagia, His Mother, who is our Mother, who always guides us to Him, who always points us to Him.
Just as we ask one another in this life for prayers, we ask for the prayers of those who, just like the Apostle Paul, can say that they already fought the good fight and finished the race (2 Timothy 4:7), of those who have died and gone before us. We see that very clearly in the month of July when we celebrate so many popular Orthodox Saints. We also see this very clearly in the month of August with the feast of the Dormition. Since we are people of the Resurrection and therefore people of hope, with the dead being alive in Christ, existing after physical death and waiting for the resurrection of their own bodies, and since we also believe the Panagia herself was risen from the dead before the General Resurrection of all mankind, we turn to her.
We turn to the Panagia in prayer and seek her comfort, inspiration, encouragement, and motherly love, as one who is closest to the Lord, as one who knows the human condition so well and one who knows sorrow and pain yet as one who knows true joy, as the best Christian ever, par excellence.
A blessed Dormition Fast to all!