As many prepare for the leave-taking of the Great Feast of the Dormition, and those on another calendar prepare to celebrate the Feast in honour of the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, Seraphim [now Fr James] writes on MARY.
The Orthodox Church year begins on September 1st and contains 12 Great Feasts. The first Feast of the year is the Birth of Mary (the Theotokos) on September 8th. The final Feast of the Church Year is the death of Mary — or, the Dormition — on August 15th.
THEOTOKOS: Theotokos is a compound of two Greek words, θεος “God” and τοκος “parturition, childbirth.” Literally, this translates as “God-bearer” or “One who gave birth to God.” However, since many English-speaking Orthodox find this literal translation awkward; in liturgical use, “Theotokos” is often retained in Greek or translated as “Mother of God.” This last is not precisely synonymous, as it describes a family relationship but not necessarily physical childbearing. Furthermore, “Mother of God” (Greek Μητηρ Θεου) has an established usage of its own in certain hymns, but especially on icons of the Theotokos, in which case it is usually abbreviated as ΜΡ ΘΥ.
Appellations of the Theotokos.
The Theotokos is often called an Ark, for the Glory of God settled on her, just as the Glory of God descended on the Mercy Seat of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:10-22).
Just as Aaron’s Rod sprouted miraculously in the Old Testament, so too, the Theotokos has budded forth the Flower of Immortality, Christ our God (Num. 17:1-11).
On Mt. Sinai, Moses saw the Bush that was burning, but was not consumed. So too, the Theotokos bore the fire of Divinity, but was not consumed (Ex. 3:1-6).
In the Old Testament Tabernacle, there were found in the Sanctuary golden candlesticks. The Theotokos is the Candlestick which held that Light that illumines the world (Ex. 25:31-40).
Just as the censer holds a burning coal, so too, the Theotokos held the Living Coal. In the Apocalypse, there stands an Angel before the Throne of God, swinging a censer, representing the prayers of the Saints rising up to God. This is also seen as a symbol of the Theotokos, for it is her prayers that find special favor before her Son.
In the Exodus, the Israelites were led out of Egypt by a Cloud of Light, symbolizing the presence of God in their midst. So too, the Theotokos is a Cloud, bearing God within.
In the book of Judges we read the account of the dew which appeared miraculously on Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40). So too, the Dew Christ, appeared miraculously on the Living Fleece the Theotokos.
Holy of Holies.
Into the Holy of Holies only the High Priest could enter. So too, the Theotokos is the Holy of Holies into which only the Eternal High Priest Christ entered (Heb. 9:1-7).
In a dream Jacob saw a ladder ascending to Heaven, with Angels ascending and descending on it. The Theotokos is a Ladder, stretching from earth to Heaven, for on It God descended to man, having become incarnate.
Mountain (from which a Stone was cut not by hand of man).
The Prophet Daniel saw a mountain, from which was cut a stone, not by the hand of man (Dan. 2:34, 45). This is a reference to the miraculous Virgin Birth which was accomplished without the hand of man.
The Theotokos was the Palace within which the King Christ our God dwelt.
Stem of Jesse.
In the Nativity Service, the Lord is referred to as the Rod from the Stem of Jesse (Is. 11:1), indicating His lineage from David, which was fulfilled through the Theotokos, who was a scion (or stem) of the line of David, the son of Jesse.
The Tabernacle was the place where the Glory of God dwelt. So too, the Glory of God dwelt in the Theotokos the Living Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34).
This refers to the Holy Table (Altar Table) on which, at the Divine Liturgy, the Divine Food is offered. So too, the Theotokos is the Holy Table which bore the Bread of Life.
The Prophet Ezekiel speaks of the Temple whose East gate remains sealed, through which only the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered. This clearly prophesies the Virgin Birth of the Theotokos (Ez. 44:1-2).
The Theotokos is the Throne upon which Christ, the King of All, rested.
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant contained within itself a golden urn filled with the heavenly manna. The Theotokos is the Urn which contained Christ, the Divine Manna (Heb. 9:1-7).
The Theotokos is the Vine which bore the Ripe Cluster (of Grapes), Christ our Lord.
For a homily by St Gregory Palamas on the Dormition of the Theotokos, go here.
Edited from a previous posting in 2006.