Divine Services from the Beginning of the Apostles’ Fast to the End of the Ecclesial Year (Vol IV, Ch 11)

For class on 11/2/2019

From Michel Ruse:

This chapter concludes Volume IV and it completes the cycle of church feasts. The Orthodox Church began its new year on September 1. The first feast of the new year was on September 8, the Nativity of the Theotokos and the last great feast of the liturgical year ends on August 15, The Dormition of the Theotokos. Why does the whole cycle of the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church start and end with Mary, the Mother of God? Protestant groups may be indifferent, or they may denounce any kind of veneration of the Virgin Mary. Roman Catholics often have a different perspective from us. They have veneration of many Marian Apparitions, but they have feasts that are similar to Orthodox Christians (September 8 and August 15). 

Metropolitan Hilarion starts this chapter with The Apostles’ Fast in Honor of Saints Peter and Paul, and the Holy Apostles. He could have spent some time on the importance of St. Peter in Rome or the unique deaths of the Apostles. He spends most of his attention on an important teaching of the Orthodox Church that is as old as the Old Testament and as new as the New Testament. That we all can become illumined. We can experience this transformation that can make our "faces shine" like Jesus Christ on Mt. Tabor at the Transfiguration. 

Our whole experience of time on earth should reflect on the example of the holy family of Joachim and Anna who gave the world a place – rather a person – Mary, the Mother of God, to dwell and to save our souls. We should reflect on the holy Apostles who were miraculously translated (except St. Thomas who doubted) to be present with Mary at her falling asleep and resurrection into the arms of Jesus Christ. Where should we be throughout the year? We should be close to the Virgin Mary and Her Son, Jesus Christ. 

The liturgical cycle seems to suggest that just as the whole world began anew with Mary’s visitation from St. Gabriel and was transfigured by the birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary, which shook up kings, authorities, and demons, our time in the Church begins and ends with the Virgin Mary. She is the “mediatrix” of the world, as we say in the liturgy. 

Her death is tender, courageous and special to us as Orthodox Christians. An icon gives us an example of how we should approach our own death. When she was lying on her bed about to fall asleep, she is shown not dressed in burial linen but in infant swaddling clothes. Our death is our rebirth, and the first one to receive us and bring us into a new life is Jesus Christ Himself.