The feast of the Dormition is celebrated from August 14 to August 23. It has one day of Vigil (August 14) and a post-festive period of eight days. During this period the texts of the Octoechos are omitted, except on the Sunday after Dormition, August 20, which is the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost. Stichera from Resurrection Tone 2 and Gospel stichera for Gospel 11 are sung together with the post-festive stichera of the Dormition, according to the rules of the Typicon (Format 16).
August 14 is the pre-feast (vigil) of the Dormition. The Melkites and Greeks commemorate the Holy Prophet Micah on this day. The Holy Prophet Micah foresaw the birth of Christ from Mary: “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathaha, least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, then the rest of his kindred shall return to the children of Israel. (5:1-2)” This is read on the vigil of the feast of Christmas. He is also a prophet of peace: “He shall judge between many peoples and set terms for strong and distant nations; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. (4:3)”
Slav Churches remember our Holy Father Theodosius of the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev (Pecherskaya Lavra). His main commemoration is on May 3, his falling asleep in the Lord in 1074. This day is the commemoration of the transfer of his relics from his graves in the caves to the Church of the Theotokos that he had built. This transfer was in 1019 in the presence of the Great Prince Vsevolod and the Hegumen John. This feast is an optional celebration. If it is observed it is celebrated as a Polyeleos Feast (Common11), a rare occurrence on a day of vigil. As a result, at Vespers, instead of five stichera for the Saint, only three are sung, together with three of the pre-feast, and the apostichera are for the vigil pre-feast, with the doxasticheron for the saint.
August 14 is the final day of the Dormition Fast. The day of fasting lasts from midnight to midnight. This fast may be kept in our ordinary life by eating moderately and abstaining from meat or from meat and dairy products.
The Feast of the Dormition of Mary is called the Assumption (into heaven) in the Roman Catholic Church. “Dormitio” is actually a Latin word for “falling asleep,” which is “koimēsis,” (Κοίμησις) in Greek (“falling asleep’). ‘Falling asleep” is here “falling asleep in death in the Lord.” The Roman Catholic Church is not determinate as to whether Mary physically died, but the Byzantine Church is clear that she died and was then taken up into heaven. The event is not recorded in Scripture. The liturgy for the day is from apocryphal works: the Transitus Mariae from the sixth century (text in www.bibleprobe.com/transitusmariae.htm) and the Dormition of Mary by John of Thessalonica, in On the Dormition of Mary, edited by Brian Daley (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, ISBN-13:9780881411775.
Vestment colors are not a part of the regular typicon notices, which concern the order of the propers at services. Certainly, the Great Feast of the Dormition is celebrated in bright, festive colors. In many branches of the Byzantine Church, feast of the Theotokos are celebrated in blue vestments. This derives from the Spanish tradition of blue vestments for the Virgin Mary. However, many branches of the Byzantine Church, even Orthodox, now have blue vestments. Blue vestments are the color used in the Byzantine Ruthenian Church from August 15 to 23.
This feast is one of the Twelve Great Feasts, and as such, all texts for this day are from the Menaion. A particularity of this feast is that at the Stichera at Psalm 140 of Vespers, the doxasticheron (at “Glory … Now and ever … “) is a long and complicated hymn with each passage sung according to a different samohlasen tone. This is very difficult for a cantor to perform properly, so the Metropolitan Cantor’s Institute simply gives the music for the text in Tone 1 (http://mci.archpitt.org/sheetmusic/general/08-15_Dormition_Vespers_pod.pdf). The breakdown of the hymns in the various tones is found in The Festal Menaion (translated by Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (Faber and Faber, London, 1969), p. 507.
The Divine Liturgy on this day is for a Great Feast of the Theotokos. The great feasts of our Lord have proper antiphons for the day, but the feasts of the Theotokos use the daily antiphons (unless, of course, they fall on Sunday). However, the modern Greek/Melkite tradition have proper antiphons also for the Marian feasts. For the Dormition:
“First Antiphon (Psalms 99:2,4;47:9;75:3)
Refrain. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Saviour, save us!
v 1. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Know that the Lord is God. Bless his name.
v 2. As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God.
v 3. His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling-place in Zion.
Second Antiphon (Psalms 86:1,2,3,5)
v 1. On the holy mount stands the city he founded. Glorious things are spoken of you, O City of God.
v 2. The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
v 3. The Most High himself will establish it for ever.
Third Antiphon (Psalms 56:8; 115:12,13)
v 1. My heart is steadfast, O Lord, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and chant praises.
v 2. How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done to me?
v 3. I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.
As these are mixed from various psalms, it is clear that they are of recent introduction. Moreover, there is no proper Entrance Hymn, but the daily Entrance Hymn is used.
The Melkites also have introduced a proper Antiphon Prayer for the feast, said in place of the Prayer at the Antiphons before the Entrance:
“O God Almighty, you gave us your most holy Mother Mary as a mother for us all and transferred her, body and soul, from this world to heaven’s glory. We ask you through her intercession to inflame our hearts with the fire of your love so that we may always seek the heavenly blessings and reach the glory of Resurrection. For you are our Life, and our Resurrection O Christ God, and to you we render glory and to your eternal Father and your All-holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.”
At the end of the Liturgy, it has become the custom to bless flowers. Originally this was the blessing of first-fruits in the Church of the Theotokos at Blachernae in Constantinople by the Patriarch. There were two prayers. “O God our Savior, you were pleased to call … “ and 2) “Lord of powers, King of glory … , “ no longer used. (The Greek is in L’Euchologio Barberini gr. 336, edited by Stepfano Parenti and Elena Velkovska, Edizioni Liturgiche, Rome, 1995, pp. 200-201).
It was the custom on Mount Athos to bless olives on every major feast day at Vespers after the Blessing of the Bread and at the end of Matins. (cf. Placido De Meester, Rituale-Benedizioni Bizantino, Rome, 1929, pp. 504-507. This blessing then transformed into a blessing of medicinal herbs which were much needed to combat the increase of infections in the “dog days” of August. This is the blessing found in the Euchologion by Fr. Demetrius Wysochansky (Hamtramck, 1986), p. 301. It clearly states: “In your infinite goodness you ordained that these plants serve not onlyas food for the animals, but also as medicine for the sick.” Therefore, it evidently is not a blessing of “flowers.” However, since in modern times, the danger from infectious diseases has lessened, it has now been transformed into a blessing of flowers, in accord with the legend that the Holy Apostle Thomas came to the funeral of Mary late, on the third day after her burial, so the apostles opened the grave to show him her body, but it was not there, and the grave was filled with flowers. The Synaxarion only says that they opened the grave, and the body of Mary was not there, having been taken into glory, and the Transitus Mariae tells a different story, and mentions only that “a perfume of sweet savor came forth out of the holy sepulcher.” In any case, it is now a blessing of flowers, and the prayer for the blessing of medicinal herbs was rewritten:
Deacon: :Let us pray to the Lord.
People: Lord, have mercy.
Priest: All-powerful and eternal God, by your word you have made all things, visible and invisible, the heavens, the earth and the sea. You caused a countless variety of flowers, herbs and trees to sprout up to satisfy our need for nourishment, health and beauty. With our minds and hearts we ask of you: in your kindness bless these flowers which we bring before you on the feast of the falling asleep of the most blessed Virgin Mary. For we offer you not only flowers but the good works and prayers of the Virgin Mary, who was taken from us into heaven on this day, leaving in her tomb flowers as a sign of the fullness of life she has received with you. May these flowers, a sign of your love for humanity, be for us always a memory of the blessed and new and eternal life you have promised and given to the human race. As we give these flowers to each other, grant that we also give kindness and love to each other, that in our community and in our world there may be peace in our age and that we may always keep the world you have given into our care beautiful and healthful. Through the mercy, gace and loving-kindness of your only-begotten Son, with whom you are blessed, together with your all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and forever.
Priest: Peace be to all.
People: And to your spirit.
Deacon: Bow your heads to the Lord.
People: To you, O Lord.
Priest: O our God, you took the rod of Jesse, the Mother of your Son into heaven on this day that by her help and prayers, we would be partakers of the fruit of her womb, your Son. We fervently pray that by the power of her Son, and by the help of his Mother, we who have the care of the fruits of this earth may be made worthy of eternal life. For you are our God, and we give glory to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.
Priest: These flowers are blessed by the sprinkling of this holy water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Melkite Church, with reservations, has approved two other prayers for the blessing of flowers on this day, noting that it was not a Melkite custom, but that has become a popular custom, especially in America. These two prayers are:
“Lord God almighty, You fill all things with Your Word. You commanded the earth to bring forth fruit in due season, and You gave it to mankind for our joy and life. By Your Holy Spirit, bless + now these flowers which have been brought before You in this holy temple to honor the Falling Asleep of the Mother of Your only Son. Purify from all defilement these, Your servants, who receive them, and fill their houses with all fragrance. May all who receive these flowers obtain protection of body and soul; and may Your healing grace be a remedy for our salvation.
-For all glory, honor and worship are Your due, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever.”
“These flowers are blessed and sanctified by the descent of the all-holy Spirit and the sprinkling of holy water, in the name of the Father + and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Blessing of Flowers Prayer by Abouna Alam Alam
Deacon: let us pray to the Lord.
People: Lord have mercy.
Priest: Lord Jesus Christ, our God, You admired the lilies of the fields and asked us to imitate them by putting aside worldly cares and depending on your Divine Providence. We ask you to bless these flowers which were offered in honor of your All-holy Mother, the Ever-virgin Mary, on the occasion of her passing to the heavenly glory. Accept, O Lord, these flowers as a sweet fragrance. Fill the hearts of those who offered them and those who will receive them with love for You and for your Holy Mother who is also the heavenly Mother of us all. And through her intercession, make us worthy to cast off the old man and put on the new man created in your
For You are the source of all holiness, O Christ God, and to You we render glory and to your Eternal Father and your All-Holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and always and forever and ever.
There is another particular custom connected with the feast of the Dormition: the Procession of the Burial Shroud of the Theotokos. A Melkite web site recounts the evolution of this rite:
“The first record of such a service performed outside Jerusalem dates from the fifteenth century. In Russia rectors of churches dedicated to the Mother of God were encouraged to erect a tomb or bier on the solea in which the icon of the feast could be enshrined. Matins could then be served before this tomb. It was also in the fifteenth century that the lamentations on the burial of Christ were composed in Jerusalem. They are sung today in the Orthros of Holy Saturday, one of the more popular moments in the rites of the Holy Week in the Greek and Middle Eastern Churches. Due to the interaction of Greeks and Italians in this period we often see a burial of Christ service, including the Greek melodies of the Lamentations, used by Italian and Spanish Roman Catholics as well. Around one hundred years later, in 1541. the Greek Metropolitan Dionysios of Old Patras in western Greece composed the service for the burial of the Theotokos, in imitation of the service for the burial of Christ. It is this service which has spread throughout the Byzantine world today. At first the principal image used in this service was the icon of the Dormition, as in Jerusalem. As the burial of the Theotokos came to be celebrated as imitation of the Burial of Christ, use of the shroud of the Theotokos became popular.”
I have not inserted the rubrics for this service in my Typicon. The service is controversial because it draws perhaps too close a likeness between the resurrection of our Lord and the assumption of Mary. The service is modeled on Holy Saturday Matins. The Eparchy of Parma has a text for this service, without author or date. I believe it was put together by the monks at St. Michael’s in Akron, Ohio, sometime in the 1980’s. The booklet is entitled The Burial Service of Praise in Honor of the Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God: Feast of Her Dormition. The office is inserted into Matins of the Feast of Dormition in place of the Menaion Kathismata. The procession is done first, with the repeated singing of a Troparion, to which may be added versicles from the Song of Songs. Then, in place of the Kathismata, three stations are sung, the priests holding candle, in imitation of the Stations at Holy Saturday Matins. The faithful come forward to venerate the burial shroud of the Theotokos. The priest then censes around the tomb as the “Hosts of Angels” for the Theotokos is sung, the tomb and flowers are then blessed with holy water. The faithful come at the end of Matins to venerate the burial shroud with the image of the Theotokos in repose. There are actually many different versions of the service, including, for example, a procession at the Great Doxology as in Holy Saturday Matins for the burial shroud of our Lord. One may search the internet for information. A translation of the stations may be found at: http://www.monachos.net/library/index.php/liturgics/texts/678-theotokos-dormition-lamentations-burial.
The day after the Dormition, August 16 is the commemoration of “The Translation of the Icon of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, the Icon not made by human hands, from Edessa to Constantinople in the year 944. The image is called the “Mandylion.” It is called the third feast of our Lord in August (August 1, the procession of the Cross, in the Russian Church, the feats of the All-merciful Savior, and August 6, the Transfiguration are the first two. )The image itself is based on an apocryphal story found in Eusebius’ Church History. The king of Edessa, Abgar, was sick and asked for healing. Jesus could not go to Edessa, but imprinted an image of his face on a cloth which he sent to the king. It healed him by his touch. This icon was transferred by the Emperor Constantine Pophryogenitus (912-959). Edessa was held by Moslem Arabs, and the emperor ransomed it for a large sum and had it brought to Constantinople. It is this latter historical event that is commemorated today.
It is generally recognized today that the story is apocryphal, but the image is greatly venerated in the Byzantine Church. In an article for the National Catholic Register, (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/tmcdonald/did-jesus-write-a-letter) Thomas L. McDonald writes:
“Although a fake, the Abgar Letter letter not only reveals something about an early Christian community, but was believed to be real by many in the early Church, and even found its way into liturgical use. Dismissing the entire story as mere legend is not only unhelpful but foolish. As historian Steven Runcimen sharply observes in “Some Remarks on the Image of Edessa”: “Historians should not be so much victims to their skepticism as to dismiss a legend as false, unless they can suggest how it was that the false legend arose; for legends are seldom born like Pallas Athene full-grown and fully accoutered from one inventive brain …. The connection of letter, legend, and Mandylion became important in the early Eastern church, and was given further credibility by John Damascene in his defense of icons. Abgar (who was certainly a genuine figure and a convert to Christianity) is regarded as a saint the Eastern Orthodox, Syrian, and Armenian Churches. He’s even shown on Armenian money with a flag bearing the Mandylion. The letter was used in liturgy, with mentions in collects as far away as Ireland in the 11th century. The letter doesn’t represent a genuine letter of Jesus Christ, but it has a rich and fascinating history all its own.”
Some modern writers have tried to identify this with the Shroud of Turin, taken by the Crusaders from Constantinople. The mandylion was indeed lost, but the circumstances are not historically known. One speculation is that the image was lost at sea. (See oca.org/saints/lives/2015/08/16)
It is also very similar to the legend of Veronica’s Veil, which appeared in the West in the early Middle Ages. A woman ministered to Jesus as he carried his cross, and when she wiped his face with a towel, his image was left imprinted. The woman’s name, “Veronica,” is from the words “vera icona,” that is “true image.” “Vera” is true in Latin and “icona” is image in Greek. Perhaps this story was inspired by the earlier Byzantine story.
In the Typicon, the feast is commemorated in all Byzantine churches, but there is an option to celebrate it either as a feast with a Vigil (Format 12), with readings, litija and a Matins Gospel, but it may also be observed as an ordinary commemoration, but with the singing of the Great Doxology at Matins, and stichera at the Praises (Format 10). It is combined with stichera for the post-feast of the Dormition, and blue vestments are worn. There is no commemoration in the dismissal, only for the feast of the Dormition. There is likewise, a choice of Epistles, either Colossians 1:12-18 or 2 Corinthians 3:4-11.
The Troparion for this feast, “We bow before your sacred image … “ is used frequently in the Byzantine Liturgy, e.g. for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, at the Prayers before the Icon Screen in the Divine Liturgy, and in the Octoechos for Tone 2, which perhaps is its origin, et al. The propers for the saint of this day, the Holy Martyr Diomedes, are sung at Compline.
There are other important commemorations in the post-festive days. August 20 is the feast of the Holy Prophet Samuel, who is commemorated in the stichera at Psalm 140, and after the Third Ode in Matins, as this day falls on Sunday this year. It is also the commemoration of the Holy Stephen, King of Hungary (997-1038). This feast has long been celebrated by the Byzantine Hungarians, but there is also a Slav office for him. St. Stephen first followed the Byzantine tradition, but became Roman Catholic for political reasons. He did live before the traditional date of the schism (1054), and is recognized by both Catholics and Orthodox. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has a great veneration of him, and has composed an office for his feast. Troparion (Tone 1): “O holy Stephen, you were recognized as a gentle and pious king who loved what is good. You dedicated the scepter of your kingdom to God. With the Cross as your weapon, you subjected the people of Hungary to him. Now you lead them in triumph in heaven with the angels. Glory to Christ who chose you. Glory to Christ who gave you strength. Glory to Christ who anointed you mystically with the oil of unction.”
August 21 is the commemoration of the Holy Father Pius X (1903-1914). He was a promoter of eucharistic reform, and lowered the age of First Communion, and fostered frequent Holy Communion, a liturgical principle supported by both East and West. He commended the Byzantine practice of giving Communion to all the baptized, even infants, but felt he did what he could at the time. He reformed the Canon Law of the Roman Church, and was also a staunch opponent of what was called “Modernism.” He was canonized by the Roman Church in 1954. One parish in the Pittsburgh Archeparchy is dedicated in his name, which would keep this day as its patronal feastday (Format 11). There is no office for him in the Byzantine Church that I know of, but liturgical texts would be found in the Common for a Bishop.