Tuesday, August 15, 2017

To descend to be raised up

Today we celebrate the feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Mother of God. Now that I have been at the tomb of the Mother of God in the Garden of Gethsemane during our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was struck in a new way as we celebrated the feast.

I was especially moved by the phrase in bold in this first stichera at Vespers:

"O what a wonder! The Source of Life Itself is placed in a tomb; the grave becomes a ladder to heaven. Rejoice, Gethsemane, holy chamber of the Theotokos. As for us, O faithful, let us cry out with Gabriel, the prince of angels: Rejoice, O woman full of grace, the Lord is with you!--the Lord, who because of you bestows great mercy on our souls."

Why did it strike me? Take a look at the second photo to the right. These are the many steps descending into the church which contains the tomb of the Mother of God. (The people in the photo are only about half-way down the steps.) This, to me, is an image of Mary's humility. "For He has looked with favor upon the lowliness of His handmaiden..." (Lk 1:48a). In life, and in death, Mary embraces the littleness and poverty of her humanity, and God raises her up. "From this day forward, all generations will call me blessed" (Lk 1:48b).

Mary is an example to us of the daily dying to self which "becomes a ladder to heaven." When we descend the many steps down into the poverty within us and surrender our lives into the hands of God, He then raises us up to a new life of joy and freedom, ultimately in heaven, but even now in the Kingdom that has already begun.

Mother Cecilia

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