This icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos resides in the Vestibule of the Chancery of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA, in Johnstown, PA.
(image: American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese).
Tomorrow, 15 August, marks one of the great feasts of the Christian calendar, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. The Vatican newspaper this week has a reflection on how this event — also known as the Dormition — has been depicted in iconography, such as the image above:
In the Byzantine tradition the first great celebration in the liturgical cycle is the Nativity of the Mother of God on 8 September, and it ends with her Dormition, and her being taken up into Heaven on 15 August. This almost intends to stress that for every Christian and for the whole Church the Virgin presents the journey that ushers us into the saving mystery of Christ. Established in the East at the end of the sixth century and introduced a century later into the West, the Feast of 15 August celebrates the passage and full glorification of the Mother of God as the first fruits of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, preceded on 14 August by a pre-feast and followed by an octave that ends on 23 August.
Two troparia of the Office of Vespers exemplify the close relationship between eucology and iconography. The former presents the icon of the feast as a liturgical celebration of the Dormition, alternating the eight musical tones of the Byzantine Tradition: Mary, dead or rather, fallen asleep, is at the center of the icon on a funerary couch which, however, also portrays a Christian altar. The Apostles and other figures surround her; Peter and Paul are always among the first, who indicate the whole Church’s presence.
Christ, in the middle of a semicircle with the angels around him, holds his Mother’s soul in his arms: “The supreme powers of heaven, presenting themselves with their sovereign, full of awe escort the most pure body which welcomed God; they precede it in an ascent beyond the world and, invisible, cry to the hosts above: Behold the Mother of God has arrived, Queen of the universe”.
The presence of the angels in the upper part brings the icon closer to that of Christ’s Ascension.
Mary’s bed is also an altar on which the liturgy takes place. The Apostles standing round who celebrate it, Christ in the background, in the apse, who presides over it; Peter who incenses the altar, as at the moment of the great entrance in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy.
“Open the doors and greet with honour worthy of the Kingdom beyond this world the One who is the Mother of Eternal Light. Thanks to her, in fact, the salvation of all mortals is brought about. We do not have the strength to meet her gaze and it is impossible to attribute to her the honour she deserves”.
Mary, finally, taken up to Heaven in glory, becomes for the whole Church which celebrates her the One who intercedes with her Son. “Indeed, your supereminence exceeds every mind. May you, therefore, O immaculate Mother of God, who lives for ever with your King and Son, Bearer of life, ceaselessly intercede so that your new people may be preserved and saved from any harmful attack. In fact we enjoy your protection and for centuries, with every splendour, proclaim you blessed”.
You can read more at the link for the L’Osservatore Romano article.