“The Dormition of Mary Icon”, or her “big sleep”!
Christ stands holding the soul of Mary as a supernatural vision. Christ may have separated from the earthly plane but is not absent.
On August 15, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Dormition of the Mother of God. However, there are no biblical or historical sources for this feast, not that of the Birth of Mary or the Presentation of Mary to the Temple Priest to weave the cloth for the temple.
The Christian churches theological emphasis in interpreting Mary’s life and its details leaves them divided. As mentioned in the three events above there is not enough biblical info about the mother of Jesus. This Dormition of Mary Icon is principle to feast day celebrations in the Orthodox Church.
Christ is holding the soul of Mary in His arms, she is wrapped in cloth and being taken to heaven for “adoption”. The Orthodox Church believes Her divine being died as we shall die, but for some pious reason calls her death, ‘sleep’. I love the concept, like the great rest!
Contemplating the icon is not so much about Mary and Jesus but more about the love shared in this life and the hope of being collected at our departure by love again. The icon expresses continual love and life expressed in their relationship. Mary holds Jesus at His birth, Christ holds Mary’s soul at her death. This is not Jesus as we knew him walking among us, but the new Christ consciousness that is ever present. The transition between life and death is constant, a cyclical existence of living and dying all the time. Life itself is a continuous transition in Christ.
Interpretation of Dormition of Mary Icons
The theology of the Dormition of Mary, the Mother of God, is curious. The Roman Catholic church teaches that Mary was Assumed into the heavens, lifted to sit with God and Jesus. Whereas the Orthodox maintain that Mary rests in the “great sleep” and her soul is united with Christ. Either way there is an upward movement of the soul towards heaven, in theory theirs and ours. We gather around our departed loved ones and commend their souls into the realm of spirit. We prepare ourselves over a lifetime, linked and bound to a new life in an age to come.
The apostles are gathered around Mary. Three men have red crosses on their vestments indicative of the priestly beginnings of the church. If you look back at the Pentecost icon, you see four of apostles holding books instead of scrolls, showing the four gospel books in the bible. For whatever reason, the icon represents only three disciples in priestly garments. The gathering is not unlike anyone who has died. We want to honor their life and it’s impact on our own and pray for their love perpetually shared in the realm of spirit.