Mary, the Most Holy Theotokos, is central in Orthodox worship. The Church consistently seeks the intercession of the Most Holy one, presenting her to the faithful as an example of humility, holiness, faith and devotion to her Son and God, Jesus Christ. Additionally, our All Holy Mother is also a supreme example in how she prepared for her departure from earth to Heaven.
According to the Synaxare which is read during Matins on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, our All Holy Mother received a message from Heaven while living in Jerusalem, in that she was told that after three days, her God-man Son would take her to be with Him in eternal life. The Theotokos, wishing to meet her Son and God, went up to the Mount of Olives first in order to pray, which is something she did often (This was the place where her Son also had prayed before He was taken prisoner and led to Golgotha).
After praying for some time, she went home and began her preparations, as we usually do when we are about to depart for a long journey. She said goodbye to her relatives and neighbors, and when they started to mourn, the Theotokos comforted them by reassuring them of her protection, not only of them but of the whole world. Then she donated her clothes to the two poor widows that had long been in her care.
Christians often ask this question: How should I prepare myself for the life to come? The Theotokos answers this question through her example.
The first thing a Christian must know is that for a person united with Christ in Holy Baptism and regular participation in Church life, there is no death and they should not be afraid. This truth is beautifully expressed in the third Kneeling Prayer of Pentecost Sunday: There is no death for your servants, O Lord, when we go forth from the body and come unto you, but a change from things most sorrowful unto things most blessed and sweet and joyous. That is why the Apostle also writes: “I desire to depart from this world and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). The faithful Christian knows that when the soul leaves the body, it is not departing for the unknown, but will go where the righteous are resting near Christ, as they loved Him and served Him in life. It is their guardian Angel (who has stood next to us throughout our lives) that will receive their soul and guide it to Heaven, where they will see the indescribable of the face of Christ. They will share in the joy of the Church Triumphant. St. Paul the Apostle, who proved worthy of seeing it, wrote:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for
Those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
How wonderful and glorious is Heaven!
This is why the faithful must not be sad or fearful about this journey. Those who have faith are confident in the word of Christ, as He prayed: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory …” (John 17:24). The Lord wants us to be with Him forever, and that is why He was crucified. His crucifixion liberated us from death and Hades, opening the way for us to joyfully commune with Him forever.
If we are actively part of the Orthodox Church, living lives of repentance, forgiving everyone, and reverently partaking of His Holy Body and Blood through the Divine Eucharist, then our departure to Christ is the natural result! St. Porphyrios used to say that it is like opening a door from one room to go to the next. That’s it!
In looking at what the Theotokos did to prepare for her departure to Heaven, let us keep in mind two things:
First, as she went up to the Mount of Olives and prayed fervently, we too have to keep prayer with us constantly. And second, the Theotokos was doing good until her very last day, so we should not be negligent in offering whatever help we can for those in need.
As we already know, charity is what gives a prayer its wings to fly straight to the throne of God! In this way, we will always be ready for the call to Heaven, in accordance with the Lord’s warning: “you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).
My dear brothers and sisters, if non-Christians would fully see how Christians joyously celebrate the Dormition of the Mother of Jesus (Whom they also believe to be God), they would believe they were crazy. The non-Christian would be equally astonished to see a lady whom we know, who when told she was going to die, offered sweets to her guests, “for the joy” as she said. Instead of giving in to sadness or despair, she eagerly awaited her departure to Christ!
The love for Christ is insanity, St. Porphyrios used to say – not the kind of insanity, however, that a non-Christian would think. It is an insanity of joy and happiness, the union of the soul-bride with Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church!