Saturday, August 16, 2008
What is the meaning of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Did she really die? Did she really go to heaven body and soul? The dormition and assumption of Mary was not recorded in the Canonical books of the New Testament. However, as early as the second century, many Apocryphal books had been written in many local Churches – one of them, attributed to St. James, recalls the Assumption. Although these Apocryphal books are not inspired, they have many elements of ancient tradition scattered in them. Note why this book is not considered inspired: It was not written by the Apostles or their disciples/contemporaries. It was not reflected in the early liturgy of the Church, it was not recognized by the major Churches of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch to be authentic. And therefore it does not reflect authentic Christian doctrine. It is likely the product of some Gnostic sects in the second century that were influenced by Greek philosophy. However the book and other Apocrypha are invaluable in their information. This book is one of the main sources about the Assumption. In the Tradition of the early Christians, Mary lived with the Apostles after our Lord ascended to heaven. She probably lived in Ephesus with John the Apostle. When her death was imminent she felt her Son will take her and she told the Apostles around her. When she died Thomas who was preaching in India was not there. He had a vision that Mary passed away so he hurried back. Since Thomas doubted the Resurrection of Christ, the tradition attributes to him another doubt that of the Assumption. In the story, the Apostles upon Thomas’ return opened Mary’s tomb but found it empty. This confirmed that her body was taken up to heaven. Thus the doctrine of the Assumption has been with us since the second century. But why was Mary taken up to heaven? What did she do to deserve this unprecedent honour? The answer is simple if you look at the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. You see there Mary laid in the casket, like anyone who dies. You see around her the Apostles. The closest are John, who is quite sad, and Luke too. But Jesus standing on top is carrying a baby in his hand. Who is this baby? It is also Mary. So in the icon there is Mary’s body and also Mary being carried by Jesus. The meaning of the Assumption is here: As Mary carried Jesus in her womb and when he was a child, he also carries her when she is old and weak. Further more, she is always obedient to him as he as a child was obedient to her. Whenever Jesus asked her something, she always comforted him, and now whenever she asks him something, her prayer is always answered. Mary points us to Jesus. She does not replace him. She witnesses to him. And this leads us to the Chrism oil which the Church puts on the newly baptized so that he/she witnesses too to Christ. The Chrism oil is made up of 36 perfumes. The Church is telling us that when you are becoming a witness to Christ, you will be full of joy, peace and love. You will receive the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. Be not afraid: Christ has overcome our sins. He is alive and Mary is the greatest witness of him. Based on a lecture by Fr. Georges Farah, Ph.D., on August 15, 2008, Solemnity of the Assumption, at Jesus the King Church, Toronto
Monday, August 11, 2008
Mary, according to Tradition, is the all-pure creature who ranks above all the angels. Not only is she the mother of the divine Son of God, made-man for our salvation, but also the spouse of the Holy Spirit. In 431, the 3rd Ecumenical Council of Ephesus proclaimed Mary "Theotokos" i.e. (bearer of God) or (Mother of God.) Her shining holiness has motivated millions of people to follow her example, or at least ask for her motherly prayers. In the Church liturgy, Mary is esteemed and venerated with four major feasts: Her nativity, her presentation in the Temple, the Annunciation, and her Dormition or Assumption. Two main prayers are directed to her every year in the Eastern Church: the Akathist, and the Paraclisis. In the Catholic Church, the Rosary prayer is uttered daily by many faithful. Devotion to Mary has exploded in recent centuries with the phenomenon of her apparitions to a number of people who in turn claim to have received messages from heaven for repentance. The Catholic Church has recognized a number of them in the past two centuries especially her apparitions in Lourdes (1858) and Fatima (1917). In 1854, she was officially proclaimed conceived without sin, and in 1950 her Assumption, in body and soul, to heaven. With the Ecumenical movement, the Reformation has come to recognize Mary's salutary mission. And the Qura'an, the book of Islam in the 7th century, recognized Mary as the most pure woman in the world. But what is the secret of Mary's attraction? Is she some kind of a 'goddess' as Hindus venerate their deities? Does she replace Christ in people’s prayers since he is pictured as "Pantocrator" (Ruler) and Judge at the end of times? Can she alone make up for our imperfection? These are the questions that pushed early Protestant Christians to eliminate her veneration. However she seems to have attracted many of them back to her motherly womb. One example may suffice to explain the glory of Mary in heaven. Pope Benedict XVI made reference to her role at the wedding attended by her and her son in Cana. Mary has guided and continues to guide all her children to Jesus, as she did at the wedding of Cana when she said to the dejected servants: 'Do whatever he tells you' (John 2:5), said Benedict. Mary points us to Jesus. She is there to tell people: Turn to him - I know him - I bore him and breast-fed him - I carried him when he was young, and worried about him when he was late in his work as a carpenter - I was there when he annouced his mission to his disciples - I was behind him and could not see him when the crowd around him wanted to touch his body for healing - I was there when they mocked him and led him to his death - I was there when they crucified him - I was there when they killed him. I am his mother - I KNOW HIM. Ask me what you want from him and I will pass it to him. This is Mary - She does not want any glory. When Gabriel announced to her that she will become a mother while being a virgin, her acceptance was unbelievable. I think she must have felt the shame of becoming pregnant in that culture and age when she is not yet married. A little girl in a little town with hardly any education and no prestige - a woman whose voice, like any other woman at that time, was not recognized in any testimony. But above all, her glory is her silence! Crying because of her son's death! She is not really mentioned in the New Testament -Peter, John, and James are mentioned much more frequently than this humble lady in the Gospels. Paul towers the New Testament with his Epistles. But where is Mary? She is silent! She is with the Apostles after his death and resurrection and in the upper room at Pentecost. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council proclaimed Mary the "Mother of the Church", and announced that she is the archetype of the Church. There is no denying of her motherly protection. This was realised with the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981 of the Marian Pope, John Paul the Great. Her mission appears to have just started with the fall of Communism and the increasing devotion to her in the entire earth. Yes - The world will go through her to the Son. "Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!" (From the Akathist hymns)...