The Dormition (falling asleep) of the Theotokos is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the Church, commemorated on August 15/28.
After the Ascension of our Lord, His mother remained in the city of Jerusalem, comforting the infant Christian community. As the years passed and her time neared, she was in the habit of praying at the site of the Holy Sepulcher of the Lord. At one such visit, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her and announced Her approaching transfer from this life to eternal life.
At the time of her death (tradition tells us she was in her early fifties) many of the Apostles were scattered throughout the world preaching the Gospel. Through a great miracle, they were transported instantly to the side of the Theotokos for her falling asleep. The most holy Virgin glorified God, because He had heard her prayer and fulfilled her heart’s desire. Shortly after this she died, and with much mourning they buried her. It is said for three days they did not depart from the place of burial, praying and chanting Psalms.
Through the wise providence of God, the Apostle Thomas was not to be present at the burial; arriving late on the third day, he lay down at the tomb and with bitter tears asked that he might see the Mother of God and bid her farewell. When they opened the grave, to the astonishment of all, they found only the grave wrappings and were convinced of the bodily ascent of the most holy Virgin Mary when shortly after this she appeared to them together and confirmed her place with her Son in heaven.
In the icon of the feast, we see the Theotokos, after her death, lying on the funeral bier. Above the Theotokos is her Son, Christ, who is present to take her soul into heaven. He holds in his hands a small infant clothed in white, representing the soul of the Theotokos reborn in her glory in heaven. This is an affirmation of both her holiness and her salvation in Christ.
Orthodox Christians affirm that Mary died as all people die, because she had a normal human nature affected by the corruption of this world. The Church proclaims that, like all of us, Mary was saved by Christ from the trials, sufferings, and death of this world. Yet, having truly died, she was truly raised by her Son as the “Mother of Life” and already participates bodily in the eternal life of Paradise, which is prepared and promised to all who “hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27-28). The Church celebrates the fact that the resurrection which has come to the Theotokos will come to all who imitate her holy life of humility, obedience, and love.
In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity, and in falling asleep thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos. Thou wast translated unto life, since thou art the mother of Life; and by thine intercessions thou dost deliver our souls from death.
The grave and death could not hold the Theotokos, who is sleepless in her intercessions and an unfailing hope in her mediations. For as the mother of Life she was translated unto life by Him Who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb.