The Dormition (2010)

For Orthodox Christians, August 15 is the Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep, death) of the Theotokos.    The death of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the canonical Scriptures of the Church.  That she died is not in question in Orthodoxy; that her death became a major feast of the Church is not surprising.  Piety toward the Blessed Virgin grew through history as the profundity of Christology came to be recognized in the life of the Church. 

At the Liturgy for the Dormition, the Church did not replace the reading of Scriptures with the stories of the Virgin’s death from the non-canonical sources.  Rather the Epistle for the Dormition from Philippians 2:5-11  is completely a Christological text and ancient hymn of the Church.  

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 The Virgin Mary is Theotokos because Jesus is fully God who has become incarnate, born of the Virgin.   The Dormition recognizes the interplay of love between the Lord Jesus Christ and His mother Mary, and understands this relationship in terms of soteriology.  The event of her dormition is commemorated in terms of Christ’s resurrection from the dead; death cannot hold her captive either.   The death of the Virgin does not separate her from the Church, which is the Body of Christ.   Rather Mary continues to have a place of prominence in the Church as the Mother of God: the one through whom our salvation came into the world.  Thus every Christian has a relationship with Mary through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In a sermon from 730 AD given on the Feast of the Dormition St. Germanus Patriarch of Constantinople has Christ speak to His Mother about her impending death. Christ says to her:

“Nor let it trouble thee, that thou must end thy care of earthly things. For thou art returning to a life that is more than life: to a rest of joy, to serene most perfect peace, to freedom from all care, to happiness without end, to light that never fades, to a day without evening, to Me, to thy Creator, and the Creator of all things…Entrust thy body to Me, as I once  entrusted My Godhead to thy womb.”    (The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. 4, pg. 419)

 The Feast’s name, Dormition, uses the imagery which Christ Himself used for the death of His friend Lazarus: that of falling asleep (John 11).   Our English word “cemetery” comes from a Greek word which means “a place for those who sleep.”   

“Even if righteous people come to the end of their days, you see, they have not died but gone to sleep:  the one who is on the point of passing on to a better life is going to sleep, whereas the one who is on the point of being carried off to undying death has come to the end, even if alive, and is already dead.”  (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms, Vol 2, pg. 89)

The Future, As Absurd Idea

I’m dedicating this blog to my son, John, whose birthday is today.  He started me blogging, and his interest in media and the future has given me much to think about.

As I was driving this morning I was listening to NPR’s On the Media which aired a story, “Does Science Fiction Predict the Future of Journalism?”  At least from the story it seems that journalist and professor Loren Ghiglione concludes that speculative fiction, aka science fiction, has proven to be a better predictor of what the future will bring than what “futurist” experts predict.  Futurists often base their thinking on current science, while speculative fiction writers invent the science which the future often holds.  Thus speculative fiction writers are not encumbered by existing limitations in technology nor in logic and thus are enabled to imagine a wide variety of technologies that currently are impossible or totally absurd.

The idea of “the future” helped me to understand the Big Bang Theory and the expanding universe.   The sense is that there really is nothing beyond the universe, but as it expands (something like an inflating balloon) it is in fact creating space. [So whereas the amount of matter plus energy in a closed system may be a constant, and thus E=mc2, space and time are not constants].  I always had a difficult time understanding how the universe could be expanding into “nothing” since it seemed to me the outer edge of the expanding universe must be pushing against something.  However (and this is where the future helps me understand this concept), I don’t think of the future as existing, and so time is expanding into nothingness and creating a larger time scale.    Time is not pushing against something that already exists but is in fact creating its expanding existence. [Even though we can imagine the future, that doesn’t mean it exists yet.  Time is wonderously strange – changed by gravity, and dependent on one’s point of observation].   The time it has taken me to type this, did not exist before.  Time isn’t filling something, it is creating something.  In the same way that time expands and creates more of what is, so too space is expanding and creating more of itself, or perhaps more of it is in the process of being created.  Space is not pushing against anything; it is not reducing something else while it expands.  There is nothing beyond the end of the universe.  This is a most marvelous mystery of a logic which is beyond my comprehension, just like the future and the nothing beyond the end of the expanding universe.

In the On the Media story, two quotes worth pondering:

Albert Einstein said, “If at first an idea does not seem absurd, there is no hope for it.”

I’m going to mix a little religion in with science here, for I think this remark applies very well to the claims of Christ’s disciples that He is risen from the dead.

Loren Ghiglione said, “The future is likely to be counter-factual and not built upon what has just happened.” 

When we try to envision the future based only on what is, we cannot see the future at all.   One needs only think about Johnnes Gutenberg or Thomas Edison creating devices, which they could not even envision what they were capable of doing to the world or what they would come to mean for the world.  Guttenberg went bankrupt, and Edison had to try to catch up to competitors who used his inventions in creative ways and who could imagine popular uses for his devices that he could not.

And the implication for Christianity?   Though Christianity is totally based upon Torah and the Old Testament, it was unexpected and really a New Testament.