Daily readings for the Dormition Fast 2017
Today, wherever we are in the world, we join together as chapel community to begin the fourteen day 'Fast of the Dormition’ that will conclude with the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary (as our Prayer Book describes it) on Tuesday, 15 August, with a Holy Communion in the Chapel at 5 PM.
In our Confirmation Class this past year (and perhaps in the Friday evening STAS sessions) we learned how the Christian Year began with the celebration of Easter, then was preceded by a 40-day Fast, and followed by the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost 40 and 50 days after Easter respectively. These primary Fasts and Feasts follow the lunar year and are moveable. The Christian Feasts of the solar year (‘fixed feasts') consist of three main ‘cycles’: (1) the Feasts of the Martyrs and Saints; (2) the Feasts of the life of Christ, and; (3) the Feasts of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The festal cycle of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or Theotokos - ‘God-bearer’) and the Christ cycle are ‘nested’ in each other in that feasts such as the Annunciation, Christmas, Candlemas, Ascension and Pentecost involve both Christ and His Blessed Mother.
The intimate connection of the Christ and Marian cycles is evident to us in the next 14 days as we prepare to celebrate the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Even as we keep the 14-day 'Dormition Fast', we celebrate the wonderful Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord on Sunday, 6 August.
As Chapel community let us keep the Formation Fast as we are able, and if possible let us gather on Sunday, 6 August at 5 PM for Evensong to celebrate the Transfiguration. There will be a concert in the chapel later that evening to assist us in our celebration.
Let us keep the Fast.
Let us keep the Feast.
Under the Mercy,
To the Immaculate Virgin, On a Winter Night
Thomas Merton, OCSO
Lady, the night is falling and the dark
Steals all the blood from the scarred west.
The stars come out and freeze my heart
With drops of untouchable music, frail as ice
And bitter as the new year's cross.
Where in the world has any voice
Prayed to you, Lady, for the peace that's in your power?
In a day of blood and many beatings
I see the governments rise up, behind the steel horizon,
And take their weapons and begin to kill.
Where in the world has any city trusted you?
Out where the soldiers camp the guns begin to thump
And another winter time comes down
To seal our years in ice.
The last train cries out
And runs in terror from this farmer's valley
Where all the little birds are dead.
The roads are white, the fields are mute
There are no voices in the wood
And trees make gallows up against the sharp-eyed stars.
Oh where will Christ be killed again
In the land of these dead men?
Lady, the night has got us by the heart
And the whole world is tumbling down.
Words turn to ice in my dry throat
Praying for a land without prayer,
Walking to you on water all winter
In a year that wants more war.
Theotokos: A Sonnet
You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and wild
Waves surround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.
From a sermon on the Dormition
Bishop Augustinos (+2010)
However, beyond all of the individual lessons which we gather from the various details of the story of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the most important lesson which the Most-Holy Theotokos offers is that the name of death has changed. Death, from the hour when Christ was crucified, from the hour that He descended to hades and shattered the gates of brass and triumphed, from that hour, it is no longer something fearsome or abominable, like it was to be feared and hated in the world before Christianity. From the time that Christ rose as a victor from the pits of hades, from that hour, death changed from its fearsome and abominable character. On this point, we speak of, for those before Christ, the death of Socrates, of Aristotle, of Plato. But what do we say? From [the time of Christ] on, if you believe, death is falling asleep. Because of this, we say the Dormition of the Theotokos. Man does not perish. ... For the Christian who believes in Christ Who said "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25), death is falling asleep.
As soon as it is evening, the mother takes her child and places him in the cradle to sleep. Is there a mother who, when she places her child in the cradle, cries? Have you ever seen this? Never. Because she hears the child's breath and says: "Sleep, my child, sleep." She knows that when morning comes, the child will awaken alive, like the flower that comes from the dew. Like the mother who doesn't cry, therefore, when her child is sleeping in her arms, because she knows that he will awake again, thus Christians do not wail for the dead, according to the advice of the Apostle Paul: "Do not mourn." (1st Thessalonians 4:13).
It is not a lie--our religion is true--it is a fact that, above the graves, above the tombs, there will come the sound of a trumpet. As certain as we are that tomorrow morning is Monday, be so certain that the day will come, the great day, when above the graves will be heard the heavenly trumpet, and the dead will arise. Because of this, when we pray, it is not "on behalf of the dead", but "on behalf of our beloved who have fallen asleep". And because of this, in the ancient years, those people who believed expressed themselves with faith. What would I do today with degrees, what would I do with universities and diplomas, when there is no faith? Give me a letter from one of the faithful, and I will give you all the diplomas of the world. Faith is above everything. Therefore, in the ancient years, when there was faith, the places where the dead were buried were not called nekrotaphia (or burial place of the dead), but cemeteries [i.e. the place where they are sleeping]. And above the crosses they did not write "died", but "reposed".
This is the lesson given us by today's feast. And something else: that we might prepare ourselves ahead of time.
Learning from Trees
If we could,
like the trees,
do it every year
just as something we do—
like going on vacation
or celebrating birthdays,
it would become
as easy a part of us
as our hair or clothing.
Someone would show us how
to lie down and fade away
as if in deepest meditation,
and we would learn
about the fine dark emptiness,
both knowing it and not knowing it,
and coming back would be irrelevant.
Whatever it is the trees know
when they stand undone,
we need to know also
so we can allow
that last thing
to happen to us
as if it were only
any ordinary thing,
leaves and lives
the spirit, complex,
waiting in the fine darkness
to learn which way
it will go.
From a sermon of Jeremy Taylor
17th century Anglican divine
By the cross of Christ stood the holy Virgin-mother, upon whom old Simeon’s prophecy was now verified; for now she felt ‘a sword piercing through her very soul’, she stood without clamour and ... noises; sad, silent, and with a modest grief; deep as the waters of the abyss, but smooth as the face of a pool; full of love, and patience, and sorrow and hope. Now she was put to it to make use of all those excellent discourses her holy Son had used to build up her spirit, and fortify it against this day. Now she felt the blessings and strengths of faith; and she passed from the griefs of the passion to the expectation of the resurrection; and she rested in this death, as in a sad remedy; for she knew it reconciled God with all the world. But her hope drew a veil before her sorrow, and though her grief was great enough to swallow her up, yet her love was greater, and did swallow up her grief
August 6: Feast of the Transfiguration
So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Gave back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere? Was the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place. The painted animals
Assembled there in gentle congregations,
Or sought apart their leafy oratories,
Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together,
As if, also for them, the day had come.
The shepherds’ hovels shone, for underneath
The soot we saw the stone clean at the heart
As on the starting-day. The refuse heaps
Were grained with that fine dust that made the world;
For he had said, ‘To the pure all things are pure.’
And when we went into the town, he with us,
The lurkers under doorways, murderers,
With rags tied round their feet for silence, came
Out of themselves to us and were with us,
And those who hide within the labyrinth
Of their own loneliness and greatness came,
And those entangled in their own devices,
The silent and the garrulous liars, all
Stepped out of their dungeons and were free.
Reality or vision, this we have seen.
If it had lasted but another moment
It might have held for ever! But the world
Rolled back into its place, and we are here,
And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
As if it had never stirred; no human voice
Is heard among its meadows, but it speaks
To itself alone, alone it flowers and shines
And blossoms for itself while time runs on.
But he will come again, it’s said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things,
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice. In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled—
Glad to be so—and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother’s knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.
Deep within the clay, and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the tinder of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew lights gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a King whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.
So God spoke to her,
she the poor girl from the village
without learning. "Play me,"
he said, "on the white keys
of your body. I have seen you dance
for the bridegrooms that were not
to be, while I waited for you
under the ripening boughs of
the myrtle. These people know me
only in the thin hymns of
the mind, in the arid sermons
and prayers. I am the live God,
nailed fast to the old tree
of a nation by its unreal
tears. I thirst, I thirst
for the spring water. Draw it up
for me from your heart's well and I will change
it to wine upon your unkissed lips.
From A Litany
THE VIRGIN MARY.
For that fair blessed mother-maid,
Whose flesh redeem'd us, that she-cherubin,
Which unlock'd paradise, and made
One claim for innocence, and disseizèd sin,
Whose womb was a strange heaven, for there
God clothed Himself, and grew,
Our zealous thanks we pour. As her deeds were
Our helps, so are her prayers; nor can she sue
In vain, who hath such titles unto you.
The angel did not draw attention to himself.
He came in. So quietly I could hear
my blood beating on the shore of absolute
beauty. There was fear, yes, but also
faith among familiar things:
light, just letting go the wooden chair,
the breeze, at the doorway, waiting to come in
where, at the table, I prepared a meal,
my knife cutting through the hard skin
of vegetable, hitting wood, and the noise
outside of children playing with their dog,
throwing him a bone. Then all these sounds
dropped out of hearing. The breeze
drew back, let silence come in first,
and my heart, my heart, was wanting him,
reaching out, and taking hold of smooth-muscled fire.
And it was done. I heard the children laugh
and saw the dog catch the scarred bone.
I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
Not borne on morning wings
Of majesty, but I have set my feet
Amidst the delicate and bladed wheat
That springs triumphant in the furrowed sod.
There do I dwell in weakness and in power;
Not broken or divided, saith our God!
Is your strait garden plot I come to flower:
About your porch my vine
Meek, fruitful, doth entwine;
Waits, at the threshold, Love’s appointed hour.
I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
Yes! on the glancing wings
Of eager birds, the softly pattering feet
Of furred and gentle beasts, I come to meet
Your hard and wayward heart. In brown bright eyes
That peep from out the brake, I stand confessed.
On every nest
Where feathery patience is content to brood
And leaves her pleasure for the high emprise
There doth my Godhead rest.
I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
My starry wings
I do forsake,
Love’s highway of humility to take:
Meekly I fit my stature to your need.
In beggar’s part
About your gates I shall not cease to plead—
As man, to speak with man—
Till by such art
I shall achieve my immemorial plan,
Pass the low lintel of the human heart.
The Death of Mary I
Rainer Maria Rilke
The same tall Angel who once brought the news
Of the birth to her,
Stood there, waiting for her to notice him,
And spoke: Now is the time for you to appear.
And she was frightened as then and proved herself
Again as the maid servant, deeply affirming his command.
But he was radiant and coming infinitely closer,
vanished, yet shone from her face, and called
The widely dispersed proselytizers
To gather at the house on the hill,
The house of the last supper. They arrived more heavily
And entered with fear: There she lay, stretched out
In the narrow bedstead, mysteriously bathed in
Ruin and in being chosen,
Wholly unharmed, like one who had not been used,
And listened to angelic song.
Then, when she saw them all waiting behind their candles,
she tore herself away from the surfeit of
Of the voices and with an overflowing heart yet gave away
the two dresses that she possessed,
And lifted her face to this one and that one...
(Oh origin of nameless brooks of tears).
But she settled into her weakness
And pulled the heavens down to Jerusalem
So closely, that her soul,
As it left her, only had to stretch a little:
Already he, who knew everything about her,
Lifted her into her divine nature.
The Death of Mary II
Rainer Maria Rilke
Who had realized that until her arrival
the crowded heavens had been incomplete?
The risen one had taken his seat,
but next to him, for twenty-four years,
there was an empty space. And they began already
to get used to the pure gap,
which seemed to have healed, because with his beautiful
spreading radiance the son was filling it.
Thus, when she entered the heavens,
she did not go towards him, despite her strong longing;
there was no room, only He was there and shone
with a radiance that hurt her.
But just now as her moving figure joined
with the new blessed ones
and stood discreetly, as light with light, next to them,
there erupted from her being such an assault of
glowing light, that the blinded angel who was illuminated by her
cried out: Who is this one?
A wonderment arose. Then they all saw
how God-Father above shielded our Lord,
so that in the mild gloaming
the empty spot could now be seen
like a small pain, a sense of loneliness,
as something he was still bearing, a remnant from
his time on earth, a dried up injury-.
They watched her; she looked ahead with fear,
bent far forward, as if she felt: I am
His most enduring pain-; and suddenly broke forth.
But the angels took her in their fold
and steadied her and sang with blessed voices
and carried her up the final steps.
The Death of Mary III
Rainer Maria Rilke
However, sooner than the apostle Thomas, who
Came after it was too late, the quick angel, who had
long been prepared for this, stepped in
and ordered at the burial place:
Push the stone aside. If you want to know
Where she is, who moves your heart:
Look: just as a lavender pillow
She had been laid in there for a while,
That in the future the earth would smell of her
In its folds like a fine cloth.
Everything dead (do you feel), everything sick
Is stunned by her fragrance.
Look at the linen: where is it white,
Where becomes blinding and does not shrink?
This light out of this pure corpse
Was more clarifying to him than sunshine
Aren't you amazed, how gently she escaped him?
It is almost as if she were still here, nothing has moved.
But the Heavens are shaking above:
Man, kneel down and see me go and sing
August 15: The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Theotokos
From Homily 3 on the Dormition
St Andrew of Crete (8th century)
This is the final goal of the covenants God has made with us; this is the revelation of the hidden depths of God's incomprehensibility. This is the realization intended before all the ages; this is the crown of God's oracles, the inexplicable, supremely unknowable will of him who had cared for humanity since before creation began. This is the first-fruit of God's communion with his creation, of His identification as Maker of all things, with what He has made. This is the concrete, personal pledge of God's reconciliation with humanity, the surpassing beauty of God's sculpture, the perfectly-drawn portrait of the divine model. This is the first step to all ascent, to all contemplation; the holy tabernacle of him who made the world; the vessel that received the inexhaustible wisdom of God; the inviolate treasury of life. This is the spring of divine radiance, which can never be drunk dry; the impregnable stronghold, raised so high over all of us in its purity that it can never be conquered by passion. Through this woman [the Theotokos], the pledge of our salvation has been made and kept, in that this marvelous creature has both reached the limits of our lot and has paid the common debt proper to our nature. And if not all the features of her life were the same as ours, that is due simply to her nearness to God.
From a sermon on the Annunciation
Archdeacon Mark Frank
17th century Anglican divine
For God hath exalted the humble and meek, the humble handmaid better than the proudest lady. Blessed the devout affection that is always watching for her Lord in prayer and meditations; none so happy, so blessed, as she; the Lord comes to none so soon as such.
Yet not to such at any time more fully than in the blessed Sacrament to which we are now a-going. There he is strangely with us, highly favours us, exceedingly blesses us; there we are all made blessed Marys, and become mothers, sisters, and brothers of our Lord, whilst we hear his word and conceive it in us; whilst we believe him who is the Word, and receive him too into us. There angels come to us on heavenly errands, and there our Lord indeed is with us; and we are blessed, and the angels hovering all about to peep into those holy mysteries, think us so, call us so. There graces pour down in abundance on us, - there grace is in its fullest plenty, - there his highest favours are bestowed upon us, - there we are filled with grace, unless we hinder it, and shall hereafter in the strength of it be exalted into glory - there to sit down with this blessed Virgin and all the saints and angels, and sing praise, and honour, and glory, to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for ever and ever.