Our cultural church traditions are replete with symbolic significance that reinforce profound theological truths. Sometimes we may feel the meaning of a ritual without being able to express why or how. When we can take time to reflect on a given tradition, it can speak to us in fresh ways. Although there is no biblical account of the Dormition, this feast day dates back to the earliest church communities in the first century. The Eastern Church Fathers recount several stories describing the death of Mary as it is depicted in the icon. We say her death is a “falling asleep” to this world, only to wake in God’s embrace. There is a story of her body vanishing from the tomb, replaced by fragrant flowers. By blessing flowers and herbs on this day, we, in our tradition, honour the mystery of cycles of death and life. We honour the sacred beauty of nature, it’s power to bring healing. When we recognize God in creation, our Tradition demands a deep respect for nature, that expects us to care for the environment and for humanity—because it is sacred.
Sometimes our church practices, may, on the surface, appear quaint, or antiquated; however, when we seriously think about them, they carry great responsibility. The pandemic has raised awareness of so much divisiveness amongst people, so much fear of otherness. It has uncovered our society’s gross neglect of those who need care: the elderly, impoverished, disabled. It has illustrated the acceleration of the climate crisis. We who celebrate Christ among us, and recognize the fruits of the earth as blessed, are called to experience a dying and rising to new life. We die to our greed, our fear of being different, our impulse to hate, in order to be reborn in love and generosity. This is not easy; it requires effort and commitment. We need each other’s support to care for others. Just as the apostles surround the body of Mary as Christ holds her soul, so too we surround each other so that our souls will live in Christ.