To reflect on what the Dormition has to do with all of this jumble of events didn’t occur to me until the reception we had after my chrismation. At this reception, I got a card from the same Ukrainian ladies who had prepared the Dormition Feast, and they signed themselves off as the ‘Dormition of the Holy Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church.’
Here, I have more explaining to do. It turns out that I hardly ever think of the name of our church this way, partly because as a church plant in a mostly Chinese ethnoburb in Vancouver, we thought that it would not be so effective to try to attract Chinese folks with a temple named after the death (as they’d see it) of the Mother of God. After all, Chinese people are even afraid of the number four, which sounds like the word ‘death’ in Chinese; why would they even set foot into a temple named for the Dormition? Of course, we are not afraid of death, and we could teach them all about the repose of the saints and memory eternal later (on which we have held workshops), but the trick is getting them in the door first. Because of this, we call ourselves Richmond Eastern Catholic Church, which sounds even funnier in Chinese because 東正天主教會 translates into ‘Orthodox Catholic Church’ (betraying our ‘Orthodox-in-communion-with-Rome’ sympathies), which has resulted in our priest getting amusing phone calls from Hong Kong saying that we can’t be Orthodox and Catholic at the same time (whatever).
Bishop Ken came back this year, and this time, I remember what he said about the Dormition. Not only did he preach this year, but he came down from the altar to show us something cool about the icons. Pointing first to the icon of the Theotokos on the iconostas, he asked us to observe the Theotokos pointing to the Child Jesus in her arms, the Hodegetria, she who points to the way. Then coming to the tetrapod, he showed us the icon of the Dormition. Not only does it show the body of Mary asleep, but here the roles of the Theotokos and the Child are reversed: whereas in the Hodegetria, the Theotokos points to the Child Jesus, in the icon of the Dormition, it is Jesus who carries a baby Mary wrapped in white to heaven. Truly, he said, the ‘falling asleep’ of the Theotokos is also her birth in heaven.
It occurred to me then that it was the temple named for the Dormition at which I was assumed by Eastern Catholics. I’m only half-punning here; it really doesn’t matter how confused I was by my first Divine Liturgy, but that it occurred for me on the Feast of the Dormition means something to me now. The Divine Liturgy, after all, is the bringing of heaven to earth, and as much as our temple is not yet known for our music, the constant ‘Lord have mercy’ refrains as well as Bishop Ken’s homily were imprinted into my mind and impressed onto my heart. The Theotokos was assumed into heaven; I have been assumed into heaven on earth. We are no Hagia Sophia, but I can still agree with St Volodymyr Equal-to-the-Apostle’s envoys when they said of the Divine Liturgy in Constantinople:
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you, only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.
Now looking back on the whole thing, my confusion about the Divine Liturgy at the Dormition Feast turns out that the joke was on me and my assumptions, which means that my becoming Eastern Catholic at a church named for the Dormition can be described as one big joke. Maybe this is why I think that one of the astute readers who found my blog two minutes after my first post was published and called me a ‘joke’ perhaps speaks more of the truth than he knows.
I am a joke. In fact, our whole temple is a joke. Situated in Richmond as a mission to Chinese Canadians, our temple is named – of all things – for the Dormition. And yet here we are, daring to proclaim that what appears to be the death of the Theotokos is only her falling asleep, her birth in heaven, carried there by her Son. We are a temple in Richmond, and because we are named for the Dormition, we can even laugh at the number four.
G-d in his great love laughs at me. He laughs with our temple at the sting of death. And in his bosom, we laugh together as Christ has trampled death by death, for as the kondak hymn for today says, The tomb and death could not hold the Mother of God, unceasing in her intercession and unfailing hope of patronage, for, as the Mother of Life, she was transferred to life by Him Who had dwelt in her ever-virgin womb.