"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Saturday, 15 August 2015


Today, on the Gregorian calendar, is the feast of the Dormition (or the Assumption, as it best known in the West). Here is a reflection by the 7th century monk, poet and theologian St John of Damascus.
Today, the holy and living ark of the living God, the one whose womb carried her own Creator, rests in the Lord's temple, a temple not built by human hands. David, her ancestor and God's relative, dances for joy (2 Sam 7:14); the angels dance in unison, the archangels applaud, and the powers of the heavens sing her glory...

She who enabled true life to spring forth for everyone, how could she fall into the power of death? Certainly, as a daughter of the old Adam, she submitted to the sentence that was pronounced against him, for her Son, who is Life itself, did not shy away from it. But as the mother of the living God, it is just that she be raised up to him... How could she who received in her womb Life itself, without beginning or end, not be alive for all eternity? In times past, the first parents of our mortal race, drunk with the wine of disobedience..., with a heavy spirit because of the intemperance of sin, fell asleep in the sleep of death. The Lord had chased and exiled them from the paradise of Eden. Now she who did not commit any sin and who bore the child of obedience to God and to the Father, how could paradise not welcome her, not joyfully open its doors to her? ... Since Christ, who is Life and Truth, said: «Where I am, there will my servant be» (Jn 12:26), how could his mother, all the more so, not share in his dwelling place? ...

So now «that the heavens are rejoicing», may all the angels acclaim her. «Let the earth rejoice,» (Ps 96:11), let human beings leap for joy. Let the air resound with songs of joy; let the night reject its darkness and its cloak of mourning... For the living city of the Lord, the God of powers is exalted. From the sanctuary of Zion, kings bring invaluable gifts (Ps 68:30). Those whom Christ established as princes over all the earth, the apostles, escort the Mother of God, ever a virgin, into the Jerusalem on high, which is free and our mother (Gal 4:26).

-- Saint John Damascene (c. 675-749)

2nd Homily on the Dormition, 2,3

Father Clifford Stevens

The Assumption is the oldest feast day of Our Lady, but we don't know how it first came to be celebrated.
Its origin is lost in those days when Jerusalem was restored as a sacred city, at the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 285-337). By then it had been a pagan city for two centuries, ever since Emperor Hadrian (76-138) had leveled it around the year 135 and rebuilt it as <Aelia Capitolina> in honor of Jupiter.

For 200 years, every memory of Jesus was obliterated from the city, and the sites made holy by His life, death and Resurrection became pagan temples.

After the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 336, the sacred sites began to be restored and memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated by the people of Jerusalem. One of the memories about his mother centered around the "Tomb of Mary," close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived.

On the hill itself was the "Place of Dormition," the spot of Mary's "falling asleep," where she had died. The "Tomb of Mary" was where she was buried.

At this time, the "Memory of Mary" was being celebrated. Later it was to become our feast of the Assumption.

For a time, the "Memory of Mary" was marked only in Palestine, but then it was extended by the emperor to all the churches of the East. In the seventh century, it began to be celebrated in Rome under the title of the "Falling Asleep" ("Dormitio") of the Mother of God.

Soon the name was changed to the "Assumption of Mary," since there was more to the feast than her dying. It also proclaimed that she had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven.

That belief was ancient, dating back to the apostles themselves. What was clear from the beginning was that there were no relics of Mary to be venerated, and that an empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death. That location also soon became a place of pilgrimage. (Today, the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition of Mary stands on the spot.)

At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when bishops from throughout the Mediterranean world gathered in Constantinople, Emperor Marcian asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol. The patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, that "Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later . . . was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven."

In the eighth century, St. John Damascene was known for giving sermons at the holy places in Jerusalem. At the Tomb of Mary, he expressed the belief of the Church on the meaning of the feast: "Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay. . . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth."

All the feast days of Mary mark the great mysteries of her life and her part in the work of redemption. The central mystery of her life and person is her divine motherhood, celebrated both at Christmas and a week later (Jan. 1) on the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) marks the preparation for that motherhood, so that she had the fullness of grace from the first moment of her existence, completely untouched by sin. Her whole being throbbed with divine life from the very beginning, readying her for the exalted role of mother of the Savior.

The Assumption completes God's work in her since it was not fitting that the flesh that had given life to God himself should ever undergo corruption. The Assumption is God's crowning of His work as Mary ends her earthly life and enters eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we will follow when our earthly life is over.

The feast days of the Church are not just the commemoration of historical events; they do not look only to the past. They look to the present and to the future and give us an insight into our own relationship with God. The Assumption looks to eternity and gives us hope that we, too, will follow Our Lady when our life is ended.

The prayer for the feast reads: "All-powerful and ever-living God: You raised the sinless Virgin Mary, mother of your Son, body and soul, to the glory of heaven. May we see heaven as our final goal and come to share her glory."

In 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution <Munificentissimus Deus>, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary a dogma of the Catholic Church in these words: "The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven."

With that, an ancient belief became Catholic doctrine and the Assumption was declared a truth revealed by God.

The Assumption was Catholic doctrine before Pius XII made it a dogma, because it was celebrated in the Catholic liturgy which, according to Pius XI, is the principal expression of the ordinary magisterium of the Church.   For the first  three centuries, the ordinary magisterium was all the Church had, but it was no less infallible than now.

Today the heaven of heavens 

proclaims her sister
· The dormition of Mary in Syro-Oriental iconography ·
Aug. 13, 2015

Syro-Oriental tradition, to which the Assyrian Church and the Chaldean Church belong, has outstanding hymnographic texts for celebrations of the Most Holy Virgin Mary. Many of these texts are included in our liturgical books for various celebrations, and particularly notable are the hymns of George Warda, a writer who lived during the 12th and 13th centuries in Arbela, now Iraq.

The name Warda, which means ‘rose’ in Syrian, is a nickname tied to his poetic compositions in Syro-Oriental liturgical books. His writings included theological poems and metrical homilies for the feasts of the Lord, the Virgin Mary and saints. In two of his hymns dedicated to Mary, we find deeply embedded the them of her passage to heaven. There are texts in which the writer meditates on the mystery of Mary, virgin and mother of Christ, redeemer of man. These lines, inspired by texts of one of the theological and liturgical traditions of the Christian Near East, seek also to be a form of prayer and closeness to many Christians of the Syro-Oriental tradition and of the other Christian traditions which today are suffering and persecuted.

Warda begins both of his hymns attaching to Mary a long series of Christological and Mariological titles taken from Old Testament texts and facts: “Were I to call her (Mary) earth, it would be senseless, for I know that no one on earth bears her likeness. I could compare her to a garden, her four corners separated by four rivers. But the spring which flowed from paradise saved no one. From Mary, however, gushed a wellspring, which four mouths dispelled, inebriating all the earth”. Warda continues his exegetical comparison with the use of figures and characters taken from the Book of Genesis, for example, the tree, the ark, the rock, the bush: “She is the splendid tree which produced the marvellous fruit. She is the ark of flesh in which the true Noah rested. She is the daughter of Abraham for whose figure Adam provided. She bore the son and Lord of Abraham. She is the rock from whence the well has sprung. She is the extraordinary burning bush, in which dwelled for nine months the incandescent flame”.

In the central portion of both hymns, the poet sings the mystery of the death of Mary. Following apocryphal tradition, George Warda describes, one might say, all the liturgy celebrated in full communion between heaven and earth. He describes in the first place – practically seeing and contemplating the iconographic representation of the feast – the presence of all personages that come from heaven to celebrate Mary in her passage: “On the day her body separated from her glorious soul, angels solemnly hastened from heaven to pay homage to her, the womb from which life poured out for all mankind. The angels came from on high, the prophets rose again, the four winds brought the apostles to celebrate her glory”. Almost drawing a parallel between the death and resurrection of Christ and that of his mother, Warda sings the passover of Mary by making present even the figure of Adam and his descendants: “There came Adam, who was killed by his wife, to see his daughter exalted. There came Israel and his forefathers, Isaiah and his companions. Prophets along with patriarchs, apostles with the shepherds. In life she lived a worldly death and, in dying, called the dead back to life. The prophets came out of their sepulchres, the patriarchs from their tombs”. Then, following an iconographic description, he continues: “She was carried on the clouds and exalted among the spirits, to receive immortal praise for all eternity”. The writer continues to describe in every detail the liturgy which is at once both heavenly and earthly, around Mary’s passing; a liturgy celebrated by angels and by men, by the prophets and apostles, by the whole of Creation, in praise of Mary and of Christ himself. There are verses in which George Warda adopts such beautiful and touching images as that of the rain which envies Mary’s womb: “The firmament and clouds bend their knees, and lightening joins with thunder to radiate her splendour and disperse the glory of her Son. Rain and dew covet her womb for, while theirs nourish only the seeds of the earth, hers had the honour of nourishing the seeds’ Creator. The stars adore her, the sun and moon kneel before her. Heaven proclaims her holy, the heaven of heavens proclaims her sister”.

Thus, to digress from the description made in the apocryphal tradition of the feast, the poet positions even the terrestrial next to the celestial liturgy, with the presence of the Twelve next to the funeral bed of Mary: “Several of the apostles were already dead, the others were still living but far away. The dead came back to life, and those far away gathered, at her death”. The celestial and terrestrial liturgy celebrated by angels and the apostles who become, with Mary, intercessors for all mankind: “The apostles, in procession, bore her body, the prophets and priests escorted her casket. Angels wove crowns and igneous mouths paid her homage. In the moment of her passing, her intercession came to the aid of the afflicted. The sick and the suffering souls were soothed upon the invocation of her great name”.

George Warda concludes the second of his hymns with a long series of beatitudes to Mary, which are a song of the Word of God incarnate in her: “Blessed are you, o Virgin betrothed, o woman who engendered a son. Blessed are you, o fatherless mother, whose Son had no father among mortal men. Blessed are you, o earth, in whom was formed and in whom abided, becoming flesh, the God of Abraham. Blessed are you, o city of the Most High and tabernacle of the Son of the Creator. Blessed are you, o earthly heaven whom the waters above heaven envied. Blessed are you, through whom eternal salvation was restored for Adam and his offspring”. And as we often find among Christian hymnal texts, Warda too requests at the end of his hymns for Mary’s intercession and prayer: “Ask for me, the worst sinner of all men, and for all people who celebrate your feast, the pardon and forgiveness of sins, you, whose Son reigns in eternal glory. Amen”.

Manuel Nin

by Abbot Paul of Belmont Abbey (UK)
icon of Our Lady in Belmont Abbey Church
painted by a monk

Assumption 2015

            “Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.” With these words the Book of the Apocalypse celebrates God’s final victory over sin and death through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When we look at history and contemplate the scenes of destruction in the world today – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Holy Land, Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, you name it, the effects of terrorist activity, the hundreds of thousands of migrant refugees, or the ecological destruction wrought and perpetuated by mankind, when we come face to face with the power of evil, it is hard to believe in the reality of this victory.

            Yet our faith in God’s plan of salvation and eternal life and his trust in the goodness of Creation does allow a flicker of light to shine through the bleak darkness of the times in which we live. Indeed, faith in the Resurrection has given Christians hope and consolation in the most horrific situations the world has ever known. Think of St Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast we recently celebrated.

            Not only is the Resurrection the answer to every question, it also gives meaning and understanding to the Mystery of Christ and so to the Mystery of Man. It was when he rose from the dead that the disciples finally understood who Jesus was and what everything he had told them really meant. Suddenly it all fell into place. At last they began to see the big picture, God’s scheme of things, the History of Salvation and our part in it.

            Just as every feast is centred on Easter and derives its meaning and purpose from the Resurrection of Christ, so too the feast of the Assumption, and our knowledge and belief that Mary, the Mother of God, was taken up body and soul into heaven. It became the central feast of Our Lady from which all the others sprang, the matrix of Marian devotion. The Assumption came to be known as Little Easter or Easter in Summer and in many parts of Europe Catholics make their Easter duty today.

            There is a lovely antiphon that says, “Through Mary, the gate of heaven, you came to crown our hope and fulfilment: today she goes before us into your kingdom.”

            Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God took flesh and blood from Mary and that flesh and blood was raised to the glory of eternal life at his Resurrection and Ascension. Through the Incarnation, he shared his divine life with us as in Mary’s womb we shared our humanity with him. That humanity entered the glory of heaven when the risen Christ ascended to the Father’s right hand. As a special privilege, as a foretaste of our common destiny, that flesh and blood entered into the glory of heaven a second time when Our Lady fell asleep and was assumed body and soul, such was the power and the depth of her divine Son’s love for his Blessed Mother. But why say a second time, when there is but one Mystical Body and we are all living stones making up the Body of Christ?

            “All men will be brought to life in Christ; Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him. After that will come the end.” We heard these words from First Corinthians this morning. We belong to him through our faith and baptism. We also belong to him through Mary, the glory of our race, the Mother of all who live and Queen of heaven. Today we celebrate the Easter Mystery, the Mystery of Salvation, the truth and joy of Eternal Life, made manifest in Mary, the “lowly handmaid” of the Lord. “Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.” The Magnificat is not only Mary’s song of praise and thanksgiving for what God has done in her. It is also a prophecy of what he will do in each one of us, if we truly believe and try to live the lowliness, the humility and the deep faith of Mary. “His mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.”

            “Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.” Christ is risen and Mary is assumed into heaven. Alleluia, alleluia

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