August 15, 2020

Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church 

Southampton, New York

 

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

How wonderful it is to return to this blesséd church of the Hamptons and to celebrate with all of you, your glorious feast – the Holy Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary.

As I stand here under the dome of Heaven so magnificently portrayed above, I am moved particularly by the Psalmic verse that encircles the drum of the dome. For it brings together all of the iconography and ties it to the present Feast of the Dormition and little Pascha of the Theotokos that we celebrate:

Ἀνάστηθι, Κύριε, εἰς τὴν ἀνάπαυσιν σου, σὺ καὶ ἡ κιβωτὸς τοῦἁγιάσματός σου.

Arise, O Lord, into Your rest; You and the ark of Your holiness.[*]

The vision of Heaven above us is of our Lord, the Παντοκράτωρ, holding the Everlasting Gospel and bestowing His blessing. Around Him is a rainbow of latticework which speaks of the Mother of God, for she is the framework of all humanity, through whom the Lord looks out upon us all.

This feature of your dome, here in the Hamptons, echoes the very first Church constructed in Constantinople, lost for more than five hundred years, the Church of the Holy Apostles. This was the first Church built by Saint Constantine himself in the City that bears his name. Sadly, it was destroyed to make way for a mosque, and now its treasures lie buried beneath the streets of the City.

But there is a very special memory of it, described more than eight hundred years ago by Nicholas Mesarites, who eventually became the Metropolitan of Ephesus. He speaks of the dome of the Holy Apostles in this way:

“This dome, exhibits an image of the God-Man Christ looking down, as it were, from the rim of heaven … looking forth through the windows and leaning out through the lattice after the manner of irresistibly ardent lovers.” [†]

I want you to all to look up into the dome of your Church. And I want you to understand that you have created something very special – this visual echo of the first Church of Constantinople, which is now gone from view for centuries. But it lives on, because of your faith.

In these difficult days when we have seen our Hagia Sophia seized and her wondrous icons covered, when the glorious Chora and her mosaics and frescos are in grave danger, I tell you this. Knowing that our Eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate here in America is preserving the deep memories of the Church of Constantinople brings joy to my heart. Your faith honors the Virgin. Your faith honors the Great Church of Christ. Your faith honors this feast of the Dormition that we celebrate today.

For, as I said before, the Virgin is the window, the latticework, through which, and through whom, the Lord sees all of us. Is this not a wonderful thing to imagine?

Who better to think of with love than your own mother? And if the Lord sees every human being through His mother, will He not extend to them every blessing, every grace, every saving mercy?

Consider your own mothers, whether they are among the living, or with those who have passed on. Can you imagine a world where everyone treats everyone else as their own mother? Cruelty would vanish overnight! Misery would disappear in a day! Love and respect for every child of God would be the usual, commonplace occurrence.

My beloved Christians, that is why this Feast of the Dormition is exemplified in the verse that surrounds the drum of the dome. For truly, the Lord has gone up into His rest. In His Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven He has gone up in glory. But who would leave His Mother behind?

She, who is the Ark of His Holiness, in whose womb He was conceived and from whose womb He was born. Who nursed Him, cared for Him, washed Him and tucked Him into bed at day’s end. She also ascends in glory to the celestial mansions prepared for all of us.

This is the person par excellence that the Lord Jesus Christ sees when He looks at us. For, as we say in the Creed, He is consubstantial with His Father, but He is also consubstantial with His mother, and we are as well through our shared human nature.

Then it should be no wonder, but still a marvelous miracle, that the Virgin tastes of the first-fruits of the Resurrection by her Holy Dormition. And she continues her Son’s mission of caring and granting mercy to the world.

As we chant in the Apolytikion of the day:

Ἐν τῇ Γεννήσει τὴν παρθενίαν ἐφύλαξας, ἐν τῇ Κοιμήσει τὸν κόσμον οὐ κατέλιπες Θεοτόκε.

In giving Birth you preserved your virginity, and in Your Dormition you have not forsaken the world, O Theotokos.

* * *

My beloved, this is our hope and our salvation.

May our Lord Jesus Christ always behold us through His love for His Holy Mother, and may this Church of the Dormition always bear witness to this love of God for every human being.

Amen.


[*] Psalm 131:8 (LXX).

[†] Quoted in Cyril Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312 – 1453, page 232. The last phrase is from the Canticles of Canticles 2:9 (LXX): παρακύπτων διὰ τῶν θυρίδων, ἐκκύπτων διὰ τῶν δικτύων.