Sermon preached by Archbishop Gabriel of Comana on the Feast of the Dormition, at the church of the Holy Trinity and the Annunciation, Oxford, 28 August 2006.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Bishop Basil, my brothers in the priesthood and the diaconate, and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
Today we are celebrating the Holy Dormition of the Mother of God. We do not celebrate the death of the Mother of God, but Her Dormition. It is a feast because all the Apostles were there, with one exception – Thomas – and there is the singing of angels, there is a spiritual joy in Jerusalem, on the day of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
And that is why for us Orthodox Christians the Dormition of the Mother of God is what we are pray that we ourselves may have in every service – a Christian ending to our lives, painless, unashamed and peaceful, and a good answer before the dread Judgement seat of Christ. The Mother of God, the holy virgin, is the first saint of the Church. We see in the Mother of God a perfect Christian. We see our own vocation as a reality in Her life and death. And that is why She is so important for all of us. She is an example for us, but at the same time we know that because She is the Mother of Christ, the Mother of God, She prays for us, and we can ask in our prayers for Her to be with us now and also at the time of our death. And we believe very strongly that She will be there because, as I have said, She is the first saint of the Church.
But She was also the first saint before the Dormition. And the life of the Mother of God can be for us an example of a Christian life – why?
In the first place She is for us all an example of a human being who obeys the word of God. That is also important for us. We are Christians. We are Orthodox Christians, and that means that we also have to accept and to be obedient to the word of God: the Gospel is like a constitution for us because it is the word of God.
Secondly, the Mother of God was a human being who prayed, who was always with Christ, not only physically but spiritually – at the first sign, the first miracle of Christ, She takes the initiative: She was there. And that is also something for us – we are Christians so we have to stay in the Church. The life of the Church is necessary for us to be saved – not only the Gospel, the word of Christ, but the work of Christ in the community of the Church.
And the third thing – this is very important – the Mother of God is an example of obedience to Her own Son. And that is also important for us, because we have the Gospel – the word of the Lord; we have the life of the Church; and then we have our bishops. It is important and necessary for us to be obedient also to the bishop because he is in the Church the icon of Christ. He is not an authority like the civil authorities. He is not a king but a servant. We are your servants. Like all bishops, we are the icon of Christ in this community which is the Church.
So we cannot separate the Gospel, Church life and our obedience to Christ, to His icon in the Church which is the bishop. If we accept that, and if we have a life in that spirit, then the end of our life here in this world will be also not a death but a dormition – a holy dormition – and we will receive from Christ the Kingdom of heaven.
Let us be faithful. Let us be obedient. Let us accept the Gospel as the word of God, and the life of the Church as a community of love, and let us attend to the words of our bishops, in order to be Christians, to be real disciples of Christ. Amen.