Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch

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Feast of the Dormition (Shoonoyo) & Assumption of the Virgin Mary

On the 15th of August of every year the Church celebrates the feast of the Dormition (Shoonoyo) and Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. On this day we also celebrate her feast for the blessing of the Vineyards. This feast is preceded by a period of fasting from 1-15 August. However, the Church being a caring mother, has permitted the faithful to observe only 5 days of fasting, from 10-15 of August. During these days faithful are asked to abstain from eating all foods which contain meat, eggs or dairy product. Only seafood is allowed.

The following is an excerpt from an essay on the Virgin Mary by His Holiness Mor Ignatius Zakk I, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. The entire text is posted in the library section of this website.

The Virgin’s Assumption

The virgin longed to ascend to heaven to join her son Jesus. Her dormition was in peace. The date of her death and how old she was have always been a controversial issue among historians. Most probably that was in AD 56 when she was seventy. Her Assumption in the flesh and soul was not instituted by the Syrian Church as a doctrine. The Virgin’s Assumption is a confessional patristic tradition based on the Syriac narrative of Apostle Thomas. In this narrative we read about the gathering of the Apostles in spirit in Jerusalem for the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, and about the late arrival of Tom, his encounter with the Virgin up in the sky on the way up to heaven, and his acquisition of her girdle, which he brought to the Apostles and his request to them to reopen her grave. When the Apostles did that they did not find her holy body. Thomas declared to them the truth of her ascension to heaven in her glorified flesh and that he witnessed her procession and received the girdle from her in testimony whereof. The Apostles believed him. Syriac tradition reports that Thomas took the girdle with him to India where he was martyred at the hands of pagan priests. When Thomas’ relics were taken to Edessa in the fourth century the girdle was brought with them. Finally the girdle reached the Church of the Virgin in Homs, which has been called the Church of the Virgin’s Girdle ever since. The girdle was discovered in 1852 during the time of Archbishop Mar Julius Peter (Later Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter 4th.). The girdle was placed in the altar. Late Patriarch Ephrem I Barsoum, of blessed memory, rediscovered the girdle in 1953. The shrine of the girdle in the church in Homs has become a source of blessing for the faithful.

The Possibility of The Virgin’s Ascension to Heaven

According to tradition, the virgin ascended to heaven. The question posed is: was paradise the abode of her soul just like all the righteous and pious? Or did she ascend to heaven soul and body? Her ascension to heaven in her glorified flesh is not something irrelevant to the Spirit of the Holy Book nor to the tolerant Christian confessional truths. If “Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah, the prophet ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11) wouldn’t the Virgin Mary, who bore the Lord nine months in her womb, gave birth to him and suckled him, rather be considered as worthy to have her body kept without corruption and to have it transformed into a spiritual one; and to ascend to heaven in soul and flesh to enjoy being with her beloved son Lord Jesus Christ? St. Jacob of Serugh, the doctor (521+) said in his Memre in Syriac on the death of the Virgin Mary,“When the virgin was on her death bed, Angels, the righteous, prophets and fathers descended on her from high upon the order of God. The twelve Apostles and Evangelists came…they buried her in a rocky cave. Glory prevailed in heaven and on earth when the angels beheld her soul ascending and flying towards abodes of lights”. The book ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagyte, the bishop of Athens (+95) relates that " upon the dormition of Mary, all the Apostles gathered together so quickly coming from the Four Corners of Earth, where they were preaching the word. They arrived in Jerusalem, the Residence City of blessed Mary, and then Jesus came with His angels. Jesus received her soul and handed it to Michael, the Archangel.

On the next day the Apostles laid the body in a grave and guarded the grave waiting for the appearance of the Lord. Jesus appeared once more and transferred her holy body to heaven on a cloud. Up there, her body was united to her soul to enjoy her everlasting joy."

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