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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Dormition and the Assumption

Unknown icon painter
The Assumption of Our Lady
Beginning of the 13th century
Tempera on wood
155 х 128
The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow





August 15th is the Feast of the Dormition in the East. In the West it is the Feast of the Assumption.

The "Dormition of the Virgin Mary" is her "falling asleep" at the end of her time on earth.

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is Mary's bodily assumption into Heaven

Narrative images of the Assumption are often part of compositions that integrate the Dormition and Coronation of the Virgin

Doctrinally the Assumption is one of the most difficult subjects to depict. There is no account of it in the Gospels.

One of the earliest accounts is in Gregory of Tours Glory of the Martyrs 585-588 AD tr. Raymond Van Dam, Liverpool University Press, 1988 p. 22 :

“Although the blessed Mary had already been called [to live apart] from this world, finally the passage of her life was completed, and all the apostles gathered from their particular regions at her house. When they heard that she must be taken from the world, they all kept watch with her. And behold, the Lord Jesus came with his angels, and after taking her soul he gave it to the angel Michael and left. At dawn the apostles lifted her body on a bed, placed it in a tomb, and kept guard over it, in anticipation of the arrival of the Lord. And behold, again the Lord approached them. He took the holy body in a cloud and ordered it to be brought to Paradise, where, after regaining her soul, Mary now rejoices with his elect and enjoys the goodness of eternity that will never perish.”

In the East the iconography of the Assumption is based on a number of texts: ‘The Word’ of John the Theologian, ‘The Word’ of John, Bishop of Solun, the scriptures of Andrew of Crete, of Germanos I, Bishop of Constantinople, and of Cosmas of Maum and John of Damascus.

The composition was incorporated into the twelve great feasts cycle of the Orthodox liturgy. The icon of the Assumption was placed on the first tier of the iconastasis.

The main features of the Eastern iconography of the Assumption were established during the ninth to eleventh centuries AD

The account of (Ps.-)John the Theologian, The Dormition of the Holy Theotokos (6th century) is here.

At the centre of the composition there is a depiction of the body of Our Lady

Around the body of Our Lady are apostles and holy saints

Beyond the loge, in the centre of the composition rises the figure of Christ with the soul of Our Lady swaddled in a shroud.

In the upper part of the icon we see angels bearing the soul of Our Lady to the heavens and apostles flying in the clouds accompanied by angels

In the Troparion of the Byzantine Liturgy for the Feast of the Dormition, August 15the prayer is:

“In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death