Although not much is said about the life of the Theotokos in Holy Scripture, there is a lot said about her in the writings of the early church fathers, and so the story is passed along throughout the generations within the true Church. I thought it would be helpful to share some of this information before the feast, so we could begin to prepare our families to celebrate it as richly as possible this Thursday.
Tradition tells us that after the descent of the Holy Spirit at the feast of Pentecost, the disciples remained in Jerusalem with Our Lady as their Mother. Learning details from her concerning her own life, the annunciation, and the early life of Christ, they bonded as a new "church family" for about 10 years. As the disciples departed to spread the Gospel to all the nations and the persecution of Christians began under King Herod, it became clear that Our Blessed Mother's life was in danger. She then, along with St. John the Evangelist, fled to Ephesus in the year 43AD. It is said by the first century martyr, Dionysius, that Our Lady often visited Jerusalem after her move to Ephesus and would often pray at the burial site of her Son, although it was quite dangerous for her to do so during the persecution. It was during one of these vigils that the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and foretold to her the details of her Dormition. She took to her bed, awaiting her departure and prayed fervently that St. John, whom she dearly loved, could be with her as she left the earth. Mystically, and to his great surprise, he was transported by the Holy Spirit from Ephesus, to Jerusalem to be with her. She further prayed for the other apostles to be with her, and mystically, and surprisingly, the apostles began to appear before her, along with St. Paul, Dionysius the Aeropagite, who rendered the account of this event, and the other friends and followers of Christ who had known her in life. All were surprised to find themselvs beside her sick bed and marveled at the fact that they had been gathered together so quickly. Each one, in turn, paid their tearful respects and received words of wisdom and blessing from our Blessed Mother. She prayed with them that their preaching might be successful and that the whole world would be converted to the truth. At 9 AM, with everyone present praying around her sick bed, a brilliant cloud appeared above them and they saw Christ Himself descend, along with a myriad of angels and the souls of all the patriarchs and prophets. As she saw her Son coming for her, Our Lady began to pray the magnificat once again, as she did the first time He approached her and afterward, she joyfully fell asleep and joined Him. All at once, the angels began to sing a joyful song,
“Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women! For lo, the Queen, God’s Maiden comes, lift up the gates, and with the Ever-Existing One, take up the Mother of Light; for through Her salvation has come to all the human race. It is impossible to gaze upon Her, and it is impossible to render Her due honor”
At the time when she joined her Son, the body of the Theotokos had remained present to the apostles, but had begun to emit a sweet and beautiful fragrance. Everyone who approached it for veneration was consoled, and there were many healings among them. The apostles sorrowfully prepared to bury the body, according to their custom, and carried it in procession to its tomb at Gethsemane, with candles and incense. As they processed, a circular cloud, like a crown, appeared to follow the body of Our Lady and the angels were heard to sing along with the mourners as they walked along. Because of the persecution, there were many who were determined to upset the procession, and even to set the body on fire, because she was the mother of Jesus. When the soldiers arrived to arrest them, however, they could only hear them singing, but could not see them. Several were actually struck completely blind. A Jewish priest named Anthonios, who intended to push the funeral bier and topple the body to the ground, found his hands cut off by the invisible sword of an angel. Shocked, he repented, received healing, and joined the procession. Later, he would become a most zealous convert.
The apostles proceeded to place the body of Our Lady into a tomb and stand vigil there for three days. Once again, it is said, that St. Thomas, by an act of God, was late in arriving to say farewell to Mary and was heartbroken. He begged them to open the tomb so that he could pay his respects and venerate the body. When they did so, she was not there. Only beautifully fragrant flowers remained in the place where the body had been lain. They all rejoiced as they realized that she had been assumed bodily into heaven.
That evening, she would appear to them as they prepared for their evening meal, telling them she would be with them always. They decided to set aside a portion of their bread for her, as they always did for the Savior, beginning a new custom which is observed at monasteries to this day.
Blessed Floral Sachets of the Dormition Feast
Today, we bring flowers to church to be blessed after the Divine Liturgy, in memory of those flowers found in the tomb of Our Lady. It is customary to keep these flowers, once dried, to be burned at times of distress. In our family, we like to make sachets from them to be placed between the mattresses of our beds, to keep away all the evil things that creep around in the darkness of night!
First, we take a piece of linen, or cotton (an old pillowcase or sheet works great) or a double layer of tulle, if you prefer, and cut it into a circle or square. We then fill the center with a few Tablespoons of the dried (and cut-up) blessed flowers and gather the fabric around it, securing the top with a rubber band. A decorative piece of ribbon can be tied around it, along with a tag explaining the contents and perhaps, the date.
Our Lady's Tea Party
When the apostles opened the sepulchre for St. Thomas, tradition tells us that theywe're greeted by the fragrance of the flowers they saw there in place of the body of Our Lady. It only seems right that we use this floral theme with which to celebrate her bodily Assumption! As I promised, here are some ideas to make your After Divine Liturgy Luncheon a great success.
First of all, every good table needs an appropriate centerpiece. We will use the flowers that we brought to church to be blessed to dress up our table.
After lunch, we will place them before the icon of the Theotokos at our family icon corner. We dressed it up nicely in blue for her feast today!
Flowers, in almost every culture, are used to symbolize various qualities. The hibiscus flower, for example, is thought to symbolize delicate beauty. In Korea, however, it symbolizes immortality. How fitting it is to use it to celebrate Our Lady's entrance, body and soul, into eternal life!
In addition to being rich in healthy vitamin C, the rich red color of this floral tea, whether hot or iced, is a fun addition to our party.
Steep a few heaping spoonfuls of dried hibiscus flowers (or use 2-3 Red-Zinger tea bags!) in boiling hot water, along with the juice of one lime and your favorite sweetener, to taste. Serve hot, or over ice.
Hummus and Carrot Lilies
White calla lilies are used to symbolize purity and marriage, and for this reason, we often see them in bridal bouquets. On the other hand, they are often utilized in funeral arrangements as well, since they also represent resurrection. Since Our Blessed Mother is the immaculate bride who rose up to heaven today, this is a wonderful symbol of her!
These lily sandwiches can be made with your favorite brand of prepared hummus, or with some you make yourself. Here is the recipe my family enjoys: in a small blender, add one can of drained chick peas, the juice of a lemon, a tablespoon of tahini ( or peanut butter), a clove of garlic and some salt and (maybe) cumin, to taste. Blend until smooth.
Now, take a slice of plain white bread (unfortunately, the pastier the bread, the prettier the flower, in this case) and cut off the crusts...not something we usually permit in our house, mind you, but it IS a feast day. Spread the hummus rather thinly on the bread, staying away from the edges, and place a few VERY thin carrot sticks across it in a diagonal way, from corner to corner. Roll one edge of the bread toward the edge that lies right next to it, forming a lily flower. Press the edges together to seal. Serve on a platter of lettuce leaves.
Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sunflowers
Sunflowers are also known as Obedience Flowers since they always turn toward the sun. Similarly, our Blessed Mother always points us toward her Divine Son! What a great flower to help us commemorate her feast!
This sandwich requires the help of a flower-shaped cookie cutter and two types of bread. We like to use a light whole wheat and a pumpernickel. Use the cookie cutters to cut out a flower from each of the different breads you will use. Then use a small round cutter ( or shot glass) to cut a "center" from each one. Transfer the center of the white flower to the brown one, and the center of the brown flower to the white one, then make your sandwiches, filling them with thinly sliced cucumbers and cream cheese.
Tomato Rose Canapes
Roses are traditionally given as a gift of love. These roses symbolize the love we have for the Mother of God, and the love she has for us! First, I took some slices of bread and cut them into rounds. Some round crackers would serve just as well as a base for this canapé. Spread a bit of cream cheese on each one and then adorn with a leaf or two of basil. The roses are made by using a potato peeler to make a thin strip of tomato, which can then be rolled up and placed on top of the basil leaf to form a beautiful rose. The trick here is to choose very firm tomatoes!
Pasta Salad Bouquet
A pasta salad rounds out our meal today, with flower shaped pasta called "fiori" or a tulip shaped pasta called "campanelle", like we used here. You can dress it with your favorite salad dressing and add slices of pepper, carrot, cucumber and zucchini which were cut into flower shapes as well.
Here is our finished buffet!
Marshmallow Daisy Cupcakes
Now, for dessert! Cupcakes are a favorite here, any flavor will do. Traditionally, we use blue icing for Marian feasts, but these are pink today. In keeping with our theme, we have cut some marshmallows into four slices and have arranged them to look like flower petals, placing a colored mini marshmallow in the center.
This menu works very well for any Marian feast or Grandma's birthday, as well as any little girls tea party. It was a hit at our Little Flowers Tea Party a few years ago as well!
God bless your family and Happy Feast.