August 23, 2023

The Apodosis of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos

 By Hieromonk Gennadios Manolis

Every ecclesiastical feast in the festive cycle of a person or an event has three stages, the forefeast, the primary feast and the afterfeast (i.e. its aftermath). On August 23rd of each year we celebrate the Apodosis (Leavetaking) of the Dormition of the Theotokos and the Church closes with the same solemn mood the celebrations of the Dormition and Metastasis of the Theotokos, which is celebrated on August 15th.

The people, through their popular piety, give another tone to the feast and call it the "Nine Days of the Panagia" (Εννιάμερα της Παναγίας). It is viewed as a memorial to the Mother of God, as they similarly do, after all, for their own people. Certainly, from a theological and liturgical point of view, it is not a nine-day memorial service for the Panagia, since the Theotokos as the Mother of Christ "was translocated to life, being the mother of life" and intercedes for our own salvation and, therefore, no memorial service is meant for the repose of her soul.

"Apodosis" in the ecclesiastical language means the repetition of the feast after the lapse of usually eight days, so that in this way the duration of the feast is extended every day until the day of its apodosis. This means that the celebration is not momentary.

In this way, a relay race takes place. One feast passes the baton to the next, which has its own experiences, its own messages. This is how we live the life of the Church in one continuity and not in fragments; with our mind concentrated in each phase and in a competitive manner. Everything is tied into one unity.

So we said that in the ecclesiastical language, "apodosis" means the repetition of the feast after the lapse of eight days, usually. The establishment of the apodosis of the feasts comes from the tradition of the Israelite People in the Old Testament. By express provision of the Mosaic Law, the great Israelite festivals lasted eight days. (Ex. 2:15-19, Lev. 23:36-39 and Num. 29:35). This habit was also inherited by the Church in its liturgical life.

The first evidence of the extension of the feast for eight days in ecclesiastical life is provided by Eusebius, and it concerns the inauguration of the basilicas of Tyre and Jerusalem (355). Although this is an extraordinary event, very early on the custom prevailed, especially in the Church of Jerusalem, to extend the celebration of the great feasts of Easter, Theophany and Pentecost for eight days. The action of the Church of Jerusalem quickly spread to East and West. In imitation of these feasts, the newer Despotic and Theometoric feasts were followed by an eight-day celebration, which was completed with the apodosis.

Eight days after the great feast of August 15, i.e. on the 23rd of the month, the "Apodosis" of the Dormition of the Theotokos takes place, i.e. the solemn end of the celebration. The revered habit, which is a tradition in the Orthodox Church for its other major feasts as well, was also adopted on the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, of course not uniformly and immediately, but gradually. Thus the duration of the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos experienced great fluctuations. In the Church of Jerusalem it was performed on the 22nd, in the Monastery of Stoudios on the 18th, in other monasteries of Constantinople on the 23rd, but also on the 28th of August, as was also the case on Mount Athos. Finally, the emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328) decreed that this feast be celebrated throughout August from the 1st to the 31st of the month.

According to the typikon arrangement of the sacred services, on the feast of the Apodosis, that is, the day on which the cycle of celebrating the Dormition closes, the same service as that of August 15th is performed, which happens in all cases of the great Despotic and Theometoric feasts.

This temporal extension of the celebration is not devoid of the corresponding theological content. Because it is, in a way, a transcendence of the present time, but also a foretaste of Eternity, which, as the apostle Paul writes, will be an endless "festival of the firstborn" (Heb. 12:23). In essence, every feast is also a secret bridge that "brings us to the beyond" (Mk. 6:45), that is, it takes us to the other side of God's eternal kingdom.

The imitation of the saints is the imitation of Christ and the reconciliation with God, fellow human beings and nature is the goal. Therefore, the feasts in memory of the saints are not only occasions for celebrations but also for man to discover the truth, that the only thing worthwhile in life is the struggle for holiness. In the person of the Panagia, the entire history of man's salvation and this path to holiness through obedience to God's will and trust in Him is summed up.

The Theotokos participated in the work of saving of man by Christ throughout her life. And with her dormition and her metastasis she showed the place that God has prepared for every believer. Therefore, the Panagia encapsulates the portion of humanity that says yes to God, that willingly exclaims "may it be done to me according to Your word." The Panagia is a model for every believer, who by word and deed welcomes Christ and gives birth to Him in his heart. The Panagia is a symbol of the Church, in which every believer is born and reborn.

The Panagia leads us and accompanies us to Christ, she is the first human who fulfilled the purpose for which God created man. Man, having the Panagia as his guide, is called to transform his life by saying "may it be done to me" to God's invitation to cooperate with the aim of transforming the world and saving man, and the continuous celebration until the apodosis of the feast calls us to draw all those supplies necessary for our spiritual life from the life and attitude of our Panagia.

The Theotokos becomes the Mother Panagia, the Mother of the universe. With her life she showed us the way of the spiritual destiny of man, she becomes for each of us a source of love and hope of protection.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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