The Dormition Fast
The Byzantine Church since at least the 5th century has practiced a period of fasting prior to the feast of
the Dormition of the Theotokos. This ancient custom has much to offer contemporary Christians. Christians of
the East have always recognized the mystery of Our Lady's Dormition, her 'falling asleep' at the end of her
natural life when in a miraculous way she was assumed into heaven to sit with her Lord and our Lord.
Recognized in the West as Our Lady's 'Assumption' into heaven, the passage of Mary the Virgin Mother of
God from this life to life eternal is a cause for reflection for Christians.
Mary, the God-bearing Mother of God, was the first Christian and is a model for the followers of her Son,
Jesus Christ. The Church venerates Mary for being the chosen vessel of the New Covenant, preserved from sin
from the very moment of her natural conception to the very end of her days. Since God is perfect and will
not countenance sin, how could He be incarnated in a woman wherein resided any kind of sin? Mary's life was
totally consecrated from its very beginning to God and so it was she was chosen out of all women to bear the
Incarnate Word into the world.
Any Christian's calling differs not from Mary's. We too are to bear Christ into the world and bring his Light
to dark places. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are to serve the Lord in whatever task we are assigned. It
is on the journey or pilgrimage that is life that we are called at waystations such as the Feast of the
Dormition to reflect on our vocation and the paths we have taken. Just as we come to the end of secular year
with resolutions and hopes for renewal, the Fast of the Dormition comes at the end of the church year
provides a time for change in our spiritual and eternal lives.
The fast begins on August 1 and continues until August 15 at which time is celebrated the vigil of the Feast.
For some churches the fast is optional. In others, Christians are called upon to solemnly fast not for bodily
benefits but as a spiritual medicine that serves to remind us of our total dependence on God. Coptic
Christians, for example, who in Egypt make up one of the oldest churches of all, observe the fast faithfully,
along with Lent and Advent. A fast in the summer, as autumn approaches, is indeed a tonic for our souls.
The Universal Church, the hospital for sinners wherein Jesus Christ is the ultimate Physician, prescribes
the fast for our eternal benefit. It is on August 1 that the Church prescribes the Lesser Blessing of
Waters to begin the Fast of the Dormition and thus recalling our baptism and cleansing of our souls.
St. Symeon of Thessalonica writes that, "The fast in August (Dormition fast) was established in honor of
the Mother of God the Word; Who, foreknowing Her repose, ascetically labored and fasted for us as always,
although She was holy and immaculate, and had no need for fasting. Thus, She especially prayed for us in
preparation for being transported from this life to the future life, when Her blessed soul would be united
through the Divine spirit with Her Son. Therefore, we also should fast and praise Her, emulating Her life,
urging Her thereby to pray for us. Some, by the way, say that this fast was instituted on the occasion of
two feasts the Transfiguration and the Dormition. I also consider it necessary to remember these two
feasts one which gives us light, and the other which is merciful to us and intercedes for us."
The Dormition fast is not as strict as the Great Fast, but it is stricter than the Apostle's
and Nativity fasts.
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used with permission.