JERUSALEM: August 25, 2004

Forefeast of the Dormition of the Mother of God in Jerusalem

The celebrations of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Holy City of Jerusalem begin three days earlier. According to tradition, the Most-Holy Virgin Mother of God, after the glorious Ascension of Her Divine Son, often went into prayerful seclusion on the Mount of Olives. Three days before her Dormition, she was given these tidings from Archangel Gabriel while praying.

Epitaphios of the Mother of God

The heavenly messenger brought a palm frond and heralded to the Most-Pure Virgin of her impending departure into heaven.

The heavenly messenger brought her a palm frond from Heaven and told the Most-Pure Virgin of her impending departure into Heaven. The Mother of God wished that all the apostles, scattered throughout the world and preaching the Gospel, would gather for her funeral to bury her with her parents, Holy Joakim and Anna, in Gethsemane, and for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to take her holy soul into His hands. These three wishes were granted. The Most-Holy Mother of God reposed in Zion in the house of St John the Theologian, surrounded by the holy apostles, miraculously brought from all parts of the world on clouds. When the bier holding the body of the Most-Pure Virgin was taken through the town to Gethsemane, St John the Theologian walked in front, holding the shining heavenly palm frond, the symbol of victory over death. In memory of these holy events, a great procession of the cross is held in Jerusalem from the narthex of the Church of the Dormition, called Little Gethsemane, found directly across from the Church of the Resurrection of Christ, to Gethsemane in Kedron Valley. The procession begins at 4 am. Monastics lead the procession. Nuns from Greek, Russian and Rumanian monasteries gather to escort the epitaphios (plashchanitsa in Russian, or painted burial shroud) of the Most-Holy Mother of God to Gethsemane. They form two columns and lead the procession.

The nuns of our convents.

Behind them are the clergymen. The hegumen of the Tomb of the Mother of God carries the icon-epitaphios, adorned with colored ribbons. He is pressed by the crowd: multitudes of pilgrims from Russia and Greece.

The procession of the cross heading for Gethsemane.

Monastics especially revere the Mother of God, who leads the host of saints.

The procession of the cross approaches the burial place of the Queen of Heaven.

All hold candles and bouquets of flowers with aromatic basil leaves.

All wish to kiss the icon. As a result, the procession of the cross proceeds slowly. Greek nuns sing the troparion of the Dormition and the exapostilarion of the feast day. The local population of Arab Christians emerge from their homes and joyfully greet the Queen of Heaven. All carry burning candles and bouquets of flowers with aromatic basil leaves. The procession begins in the dark, and ends after dawn. Under the ringing of bells, the icon of the Queen is taken inside the church dedicated to her Dormition, and placed into a carved niche directly behind the Tomb. Worshipers respectfully venerate the icon. On the day of the Leavetaking of the Dormition, another such procession will be held back to Little Gethsemane, where the icon is kept the rest of the year. And again, the nuns will gather to honor the Most-Holy Mother of God, who even in her Dormition does not abandon us.