Before the glorious feast of the Falling Asleep of the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Church has established a short time of fasting for two weeks. Every fasting period is a time of spiritual quest, of asceticism and prayer to fulfill a purpose. In this case can be no other purpose than to perceive some of this great mystery that is the person of the Virgin Mary and her role in our salvation.
In order to do this we could refer to one of the icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary, namely to the one called the Merciful one (eleousa). The oldest reference conducts to a XIIth century Russian icon, well known and revered in Russia and the Orthodox world. In this icon, Christ the Child is held with both hands by the Virgin Mary, and caresses her face with His hand. The Mother of God inclines her face to the Child, as if responding to her Son's caresses. The child Jesus holds a document that makes us think of the words of St. John the Evangelist and the Word was made flesh. The Infant's cross feet symbolizes undoubtedly His Passion.
The icon of the Theotokos the Merciful one shows the mutual love of the Mother and of the Son. The Mother is embracing her son with the desire to protect Him; the Son responds his Mother's love. In this close embracement we discover the mystery of the Mother and the Son's love, the love that has redeemed the world: it is the mystery of sacrifice, of the crucified love, to save the man distanced from the face of God. The Mother of God holds in her arms the Redeemer. She is the Merciful one, the one who gave the world her son that the world might be saved. The mercy for her son who was crucified becomes mercy for all of us who are redeemed through the sacrifice of the Son. The close embracement of a Mother, the ones who recognize her as a Mother also feel.
In the Akathist of the Theotokos, Joy of All Who Sorrow, we pray the Holy Virgin to help us all in trouble: "O Lady most holy and Theotokos, You that are more exalted than the Cherubim and more honorable than the Seraphim, O divinely-chosen Maiden, Joy of all who sorrow; grant consolation even unto us that are sunk in sorrow, for apart from You we have no refuge or assistance. You alone are the Mediatress of our joy and, in that You are the Mother of God and Mother of mercy, standing at the throne of the All-holy Trinity, You are able to help us, for none that doth flee to You departed ashamed."
From the icon and prayer we too receive the understanding of this mercifulness of the Mother of God. And her mercy to us should be returned by our mercy to those in sorrow. Let those of us who receive the embrace of the Mother of God to return with mercy to those who are facing the troubles of this world.
I pray our Savior Jesus Christ and His Merciful Mother to have mercy on us all and to help us to spend the Dormition Fast with spiritual use.
+ Archbishop NICOLAE