The non-Orthodox inquirer often has questions about the Virgin Mary. Do you worship her? If you don’t worship her, why do you pray to her so much? Fr. John McGuckin notes in his book, The Orthodox Church, “the Church’s devotion to Mary is something kerygmatic: deeply biblical, and resonating with how one understands (and responds to) the offer of salvation of Jesus. The veneration of the Mother of God is not merely a peripheral matter [...]. It is understood to be a foundational sign of ‘belonging’ to the Ekklesia [The Church].” In other words, she has been an integral part of what it means to follow Christ and has always been a part of who we are as believers.

The mention of her in the Gospels is seemingly cursory, but, as Fr. McGuckin puts it, “Luke, Matthew, and John paint her icon in profoundly deep theological colors.” She appears to us in the most major events of our Lord’s life: the Annunciation (Luke 1:26); the Nativity (Matthew 1:18, Luke 2:1); the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1); and even Pentecost, which many gloss over or even ignore completely. As He hangs on the cross, the Lord gives her to John and John to her, asking him to take care of her (John 19:26). As the Church grows, what we realize is it is Mary who cared for the apostles and disciples. She is in their midst counseling them and praying for their ministry. And she is still caring for the Church, interceding for us to her Son to this day.

It is no mistake that St. Cyril of Alexandria so eloquently defines her as “truly Theotokos” in his dogmatic letters. In her the impossible, the great paradox of life, becomes possible. The One who created and fills all things is held in her womb and in that she experiences a connection with Him like no other human being in history. The world is forever transformed and her life is a total response to that. In her we see the model of the true apostle and disciple of Jesus Christ as she tells the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5)

This month we celebrate the Dormition (the falling asleep) of the Theotokos on August 15th. The Church has received from ancient times the tradition of this feast. Our Savior Himself sent an angel to her to prepare herself for translation to eternity. Her response was to go up on the Mount of Olives and pray continuously. The apostles, who were scattered throughout the known world at the time, were caught up in clouds and brought into her presence. She consoled them, lifted her hands and prayed for peace in the whole world, and gave up her spirit. She was laid to rest in Gethsemane, but after three days appeared to the people, telling them “Rejoice!” Her body was ultimately translated to Heaven to be with our Lord.

To the casual bystander this tradition might seem to be an idle tale. But for Christ and His Church it is the culmination of the life of this woman, whose role in the incarnation is pivotal and whose life is fully united with His Church. It is only fitting that those members of it would come from the distant reaches of the globe to venerate her. As we once again commemorate this great feast, it is truly right that with great joy we celebrate, knowing her to be truly Theotokos and Mother of our God.