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Theodosius of Alexandria
Homily on the Dormition
This homily is probably authentic, having been delivered by Theodosius in the last year of his life, 566/567. There are connections with the "Palm of the Tree of Life" family of texts, but this homily is most important for the evidence that it provides for certain changes in the Coptic liturgical celebration of the end of the Virgin Mary's life. The earliest traditions, its seems, did not include commemoration of Mary's Assumption, as is evident in the homily attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem. By the time of Theodosius' homily, however, the mid-sixth century, it appears that a feast of Mary's Assumption (9 August) had been added to the earlier feast that celebrated only her Dormition (16 January). Thus it is generally assumed that texts lacking this second commemoration, such as Cyril's homily, date to before the middle of the sixth century, when Theodosius' homily signals this liturgical change. Note that Robinson's translation has omitted 15 pages from the beginning of the homily and three from the end of this homily, indicated by the rows of dots. A complete French translation may be found in Chaîne, M. Sermon de Théodose Patriarche dAlexandrie sur la Dormition et l'Assomption de la Vierge. Revue de l'Orient Chrétien 29 (1933-34): 272-314.
Text and translation by Forbes Robinson, Coptic Apocryphal Gospels, Texts and Studies 4.2, Cambridge: At the University Press, 1896, 90-127.
THE FALLING ASLEEP OF MARY.
Discourse of Theodosius.
A discourse which our thrice blessed father Abba Theodosius, the archbishop of Alexandria and the confessor who bore Christ, delivered. Now he delivered it concerning the assumption of the Lady of us all, the holy God-bearer Mary, on the sixteenth of the month Mesoure; beginning from the incarnation of Christ unto the death of this holy Virgin and her holy assumption. And be delivered this discourse in the last year wherein he was about to die; in the peace of God, Amen.
He accomplished every work of mankind, sin only excepted. He went on to the cross: He suffered pain in the flesh for our sakes: He tasted death on our behalf. But He is painless and deathless as God for ever. He rose from the dead. He went in unto His disciples, the doors being shut, and gave them His peace. And at the end of forty days came His holy assumption. He took His disciples up into the mount of Olives. He lifted up His eyes to heaven, and blessed them, and gave them oneness of heart and His holy laws. Then said He to Peter, Peter, My bishop, dost thou not remember that I once called thee Simon Bar-Jona? which is, I made thee son of the Dove, which is My blessed mother. Now continue with her, until she die and bless you. Then again He said to John, John, My beloved, remember that I love thee. Therefore have I sanctified thee, and I have taken from thee the poison of the serpent. Now continue with My mother, as thou dost continue with Me, until she die, and thou obtain her blessing. Remember that I gave her to thee, as I was hanging on the cross, that thou shouldest be to her a son in My stead. Now when He had said these things, He ascended to the heavens in glory; and a cloud received Him from their eyes. And they returned unto Jerusalem, giving thanks for all those things that He spake to them.
Now Mary the holy Virgin was dwelling in a separate place in Jerusalem, having many virgins in subjection to her, teaching them the purity and the fear of the Lord. We also, the apostles Peter and John, were continuing with her, fulfilling her command and her evangelic laws, whilst she was pilot to us all, like a wise captain. And it came to pass on a day, even the twentieth of Tobi, that we went in unto her again according to custom, being blessed by her. We saw her amazed; and we said to her, What aileth thee to-day, O thou mother of Life, seeing that thy face is thus sad? She answered and said to us, It happened tome this night that when I had ceased making my little office, I slumbered for a little while; and I saw a beautiful youth about thirty years of age, ten thousand times brighter than the sun. I saw you also standing at his right hand, with garments in your hands, stretching them out to me. The young man answered and said to me, O thou woman, doest thou know Me who I am? When I perceived that it was my Son, I said to Him, My Lord, art Thou Jesus my Son and the Son of God in truth? He said to me, I am. I answered and said to Him, My Lord, what is the appointment of these garments, which are in the hands of Thy disciples, stretching them out to me? He said to me, This is the appointment of thy shroud, when thou goest from the body. When He had said these things to me, He hid Himself from me.
Therefore I fear, O my sons, because of those paths, for they are very narrow. I heard Him many times teaching the sons of men, telling them to repent, saying, There is a river of fire set in the path, tossing its waves exceedingly, and its waves are higher than any mountain. All flesh must needs cross over it, whether righteous or sinners. Can I, my sons, be delivered from this? What then shall I say concerning the separation of the soul from the body? O that hour full of fear and trembling! They say that two powers come after the soul, one of light, another of darkness, unseemly and full of shuddering and trembling. If it be a righteous soul, they bring it forth enticingly, being mild .and gentle towards it, because they see its Maker peaceful towards it. If indeed it be a sinner, the powers of light withdraw themselves, and the powers of darkness draw nigh to it in anger, slaying them and hastily cleaving asunder and scourging them, grinding their teeth and sending forth flames of fire from their mouths into its face, knowing that its deeds are unseemly, and that God is not at peace with it. Woe to me, my sons! Who can assure me, that God is at peace with me, that I may be able to be delivered from this hour? They tell me also that there is a gloomy darkness in the path; and there are therein merciIess avengers, their faces being very diverse, whom God hath set to teach the lawless in the way; even as it is written, Shall I be saved from such as these? There is also in that place the worm that does not die, which eats the lawless more than any cancer. O my beloved sons, would that I might be delivered from this also! They inform me also, O my sons, that there is an unquenchable fire, whose flame cannot be cooled by the waters of the sea, or by the rivers, or by the fountains, or by the rains. But they say that three tear drops extinguish its flame. Blessed is the soul that has wept over its sins, whilst it is yet in the world, or ever it reaches this fire. Woe to me! I have not yet told of the ruler of darkness, who always does what in him lies to drag down every one under his feet, save those who shall fly above him on wings of light, which are their good deeds. Who can comfort me over the sentence, which cameth forth from the mouth of the righteous Judge, Take this soul, and give to it according to all its works. All these things, my sons, are fearful to me on every side. But the will of the Lord be done upon me.
And as we heard these things, we lifted up our voice and wept in sorrow, saying, Lord, we have not yet forgotten the former sorrow, even Thy life-giving sorrows. And shall the second also happen unto us? Woe to us, if this bereavement happen unto us!
Now whilst these things were so, behold there was a knocking at the door of the place wherein we were dwelling. And when we had opened, behold there came in many virgins from the mount of Olives, having choice censers and lamps. And when they were come in, they worshipped the holy Virgin Mary. She asked them, saying, What then is this great trouble which ye cause me to-day, O my beloved daughters? They answered, saying, It happened to us, our Lady, in the middle of this night, that when we had ceased making our little office, we heard a voice, saying, I say unto you, the virgins of the mount of Olives arise, go to Jerusalem unto Mary, the mother of the Life, for she is going forth from the body to-morrow. Therefore we could not be disobedient to the divine command; and behold we assembled hither.
And Mary, the holy Virgin, when she heard these things, gave thanks to God. Again she said to us, Withdraw yourselves for a little while, my sons, that I may give thanks to the Lord, whom my soul loveth. And she opened her mouth, and spake this prayer, saying, I thank Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, the first Word that came forth from the mouth of the Father, and came and dwelt in my womb the space of nine months. I praise Thee, the treasure-house of all good things, to whom I gave suck, even Thee who givest food to all flesh. I praise Thee, the Inheritor and unseen, who bearest the universe by the word of Thy power, and whom I bare in my hands. I praise Thee, the Life of the patriarchs, that dwelt with Abraham, strengthened Issac, and enlarged Israel. I praise Thee, the prophecy of the prophets. Thou didst come and fulfil them. I praise Thee, the calling of the judges, and their salvation in the battle. I praise thee, the crown of the righteous kings, who bringest forth their judgment aright. I praise Thee, the song of the angels, and the hymn of the archangels. I praise Thee, the trumpet of the Cherubim, and the speech of the Seraphim. I praise Thee, the patience of the martyrs, and the glory of their crown. I praise Thee, the espousals of the virgins, and the light of their lamps. I praise Thee, the proclamation of the apostles, and the preaching of their sweet savour. I praise Thee, at once my Lord and my Son. I beg and beseech Thy goodness, be to me a helper and forsake me not. Bring my soul out of this prison, that I may give thanks unto Thy name. Let the fire be still: let Thy mercy prevent me: let the darkness depart: let Thy light appear. Let the enemy who wisheth to reckon with me shut his mouth. Let those who wish the peace of Thy mother appear. Let the worm that doth not die fail quickly: let Thy living mercy comfort my soul. Yea, Lord, at once my God and my Son, look down upon me in this hour, fearful and full of trembling. Come unto me, Thou whom my soul loveth. Let Thy Holy Ghost guide me aright. Let me worship before Thee with boldness, that I may give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with a psaltery of Thy truth. For the glory is due to Thee and Thy good Father and the Holy Ghost unto the ages of the ages. Amen.
Now when she had finished this prayer, we also said the Amen. Behold there were thunderings and lightnings, and all the place was moved to its foundations. And there appeared in our midst the Lord Jesus, riding on a chariot of light, Moses being before Him and all the rest of the prophets, David the king and the righteous kings. And all the place became bright as fire, When we could not bear the fear, we fell down in the midst, and became as a dead man. But He, our Lord Jesus, called with His gentle voice, Hail, My virgin mother: hail, My holy apostles: hail, ye virgins assembled hither. And forthwith the fear left us, and we fell down and worshipped Him. And He said to His mother, I have heard thy supplication; and thy prayer has come in before Me unto My throne of My glory, at the right hand of My Father and of the Holy Ghost. Now, O My virgin mother, arise, let; us go hence. Wherefore wouldest thou dwell in the house of the sinners, when the tents of righteousness are prepared before thee? What reason hast thou, O My mother, for dwelling in those things which are to be dissolved after but a little while, when the eternal are awaiting thee? O My beautiful mother, arise, let us go hence. Wherefore shall I leave thee in the earthly Jerusalem, which killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her; whilst the heavenly Jerusalem longeth for us, the city of My Father and of the Holy Ghost? For thou art too good for it. Now, O My beloved mother, arise, let us go hence. My Father who liveth and the Holy Ghost who proceedeth from the Life, wait for thy coming unto Them; for thou didst carry Their unity, even My godhead by nature, which dwelt in thee. Now, O My beloved mother, arise, let us go hence, from the house of weeping into the city of gladness, from the land of the dead into the land of the living. Forthwith, O My beloved mother, arise, let us go hence.
Now as He was saying these things, we could not bear the grief which was about to come upon us; and we cried out, and wept bitterly, saying, O our Lord, if Thou wilt take her away from our midst, and we become desolate; receive us to Thyself before her, that we may not see our own destruction. And the virgins also were weeping and groaning. But she turned her face to us, and said to us, My sons, wherefore do you weep and grieve my spirit? Is it not written that all flesh must needs taste death? I also must needs return to the earth, as all the inhabitants of earth. But be of good cheer, He is with you always, and He will not leave you desolate; even as He said. Again she said to the virgins, My good daughters, keep the covenants that ye have made with your true Bridegroom Christ. And pour oil into your lamps: and when He ariseth to go forth, ye shall be found watching, and shall go in unto the marriage feast with Him. Then she said to our Saviour, O my beloved Son, I beseech Thee, be to all of them a comforter after my translation; for their heart is broken over the evils which their eyes saw, which the Jews did to Thee. Our eyes saw Thee, when Thy body was bathed with blood, at once by the piercing of the nails and the spear wound. We saw Thee also given gall to drink instead of water, and a crown of thorns put upon Thy head, and wounded by a spear for the salvation of us all. Unless Thou hadst risen and given them joy, surely they all had died. But I am with them for consolation until this day through Thy goodness.
Our Lord and our God answered and said to His mother, O my beautiful mother, when Adam transgressed My commandment, I passed upon him a sentence, saying, Adam, thou art earth and thou shalt return unto the earth again. For also I, the Life of all men, tasted death in the flesh which I took from thee, in the flesh of Adam, thy forefather. Yet since My godhead was one with it, therefore I raised it from the dead. I did not wish to suffer thee to taste death, but to translate thee up to the heavens as Enoch and Elias. But these also, even they must needs taste death at last. And if this happens to thee, wicked men will think concerning thee, that thou art a power which came down from heaven; and that this dispensation took place in appearance. I know the heart of all men, and understand their thoughts.
When our Saviour had said these things, He turned His face to us, even to me Peter and to John; and said to us, Be of good cheer, My friends and apostles. I will not suffer her to be long away from you, but she shall appear to you quickly. There are two hundred and six days from her death unto her holy assumption. I will bring her unto you arrayed in this body again, even as this body also, as ye see her now, whilst she is with you, And I will translate her up to the heavens to be with My Father and the Holy Ghost, that she may continue praying for you all. Now when He had said these things, again He said to us, Arise, go into the holy place; and ye shall find on the altar heavenly garments and perfumes of the heavens, which My good Father and the Holy Ghost. have sent Me for the honour of the body of My beloved mother. And when we had gone in, we brought them out to Him; and He said to us, Spread them on this bed. And when we had spread them, He said to His mother, Haste thee, O thou queen of all women, enter these; and rest thee from the grief and the trouble and the groaning. Enter thou into the joy and eternal gladness.
And she arose, and spread forth her hands, and said this prayer, Adonai, Eloi, Sabaoth, Messias, Rabba, Emmanuel receive me, my Son, in this very hour. Let the royal doors of Thy holy courts be opened before me, that I may enter in by them, and worship before Thee, my Master. For it is to Thee that the glory is due, and to Thy good Father and the Holy Ghost, giver of life and of one essence with Thee, for ever. Amen.
VI, Now when she had said these things, she lay down on the garments, and she turned her face to our Saviour, and straightway she commended her spirit into His hands. He said to me, even to me Peter and to John, Make haste, shroud the body of My mother before I go away from you. And we arose, and prepared her well for burial, even as He commended. And He, the Lord stretched out His hand eastwards, and brought us three flourishing branches of palm, and perfumes from the Paradise of delight. Again He turned His face, and brought three branches of olive from an olive tree, from which the dove brought to Noah, that he might know that the Lord had mercy on the world. When we had placed them on her holy body, He said to me, Peter, My bishop, bear her head on thy shoulder; for thou art the head of the Church after Me. John also, let him hear her feet on his shoulder; for I have sanctified him from the time that he was in the womb. Let the men go before, and the women go behind, as is fitting. Go in order and in calmness without weeping and crying out; for behold the powers of the heavens sing hymns before you. For also ye know the anger of the chief priests and the malice of all the murderous nation of the Jews against Me and My mother. But their counsel shall not stand. I will make them blind, that they may know the glory of My godhead, and glorify Me and My good Father and the Holy Ghost. Take up therefore the body of My holy mother. Place it moreover in the stone coffin. Shut it, and abide by it in prayers until the time appointed for her assumption. In two hundred and six days I will come with her blessed soul, and I will take her to the heavens in glory to be with My good Father and the Holy Ghost.
Now when He had said these things, Ha gave us his peace and went up to the heavens in glory, and gave her as a gift to His Father and the Holy Ghost, saying. O My good Father, receive from Me the soul of My blessed mother, who received Thine only begotten Son in the world. Receive from Me Thy holy temple, which was a dwelling place of Thy Holy Ghost, even the unity of the Godhead. Receive from Me, O My good Father, the bush which received the fire of the godhead and was not burnt. I offer the, O My Father, a royal gift to-day, even the soul of My virgin mother. I bring in unto Thee to-day, O My good Father, her who is better than the ark of old; for Thou didst save the whole world by My being in her, Thy coessential Son. Po-day is a day of joy to Me, O My Father, the Almighty; for My mother cometh to Thee, arrayed and adorned with good deeds. The angels rejoice with Me to-day, O My good Father, as they see Me rejoicing with My virgin mother, who cometh to them arrayed in heavenly garments. The archangels sing Our praise to-day, O My good Father, singing the befitting song, Glory to God in the highest, and peace at the coming unto us of the mother of our Lord. The Cherubim and the Serephim give their doxology of praise for this joy to-day, saying, Holy, holy, holy art Thou, Lord, Sabaoth: holy is Thy temple, Thy cherubic throne. Who shall see Me to-day rejoicing, O My good Father, and not rejoice with Me? For this is at once My temple and My throne,
Now when the good Son had said these things unto the good Father, straightway the soul of the Virgin also heard the gentled voice of the Holy Trinity, saying, Come unto Us, thou that art blessed of Us, inherit with Us the joy eternal, unspeakable. Then it also, even the soul of the Virgin, worshipped the Holy Trinity, saying, Better is a day in Thy courts than thousands. I had rather dwell in Thy courts, my Master. And again, Thy Holy Ghost hath brought me to this holy mountain. Therefore I will go in unto Thy holy place, and will worship at Thy temple, O Thou whom my soul loveth. When she had said these things, she was in joy unspeakable, in the place whence grief has fled away, being in the glory of the Trinity.
And we also, the apostles, bare her holy body; and we went forth with it, with those who were assembled unto us, in order and calmness, taking it to the field or Jehoshaphat. We came to an assembly of the Jews, assembled one with another. When they saw us going quietly and silently, they spake one with another, saying, What is this corpse, or who are these that bear it? For they go in such calmness. This is a new custom, which is not in Israel. And one of them, being a Galilean and knowing the apostles well, answered: the Holy Ghost came down upon him, and he said to them, This corpse that is borne, this is the body of Mary, the daughter of Joakim and Anna, who bare Messias, which is Christ. He it was who healed your sick, and gave light to your eyes, and raised your dead. We believe that as He raised your dead, He will raise His mother also, and will take her to the heavens with Him. And the Jews when they heard, said in confusion, What shall we do? Behold the error is among us still, as we see it in this fellow who speaks with us now. But let us make haste, and kindle a fire, and burn her body. Else, if we let this be buried in our borders, there will appear from it signs and wonders, and many will be assembled to it and believe on Him: and they will be numbered unto the Romans, and they will have dominion over our cities, and will humble our nation. Now when they had hastily said these things, they kindled a fire and torches, and went out behind them, to burn the holy body of the blessed Virgin. But the apostles, when they saw that which was come to pass, a fear of man took hold of them; and they put down the bier, and fled.
And the lawless Jews, when they approached the bier, a mist and a darkness came upon them; they became blind, and there was no one to lead them by the hand. The fire also which they prepared, to burn the body of the holy Virgin in it, smote many of them: even as the Holy Ghost said by the mouth of David the prophet in the eighty-first Psalm, They knew not, neither did they understand; they go in darkness. There come upon them coals of fire on the earth. Then they cried out, saying, woe to us, O our Master Christ; for we have sinned against heaven, and before Thee. Forgive us, for we are children of Abraham. If Thou givest us the light of our eyes, we will know the glory of Thy godhead, and we will believe on Thee and on Thy virgin mother; for she is our sister. Now when they said these things, Christ was moved with compassion for them, and set them free from their blindness and their error. Many of them were numbered unto us, and glorified the Holy Trinity. And we returned to Jerusalem, glorifying God for His good favours. And we went many times to the place wherein we left the bier, accomplishing songs and praises befitting God, until the day of her glorious assumption.
And it came to pass when the two hundred and six days were fulfilled, we all arose and went to the holy remains, on the evening of the fifteenth of Mesoure, which is on the morning of the sixteenth. We spent the whole night watching and continuing steadfastly in prayer. Now at the tenth hour of the night we heard thunderings and voices of shouting--a choir of angels coming down upon the tomb. Then also David the singer was striking his harp, saying, Arise, O Lord, unto Thy rest; Thou and the ark of Thy holy place. Straightway the whole place burned with fire. And the Lord appeared on the chariots of Cherubim, the soul of the Virgin seated in His bosom, wrapped in His divine robe. And we fell down through fear, and became as dead men. He raised us, and took away from us fear. And He said to us, Hail, My brethren and members and the virgins who are with you: arise and see the glory of mother.
Again He called over the coffin, saying, Arise from thy sleep, O thou holy body, which was to Me a temple: wear thy soul, which was to Me a true tent. Arise, O thou body, that dies according to its nature: wear thy deathless soul that thou mayest be altogether deathless, and that I may take thee to the land of the living. Arise, O thou body, which dissolves and becomes corrupt according to nature: wear thine incorruptible soul. Be altogether incorruptible .and indissoluble unto the ages of the ages. Arise. Why, sleepest thou yet in the earth? Array thyself with thy seal, and come to the heavens with Me, unto My good Father and the Holy Ghost; for They long for thee. Arise, O thou holy body, from which I built Me My flesh in a manner incomprehensible: wear thy soul which was to Me a dwelling place. Arise, O thou that art free: wear the freedom of all the world, through which I have redeemed all that I have made. Arise, O thou holy body: be joined to the blessed soul. Receive from Me Thy resurrection before the whole creation. The inhabitants of heaven will be amazed, when they see thee arrayed with thy soul, even with immortality. They will say one to another, Who is this that hath received his resurrection before the whole creation, arrayed and adorned thus? Peradventure this is the house of the Lord, this is the gate of heaven. O Let us sing praise to our God herein, for the Lord loveth it more than all the dwelling of Jacob; which is the choir of the saints. My Father Who liveth and the Holy Ghost will embrace thee and salute thee; for thou wast a dwelling place of Their unity by nature. The four living creatures with the six wings, full of eyes on all sides, which are chariots and thrones of the Trinity, will be amazed in that hour, as they see thee arrayed and adorned in the glory of My godhead. They will say, Whence is this body from the earth, wearing this soul before the time of the judgment; resting beneath this tent, this that is fearful and full of shuddering? We know not. As for ourselves we know that we are made by the Lord spirit and flame of fire. Behold we cover our faces with our wings for the glory of His godhead: we cannot look at all at the glory of His godhead. Behold this is a body from the earth, and it abides by Him that none can abide by, and approaches Him that none can approach unto. It is bright: and is adorned and is arrayed in the glory of the Trinity. Now arise and be joined to thy former unity, for I wait for thee, O thou that wast made a temple of Mine.
When the Lord had said these things over the coffin of stone, straightway it opened.: for it was shut even as the ark of Noah aforetime, which no one could open save God, who shut it aforetime. Forthwith the body of the honourable Virgin arose, and embraced its own soul, even as two brothers who are come from a strange country, and they were united one with another. Forthwith the singer David came into the midst in that hour, and struck his harp, saying, Mercy and truth are come forth to meet one another; righteousness and peace have saluted one another. Now when these things had come to pass, He went up to the heavens, blessing us and those who shall walk after His law, saying, Peace be unto you, My friends and members. Peace be unto the sepulchre, which was a dwelling place of the body of My mother. And I will set My blessing and My grace and My power there for ever; if they abide in the right faith, and glorify Me in an indivisible unity. Peace be unto those who shall accomplish always the memorial of My mother in mercy and judgment. She also, at once our Lady and our succourer, blessed us: and we saw them no more. But the voice of the powers that sang hymns before them was sounding in our ears, saying, Alleluia. Bring to the Lord glory and honour; bring to the Lord honour to His holy name. Alleluia. Bring to the Lord the sons of God, and sing glory in His holy temple. Alleluia. Then we understood that to-day there were brought unto the King virgins, even the soul and the body which were united. He said, Behind her there shall be brought in unto Him all her neighbours also, which are her holy deeds. And so we returned to Jerusalem, glorifying and thanking the Lord.
Behold these things we have said thus far, manifesting to you the gifts full of grace of this Holy Virgin, who is our glorying unto all the race of men. Now it befits us also, even all that have known her grace, to bring in unto her on this day fruits worthy of repentance, each according to his power.
Introduction and html text by © Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ph.D.