Today 22 August, 16 Misra on the Coptic calendar of the Martyrs, saw Egypt’s Orthodox Copts celebrate the Feast of the Assumption (Latin: assumptio, “a taking”) of the Holy Virgin into Heaven.
Coptic Orthodox tradition has it that the Holy Virgin’s Dormition was on 21 Touba, 29 January. The Coptic Synaxarium denotes this as the date when she ‘died’ and her soul was received by her Son Jesus Christ who, in the company of a choir of angels, carried it away.
The Coptic Synaxarium of 16 Misra (22 August) reads:
“This day marks the assumption of the body of our pure Lady St Mary, the Mother of God. While she was keeping vigil, praying in the Holy Sepulchre and waiting for the happy moment when she would be liberated from the bonds of the flesh, the Holy Spirit informed her of her forthcoming departure from this vain world. When the time drew near, the Disciples and the virgins of the Mount of Olives came to the Lady as she lay on her bed. Our Lord, surrounded by thousands and thousands of angels, came to her. He consoled her, and told her of the everlasting joy awaiting her. This made her happy, and she stretched out her hands, blessed the Disciples and the virgins. Then she delivered up her pure soul in the hand of her Son and Lord Jesus Christ Who carried her up to the heavenly realms. As for her body, the Disciples shrouded it and carried it to Gethsemane for burial.
“On their way to Gethsemane, a group of adversary Jews blocked the way in the face of the Disciples. One of them seized the coffin, upon which his hands were cut from his body and remained hanging onto the coffin. He repented and cried till, through the prayers of the Disciples, his hands again became whole.
[The incident is frequently depicted in icons of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin.]
“St Thomas was not in Jerusalem with the Disciples when the Holy Virgin passed away. [Tradition has it that he had been preaching Christianity in India and was on his way back to Jerusalem.] He saw the angels carrying the body of the Holy Virgin up to Heaven. ‘Hurry and kiss the pure body of St Mary [for blessing],’ an angel told St Thomas who duly did that.
“When he arrived at Jerusalem, the Disciples informed St Thomas about the passing away of the Holy Virgin. He told them, ‘I will not believe unless I see her body; you all know how I doubted the Resurrection of the Lord.’ They took him to the tomb to see the body but they did not find it. They were perplexed and amazed, but St Thomas then told them how he saw the body ascending to heaven, carried by angels.
“The Holy Spirit then told the Disciples: ‘The Lord did not will to leave Her Holy body on earth.’ The Lord promised his Apostles that they would see her one last time. They awaited the fulfillment of this promise until the 16th day of the month of Misra, when the promise was fulfilled. They saw her sitting on the right hand of her Son and Lord, surrounded by the angelic host, as per the prophesy of David: At your right hand stands the queen. (Psalm 45:9)
“The Holy Virgin’s life on earth was sixty years: little less than four years with her parents, some twelve years in the temple, 30 years in the house of St Joseph, and 14 years in the care of St John the Evangelist, as the Lord commanded on the Cross: ‘Woman behold your Son’, and to St John, ‘Behold your Mother’.”
The date 16 Misra thus marks the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, and ends the two-week Fast of the Holy Virgin. It is celebrated with great joy in Egypt.
The images show a 19th-century icon of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, from the Hanging Church in Old Cairo; and a modern icon of the Lady’s Dormition and Assumption, by Youssef Girgis
22 August 2015