In Praise of the Theotokos
The Dormition of the Theotokos - “the falling asleep of the Mother of God” (in Byzantine usage) or the Assumption (according to Roman Catholics) invites us to visit the moment she first appeared before the Most Holy Trinity - surely escorted by her Son, Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen, in the glory of the Son of God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Who incarnated Him, the Word, within her womb as her own child. Angels and Elect had to be amazed to see a woman, a created human being, so exalted that nothing greater could be done by the Almighty God Himself in raising to such a height of glory that which Mary of Nazareth now enjoys! The Maid of Nazareth has a glory uniquely her own - given by the Almighty whose Son is her Child! Let us pause to thank God, Father, Word and Spirit- it is all for us!
Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist exclaimed: “Blest are you among women” eliciting from Mary, just arrived from Nazareth, her magnificent Magnificat - “My soul magnifies the Lord”. Imagine! For two weeks (as she traveled to Ain-Karim from Nazareth) the Mother of God had no one with whom to share her joy - the Holy Spirit overshadowed her; the Angel Gabriel departed; and leaft her as the Mother of God’s Son- the Messiah!
Daily at Matins, Monastics of the Eastern Church sing the Magnificat, inserting a refrain (More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who a Virgin gave birth to God the Word, you do we magnify) between each of the six verses. On major solemnities the Irmos of Matins (usually an elaborate poetic composition) replaces the aforesaid refrain.
On June 11, 980, a group of monks were singing this usual refrain at an all-night vigil, “More honorable….” when a beautiful voice announced the presence of another monk who sang a preamble to the age-old refrain:
“It is truly proper to glorify you who have borne God, the ever blessed and Immaculate and the Mother of our God” - he continued, “More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who a virgin gave birth to God the Word, You do we magnify”.
The glorious voice was Gabriel the Archangel, standing near the icon of the Mother of God, as he sang with the monks. Of course St. Gabriel’s heavenly addition became part of the Divine Liturgy from that day!