John of Damascus on the Assumption of Mary

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary is celebrated this Tuesday, August 15th. In preparation for this solemnity, here is an excerpt from a homily by the great Eastern writer, John of Damascus:

Let us then also keep solemn feast to-day to honour the joyful departure of God’s Mother, not with flutes nor corybants, nor the orgies of Cybele, the mother of false gods, as they say, whom foolish people talk of as a fruitful mother of children, and truth as no mother at all. These are demons and false imaginings. They usurp what they are not by nature to impose upon human folly. For how can what is bodiless lead the wedded life? How can that be god which, not being before, is present only after birth ? That devils were bodiless is apparent to all, even to those who are intellectually blind. Homer somewhere testifies to the condition of the gods he honours:

They eat not barley, and drink not ruddy wine,
So they are bloodless and are called immortal.

They eat not bread, he says, neither do they drink fiery wine. On this account they are anaemic, that is, without blood, and are called immortals. He truly and appropriately says, “are called.” They are called immortals. They are not that which they are called. They died the death of wickedness. Now we worship God, not God beginning His being, but who always was and is above all cause and argument or created mind or nature. We honour and reverence the Mother of God, not ascribing to her the eternal generation of His Godhead. For the generation of God the Word was not in time, and was co-eternal with the Father. We acknowledge a second generation in His spontaneous taking flesh, and we see and know the cause of this. He who is without beginning and without body takes flesh for us as one of ourselves. And taking flesh of this sacred Virgin, He is born without man, remaining Himself perfect God, and becoming perfect man, perfect God in His flesh, and perfect Man in His Godhead. Thus, recognising God’s Mother in this Virgin, we celebrate her falling asleep, not proclaiming her as God–far be from us these heathen fables–since we are announcing her death, but recognising her as the Mother of the Incarnate God.

O people of Christ, let us acclaim her to-day in sacred song, acknowledge our own good fortune and proclaim it. Let us honour her in nocturnal vigil; let us delight in her purity of soul and body, for she next to God surpasses all in purity. It is natural for similar things to glory in each other. Let us show our love for her by compassion and kindness towards the poor. For if mercy is the best worship of God, who will refuse to show His Mother devotion in the same way? She opened to us the unspeakable abyss of God’s love for us. Through her the old enmity against the Creator is destroyed. Through her our reconciliation with Him is strengthened, peace and grace are given to us, men are the companions of angels, and we, who were in dishonour, are made the children of God. From her we have plucked the fruit of 1ife. From her we have received the seed of immortality. She is the channel of all our goods. In her God was man and man was God. What more marvellous or more blessed? I approach the subject in fear and trembling. With Mary, the prophetess, O youthful souls, let us sound our musical instruments, mortifying our members on earth, for this is spiritual music. Let our souls rejoice in the Ark of God, and the walls of Jericho will yield, I mean the fortresses of the enemy. Let us dance in spirit with David; to-day the Ark of God is at rest. With Gabriel, the great archangel, let us exclaim, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, inexhaustible ocean of grace. Hail, sole refuge in grief. Hail, cure of hearts. Hail, through whom death is expelled and life is installed.”

From Sermon II on the Dormition