St. Mary’s Feast, the Feast of the Assumption, was celebrated by the British Orthodox Bristol community on Sunday, 9 August. In his sermon Father Simon addressed three points:
Firstly, the typical evangelical protestant response or demand to show or prove this matter from the Bible. Whilst noting that there were hints and parallels that could be drawn out of the scriptures Father Simon freely acknowledged that there was indeed no plain and explicit text in support of this belief but was not in the least perturbed by this as the source of the Orthodox Christian Faith is not the Bible but Tradition, the Apostolic Faith that has been passed onto us from the early Church and the belief in the assumption of the body of Saint Mary the Mother of God into heaven is part of that Tradition, that Faith. The Bible is, of course, part of that Tradition but is not the whole of it which includes as well as the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, the Councils and Creeds, iconography and liturgy; it being in all of these together that we encounter the Orthodox Christian Faith.
Secondly the sermon considered the place of Saint Mary in the Church, that she is at the heart of the Church, noting from the closing verses of the Praxis reading her presence “in one accord” with the Apostles. Whilst accepting, due to time constraints, the words of the Pauline epistle (Hebrews 9:1-5) that in the sermon “we cannot now speak particularly” or in detail of these matters, Father Simon nonetheless touched on Saint Mary’s relationship (as fulfilment, as true Ark) with the Ark of the Covenant. Within the Ark was “Aaron’s rod that budded…the tables of the covenant” and a pot of manna, the heavenly bread by which the Children of Israel were fed in their wilderness wanderings – and within Saint Mary, having conceived without human seed, was the true Bread from Heaven, even the Word of God. As for her being esteemed and revered or venerated in the Church, then, yes, of course she is, even as God has declared that one who honours Him, He will honour and if she (even as other saints) is not honoured in the Church then she is certainly not going to be honoured by the world!
Thirdly and finally the sermon emphasised that in celebrating the feasts of Saint Mary that we are celebrating aspects of our own salvation too. We, like her, are to hear the word of God and keep it, to obey His Will, to be filled with grace, to be blessed – that being the way, even like her, to enter into eternal, heavenly glory.
The British Orthodox Bristol Community, under the patronage of Saint Cyril the Great, meets in the Anglican Church of Saint Peter, Filton (a Church with long standing family connections for Father Simon). Following the Liturgy Father Simon and Tasony Sheila remained at the Church, joining with the Anglican congregation in their short service of Compline that evening. In thanks and appreciation for their kind hospitality in allowing us to worship in their Church building shortly before the start of the service Father Simon presented the Reverend Elspeth Desmond, curate at Saint Peter’s, with a copy icon of an Ethiopian original of Saint Mary in the British Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour, Bournemouth.
Instead of their usual meditation during Compline, Father Simon was invited to speak briefly about the icon, so he drew attention to a few points: the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the latter presenting Saint Mary a lily, a symbol of her purity, two of the monks from Syria who had brought the Faith to Ethiopia, each of them holding a Book of the Gospels, each book emblazoned with a cross, the heart of the Faith, the heart of the Gospel; then there was an Ethiopian hermit in the yellow robe typical of hermits in that land and blessing with a large wooden hand cross; there was Saint Stephen, protodeacon and protomartyr, in prayer, and there were priest and monk and a member of the congregation, one of the Faithful, between them all witnessing to the fullness of the Church and all gathered in the icon around the central figure of Saint Mary, at the heart of the Church, holding our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ in her arms. Our Lord was holding the Book of the Gospels, again displaying a cross on its cover and with the Alpha and Omega thereon, witnessing to His eternal Godhead (Revelation 1:8) and thus to her as the Mother of God.
Following this brief explanation the congregation sat in silent contemplation before the icon for a few minutes.
The Reverend Elspeth thanked Father Simon for the gift which was appropriately timed for their own celebration of the Feast this coming weekend.