Assumption of the Holy Mother-of-God

Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother-of-God

The Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother-of-God is a non-variable commemoration and the oldest of all those dedicated to St. Mary. The Armenian Church celebrates this feast day on the nearest Sunday to August 15, a practice adopted at the time of St. Nersess the Graceful.

Assumption comprises a week of fasting, Navagadik, and a Memorial Day. In the early centuries, the observance took place over the course of three days; but as arranged by Shnorhali, it was extended to nine days.

According to tradition, following the Ascension of Christ, Mary lived out the rest of her days in Jerusalem, cared for by St. John the Evangelist.  She died in Jerusalem some 15 years after Christ’s Ascension and was buried in her family tomb in Gethsemane.

After she passed away, all the apostles—save Bartholomew who was absent at that time—conducted her funeral with great ceremony at a cave-like tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Later, St. Bartholomew returned and wished to see Mary one last time.

He convinced the apostles to open the tomb, but they could not find her body inside. Angels’ voices were heard for three days and nights. The apostles interpreted the angels’ singing as a sign that our Lord had assumed, or taken up, his mother into heaven as he had promised her.

They found the empty tomb a confirmation of that promise for she had not been dead, but had fallen asleep. For this reason, the church refers to the end of Mary’s earthly life as “the dormition” rather than “death.”

The tradition concerning the dormition of the Holy Mother did not become a basic teaching (doctrine) of the church until the 9th century, and it wasn’t until the 12th century that the feast was titled “the Assumption.”

The Blessing of Grapes | Khaghogh Orhnek

On the Feast of the Assumption, the blessing of grapes takes place immediately after the Divine Liturgy. The ceremony is rich in symbolism and emphasizes the important role the Virgin Mary assumed in the revelation of God.

The custom of blessing grapes, the first fruits of the harvest, can be traced back to Old Testament times, when farming was a common vocation. Of the vast variety of produce, grapes had a special place of honor and were considered the “first fruits” because they were the first produce of harvest.

Among the Israelites, as among many neighboring cultures, grapes were regarded as belonging in a special way to God since they were the first fruits. It was He who gave the gift of the whole harvest and to offer Him the first fruits was to acknowledge complete dependence on Him. Special services of thanksgiving were conducted by priests in the temple, a tradition that prevailed to the time of Christ.

With the birth of Jesus, these dedications took on a new meaning.  Jesus Christ was the first born—or the first fruit—of Mary and, as such, was offered to God in the temple. (Luke 2:25-30)

Armenian Church doctrine teaches that Mary has a primary place of honor because it was of her and by the Holy Spirit that God became incarnate (took human flesh). She is seen as the image of humanity fully obedient to God and ultimately sanctified by doing God’s will. Therefore, on the feast remembering her dormition (falling asleep in Christ) and Assumption (ascending to heaven), we celebrate the blessing of grapes.
Christ gave His blood to us for eternal life, and in remembrance we bless the grapes, the fruits of the earth.
It is traditional to use seedless grapes to emphasize that this fruit came into being without seed, just as Christ became man without any human agent.

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