Is the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Scriptural?
The Dormition or falling-asleep of the Virgin Mary and her translation to heaven are not recorded in the pages of the New Testament. This is a stumbling block to some while they overlook the fact that the New Testament likewise does not record the circumstances of the deaths of any of the apostles except James the brother of John.
However, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary is revealed by the Holy Spirit in the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Mary's role as Theotokos, or God-bearer, was foreshadowed by the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant. Just as the Ark contained the tables of stone, the jar of manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, so Mary contained in her womb the Living Word made flesh, the Living Bread which came down from heaven, and the Living One who was dead and is alive forevermore, even Jesus Christ.
In Psalm 132:8 we read:
"Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength. "
Historically, this refers to the translation of the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle to the Temple of Solomon, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 5:
1Thus all the work that Solomon made for the house of the LORD was finished: and Solomon brought in all the things that David his father had dedicated; and the silver, and the gold, and all the instruments, put he among the treasures of the house of God. 2Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel, unto Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion. 3Wherefore all the men of Israel assembled themselves unto the king in the feast which was in the seventh month. 4And all the elders of Israel came; and the Levites took up the ark. 5And they brought up the ark, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and all the holy vessels that were in the tabernacle, these did the priests and the Levites bring up. 6Also king Solomon, and all the congregation of Israel that were assembled unto him before the ark, sacrificed sheep and oxen, which could not be told nor numbered for multitude. 7And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the LORD unto his place, to the oracle of the house, into the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubims: 8For the cherubims spread forth their wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubims covered the ark and the staves thereof above. 9And they drew out the staves of the ark, that the ends of the staves were seen from the ark before the oracle; but they were not seen without. And there it is unto this day. 10There was nothing in the ark save the two tables which Moses put therein at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of Egypt. 11And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place: (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course: 12Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:) 13It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; 14So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.
The Church, illumined by the Holy Spirit, sees in these events the translation of the Virgin Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, from earth to heaven. The Son of Man arose into his rest when he finished his work of redemption and sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high. Likewise, the Theotokos, the Living Ark, when she finished her earthly course was translated to the heavenly temple by a greater than Solomon, even her Son, of whom Solomon was a type. And as all Israel rejoiced when the ark entered the temple, so all heaven rejoiced when an entrance was ministered unto the Theotokos abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Some will assert that not only is the New Testament silent about the Dormition of the Theotokos, but also the early Church Fathers. But this is not true. Dionysius the Areopagite, who was an eyewitness of the obsequies for the Holy Virgin which were celebrated by the apostles and hierarchs of the Church, describes the scene:
"For even among our inspired Hierarchs, when as thou knowest, we with him [i.e. an Athenian priest named Hierotheos] and many of our holy brethren met together to behold that mortal body [i.e. of Mary], Source of Life that received the Incarnate God, and James the brother of God [i.e. James of Jerusalem] was there, and Peter the chief and highest of the Sacred Writers, and then, having beheld it, all the Hierarchs there present celebrated, according to the power of each, the omnipotent goodness of the Divine weakness [i.e. that God should become man]. On that occasion, I say, he [i.e. Hierotheos] surpassed all the Initiates except for the Divine Writers, yea, he was wholly transported, was wholly outside of himself, and was so moved by a communion with those Mysteries he was celebrating, that all who heard him and saw him and knew him (or rather knew him not) deemed him to be rapt of God and a divine hymnographer." -- On the Divine Names, 3, 2
There are also "Transitus" stories found in apocryphal writings dating to the third century, which presupposes that such stories were based on older oral tradition. Some are quick to point out that it was not until the Fifth or Sixth centuries that the Dormition of the Theotokos was celebrated as a feast in its own right, but that does not make the event any less significant, as even the Nativity of Our Lord (aka Christmas) was not celebrated as a distinct feast apart from Theophany/Epiphany until the late Fourth century.
So let all dissenting voices be silent and stand in awe at the great Mystery which the Church celebrates today:
"Glorious are thy mysteries, O pure Lady. Thou wast made the Throne of the Most High, and today thou art translated from earth to heaven. Thy glory is full of majesty, shining with grace in divine brightness. O ye virgins, ascend on high with the Mother of the King. Hail, thou who art full of grace: the Lord is with thee, granting the world through thee great mercy. " Stichera on Lord I Call, Great Vespers of Dormition