In Springhill Nova Scotia in 1958, there was a bump under the earth in the Cumberland County Mine. A “bump” is an underground earthquake. The shafts of this particular coal mine went down over 2 miles, and when the bump happened vast sections of this massive labyrinth came crashing down, trapping 175 miners. As one song that commemorates the disaster puts it: the living and dead men two miles down.
The living were trapped with the dead in the dark, and due to the heat that far down, those who’d died decomposed at an accelerated rate introducing even more dangerous gas into the already fetid air. After three days their lamps gave out. They were out of light, of water, and bread. They subsisted on songs and hope instead. What must it be like to have nothing but song and hope. Can any of us imagine, I wonder? Can we comprehend having no food, no light, gas-filled air, the weight and pressure of two miles of earth on top of us, so that we have nothing other than some black-lunged bard singing a song to inspire hope? Many of these miners spent their entire lives digging their own graves. Without family, without food; with nothing, they were encouraged by a foreman to live on songs and hope; to just hold on.
The world can appear dark, and often our days can be filled with loneliness, but today there is a radiant feast set before us. Today, in the Dormition of the most holy Mother of God, our songs of hope are certain. Though we, like the miners, trudge around in a grave we’ve spent the whole of our lives digging, there is still a bright hope, an incomparable joy that God has given us. We are being called today, in this most blessed and peaceful Feast to remember that our hope is not an ephemeral one. Christian hope is not some sort of wishing on a star. The hope that we have in Christ, the hope that is made firm and sure on this bright day of the Dormition, is a participatory hope. We hope because we have been given life. We have been regenerated in the baptismal font. We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit in through the all-holy chrism, and we have partaken of God Himself in the Eucharistic banquet. In this life, even in the darkness of the tomb, we can sing and be uplifted. We can hope, and have assurance of that hope. We can trust, and know that God is faithful.
You see, this death, this falling asleep of the most holy Theotokos is not a sad event. There are no lamentations here. Throughout this Feast we have sung no dirges, no funeral hymns. There has been no weeping in our commemoration of this falling asleep. For centuries the Church has drawn strength and comfort from this Feast. As Fr Schmemann writes,
For centuries the Church has looked upon, reflected on and been inspired by the death of the One who was the mother of Jesus, who gave life to our Savior and Lord, who gave herself totally to Him to the very end and stood by Him at the Cross. And in contemplating her death the Church discovered and experienced death as neither fear, nor horror, nor finality, but radiant and authentic Resurrection joy.
This is a deathless Dormition. Herein lies our hope. Because today in our participation of the last of the Great Feasts of the Church year, our hope of Resurrection unto life is affirmed. For us, today, the Resurrection is made certain because the Mother of God has fallen asleep. She was placed in the ground, in a tomb, and Christ, Her Son and our God has raised her from the dead. She was translated to life as we will be.