Each year, during the first fifteen days of August, our Church honors the Mother of God in a special way. This time period is known as the Dormition Fast. It begins on August 1 and concludes on August 15 with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. During these two weeks the Church observes a small Lent, wherein the faithful are invited to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ through fasting, increased prayer, reading of scripture, acts of charity towards the poor, and attendance at special church services. This period is one of four throughout the calendar year that call Christians back to a fuller experience of their Faith and love of God.
During this time period we celebrate a special service known as the Paraklesis, or Supplication service. Basically, it is a series of hymns set to music that supplicate God and the Virgin Mary for healing of both soul and body. The service is almost entirely sung, except for a very small portion, which is read. It is customary for the faithful to attend at least one of these services during the fast period and to leave a list of names of the living that are read/prayed for at each service. In addition to our friends and loved ones, we also pray particularly for those who are suffering any type of illness or hardship.
Why is it that we assign this service, although it can and is prayed throughout the year, specifically to the time frame of the Dormition Fast? The reason has to do with the perspective our Faith has towards the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (God-Bearer). We see Mary as an exceptional Christian. She was with the Lord Jesus from the moment of His conception, referred to as the Annunciation, and she was with the Lord Jesus at His Crucifixion. From the beginning of His life to the end, and even as a witness to the Resurrection, she demonstrated an unfailing and unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. We also understand that she uses her particular position before the Lord, as His Mother and disciple, to intercede on our behalf. The supplicatory prayers of a righteous man have much strength, St. James tells us. We also know that our God is the God of the living and on the feast of His Transfiguration, August 6, we read how he consulted with both Elijah and Moses who died before entering the promised land. In Christ the Life-Giver death is annihilated and the living stand before His presence forever. Mary stands before her son and her God and continues to offer up her worthy prayers on our behalf. So, on these days that precede the commemoration of her falling asleep on August 15, we pay special attention to her life and to her God-pleasing prayers. Thus, we supplicate her to intercede and pray for us because she truly is a friend of mankind.
May the prayers and supplications of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the Panagia be with and protect each one of you.