In Hebrew, it is quite special to express the “mystery of the Dormition” of the Most Holy Virgin and Theotokos Mary. The word that is often used makes sense in many ways: “Dormitzion/דורמיציון “. of course, it sounds a bit too close to Latin “Dormitio”. But in Hebrew “hirdim/nirdem = הרדיםנרדם = to cause to fall asleep and to fall asleep”; in fact, the root is relating to “y-r-d/ירד = to fall” as in the name of the Jordan River, Yarden/ירדן . All creatures, except in case of illness, go through the process of falling asleep. Life is partly a sleep, not the kind of dreamy thing that at times make the human beings speculate on “day sleep” or “sleeping being awaken”.
There is a special move that is beyond human will and control and the living creatures that exist on earth fall asleep. Some tales insist on the possibility to wake up from a sleep after a long period. Usually we sleep some hours and get a refresh. Some people would claim that they do not need to sleep much as if it were a competition. But this has nothing to do with any competition and this is one of the matters that escape to our own desires. Modern times have invented “non-sleeping pills”. Then, scientists or entrepreneurship champions involved in a rushing and crushing race over time and space would think they save or gain time.
God does not count our minutes and days the way we may do. Time and duration vary from countries to cultures and educational systems. The Sumerian civilization has introduced the continental nations to the value of life schedules based on Lunar calendars as the Jews and the Muslims continue to measure the months.
There are very strict lunar calculations because the Moon births, is born, grows, comes to fulfillment and then decreases and disappears each month according to the same process. This is considered as a miracle – seemingly a simple one – but still something exceptional that shows evidence to God’s trsutworthiness and faithfulness. History, life and sleep, brightness and “shinelessness” does not contradict the reality of a time and a space that expands. We hardly feel this.
Then, “Dormitzion/דורמיציון ” sounds like a tricky way to geet to some christened form. In the old Indo-European languages “drem-” “to sleep” (cf. Old Slavic “dremati” “to sleep, doze, stumble around” Greek edrathon/εδραθον “I slept,” and Sanskrit “drati” = “he sleeps”.
The English word “sleep” is connected with Indo-European “slebs-“ that developed in many tongues before it reached the British Isles… German Schlafen, Dutch slaap/slapen, Lithuanian “silpnas = to be weak” and quite close to Slavic and Russian “slabyi/slabu = weakened, weak”. It is the same move that is to be found in the Semitic tongues as mentioned before: to fall, lose power and energy. In that sense, Latin “somnus” comparable to Greek “Hypnos/υπνος” tends to indicate that “Assumption” may not be an ascending move, to begin with, but a repose, a fall and Old English has quite early shown that the word can be used for “killing animals”. The East and the West are thus on the same line and explain the same reality that sleeping in or sleeping is an action that “gives a break, a rest, “se reposer” in French. “Spat’/spati-спать” in Russian and the Slavic languages includes the same features.
Last but not least, contrary to Hebrew that considers that “sexual intercourse is an awakening activity”, Old English used the word for “having a sexual act” and the expression got into most of the languages of our cultures. It is a paradox.
“Dormitzion” also recalls the Jewish blessing that is at the root of the Orthodox Paschal troparion or chanting “and to those lying in the graves He gave life”. The Jewish blessing is “You/Who with confidence revives (resurrect) those who sleep in the dust (i.e. cf. of Hebron, the cave of the Patriarchs)/מקים באמונתו לישני עפר “. The Hebrew word refers to a change (shana/שנה ), a portion (of life or destiny, being in such a shape or in another) and to sleep (sheina/שינה ). This is why it is so interesting and important that the Assyrian and Syrian Orthodox traditions have maintained the word “shunaya/shunoyo/שוניא – ܫܘܓܝܐ , i.e. the “in-sleeping to define what happened to Mary, Mother of Jesus and thus brought her not to die, but to a rest and the faith of the Church is that she resurrected as the cyclic process initiated by the birth of her Son and his resurrection. This is of course the meaning of the Slavic name of the feast “Uspenie/Успение”.
Adam had slept unwillingly because he had no companion; he woke to life with Eve, the woman. Here, in this Summer Resurrection/Pascha, Mary passed from life to rest and full rebirth in the arms of her Son. This sleep does not lead to corruption, but to a final revival. This is why, three days before the feast, in Jerusalem, the Orthodox clergy take the epitaphios/the linen on the grave with the image of the Lady and brings it in process to Gat Shemani, the Garden of Olives where she supposedly has reposed.
“Dormitzion” in Hebrew also has “Zion”, the place that is at the very heart of the history of redemption. There cannot be any kind of competition whether to know or determine who is the first or the last in such a place. Zion is at the core of the Jewish vocation that calls all to salvation. Of course the word is then a part of the usual Semitic ending of Hebrew words. it sounds like the Latin “Dormitio”, but this is just by some coincidence.
The Aramaic word “shunaya/shunoyo” is strong and meaningful. It also shows that the ancient tradition of the Church did relate the passing aways of the Virgin Mary with a “repose, a sleep, a sleeping-in” as it happened for those who still sleep in the dust (of Hebron, at the Cave of Machpelah). The sign shows no belonging, property; God gives and God takes and has taken to show that in the heat of Summer Easter is the sign of resurrection that transfigurates death and despair.
One thing should be taken into account. This history of redemption is a full part of a special civilization of salvation, geographically persistent and significant. The first man who walked on the Moon has just passed away. Neil Amstrong is the first man who could contemplate our planet and “common, basic, usual” world from “outside” and just for a few days. His co-astronaut Presbyterian faithful Buzz Aldrin had symbolically brought a chalice and “communicated” himself on the Moon. whatever split and theological problems involved by such an act that is not linked to real and canonically recognized celebration by the Orthodox Church – and the Catholic one as well – is gave a real spiritual touch to this first penetration of the human beings outside of our planet, with a “somehow sacramental” aspect that is very important to take into consideration.
The Universe, and the Lord Father is the King of the Universe, is immense. It gave the seeds of redemption in a special place on Earth; it is almost Spring time in the Southern Hemisphere and they did not directly “participate” in the most expanding destiny of human bringing-in the reality of such events. This should us to humble ourselves. Redemption and sleeping-in in the expectations of the (Second) Coming also deals with the whole of the universe as we still do not understand or know it. This concerns billions and billions of galaxies and planets. It is a huge Mystery of Faith, also a great sign of what we demand when we expect Love and hope.