The Orthodox and Byzantine traditions have a rich collection of prayers for this day, developed by the early Church.
The annual celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has ancient roots that extend to the earliest centuries of the Church. By the 6th century there was already a feast in some areas called the “Feast of the Dormition,” also called the “Journey of the Theotokos into Heaven.”
When contemplating the mystery of the Virgin Mary’s departure from this world, many early Christians referred to the Assumption as the “Sleep of Mary,” or “Dormition of Mary” (from the Latin domire, meaning to sleep). This highlighted the belief that Mary died before being assumed into heaven.
Officially the Church does not teach the exact nature of how Mary was assumed into heaven or if she died first. The Church teaches only that “the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” However, St. John Paul II did mention in a General Audience, “To share in Christ’s Resurrection, Mary had first to share in his death.” The dormition/assumption was a unique grace given to Mary, a fruit of her Immaculate Conception.
Reflecting on this great mystery, early Christians developed a beautiful liturgy celebrating this day that is still maintained in the Orthodox and Byzantine traditions. Prayers were developed that highlighted the Dormition of Mary, and praised God for such a gift. The prayers present us with a unique opportunity to connect ourselves with the beliefs of the early Christians and imagine in our minds the glorious moment of the Assumption of Mary into heaven.
Kontakion – Neither the grave nor death have detained the Mother of God (Theotokos), who continues to pray for us and who, by her intercession, remains our unfailing hope; for He, Who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb, has transferred her to life as the Mother of Life.Troparion – In giving birth, O Mother of God, you preserved your virginity and in your falling asleep you did not forsake the world. Being the Mother of Life, you have passed over into life, and by your prayers you deliver our souls from death.Refrain of the 9th Irmos – The angels, witnessing the Dormition of the Most Pure (Theotokos), were struck with wonder as they saw the Virgin going up from earth to heaven.Little Compline – O chaste and spotless Lady never touched by blame or corruption or defilement, O Bride of the Most High himself, you brought forth the Word of God into this world in a marvelous and mysterious way, thus uniting him to us and joining our nature to the divine. You are the only hope of those who have no hope, always ready to come to the aid of every Christian who seeks refuge in you. Though I have often defiled myself with all sorts of impurities – thoughts, words, and deeds– though slothfulness has enslaved me to lust, though I often find myself weighed down by despair and depression, do not despise me. As the Theotokos, your heart is filled with love and compassion for all mankind. Therefore, pity me in spite of my sinfulness; accept this prayer from these impure lips of mine. With boldness that only a mother could manifest, implore your Son, our Lord and God, to show me his deep and tender mercy. Entreat him not to regard the numberless times I have fallen, but to lead me to true repentance, that, as his friend and follower, I may be always conscious of his precepts and ever ready to observe them. And you, sweet Lady, in your graciousness, stay with me. Take my part at all times. Enable me to repel all temptations, to achieve my eternal salvation. At the moment of my death, embrace and comfort my sorry soul, and drive off the terrifying specters of the evil one. On that awesome day of judgment, save me from everlasting punishment; reveal me as a true heir of that ineffable glory which your Son has promised in his grace and love. To him, to his eternal Father, and to his all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit is due all glory, honor, and worship, now and ever, and forever.