Each year on the Sunday closest to the date of August 15, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary, the Holy Mother of God. In the calendar of the Armenian Church, this feast is the fourth of five major feasts that are commemorated, and is the oldest one dedicated to St. Mary.
In the Holy Bible, there is little information concerning the details of St. Mary’s life. As a result, the story of her Assumption has been preserved and passed on to us through the Holy and Sacred Tradition of the Apostolic Church.
Following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Holy Virgin remained in Jerusalem, and lived under the care of St. John the Evangelist. For nearly 12 years, St. Mary lived by praying, fasting, and often visiting the empty tomb of her beloved Son. During one such visit to the tomb, the Archangel Gabriel appeared and gave her the news of her imminent assumption to heaven. St. Mary relayed the news to her relatives and all Christians, asking them to bury her in the valley of Gethsemane. St. Mary also asked the Apostle John to celebrate a Divine Liturgy, so she may receive Holy Communion one final time. After receiving Holy Communion, St. Mary returned to her room. As the Apostles prepared to mourn her death, St. John asked the Mother of God to leave an image of her face on a board of wood. St. Mary took the board, crossed herself and brought it close to her face. Moistening the board with her tears, she asked God that by means of the board, people would be cured from disease. As the Apostles surrounded St. Mary, an indescribable light appeared. The Son of God and the angels of heaven appeared in the room. Upon seeing Christ, St. Mary died.
St. Bartholomew the Apostle was absent and did not participate in the burial service of St. Mary. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he wished to see St. Mary for the last time. Per his request, the Apostles opened the tomb, yet they did not find the remains of St. Mary. According to His promise, Jesus Christ had delivered His mother to His heavenly kingdom. The Apostles gave the board of St. Mary to St. Bartholomew for consolation.
According to Moses of Khoren, St. Bartholomew brought the board to Armenia. It is kept in the Province of Andzav, in a location called Darbnots. Years later, a church was built there in honour of St. Mary and a convent was opened.
In the Northern Hemisphere, on the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary, the Ceremony of the Blessing of the Grapes is conducted and the harvest for the entire year is blessed on that day. In Australia, the Blessing of the Grapes takes place on the last Sunday of January as per the seasonal availability of grapes.
The Armenian Church has a deep and abiding respect towards St. Mary. Special emphasis is placed on her being a mother, her honesty, her unique spirit of humility, her virtuous behaviour and her unselfish dedication. For Armenian women, the Holy Virgin is the embodiment of virtue, pious motherhood, and the protector of family sacredness.