The Revd Dr Philip H. Pfatteicher has written a particularly good essay for this day in his book, The New Book of Festivals and Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints, and I reproduce most of the essay here:
In the person of the Virgin Mary, the Church has seen an image of itself, the representative of the community of the faithful, a model of what each Christian ought to be: prayerful, humble, joyfully submissive to the will and word of God, devoted to her Son and loyal to him even when she did not understand him. the honor paid to her goes back to the earliest days of Christianity, and because she is the mother of the Redeemer she is accounted preeminent among the saints. The words of the song ascribed to her, Magnificat, as well as her humble acceptance of the will of God bear more than accidental similarity to the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. More is known about her that about most of the apostles.
Mary the mother of Jesus is mentioned in a number of places in the Gospels and the book of Acts, and a dozen incidents of her life are recorded: her betrothal to Joseph (Matthew 1:18); the annunciation by the angel that she was to bear the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38); her visitation to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-45); the birth of her Son (Matthew 1:24-25, Luke 2:1-7); the visits of the shepherds (Luke 2: 8-20) and of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12); the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple in accordance with the Law (Luke 2:22-38); the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15); the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve (Luke 2:41-51); the wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11); her presence at the crucifixion when her Son commended her to the care of Saint John (John 19:25-27); and meeting with the apostles in the upper room after the ascension, waiting for the promised Spirit (Acts 1:14). She is thus pictured as being present at all the important events of her Son’s life.
The other books of the New Testament are silent about Mary. Saint Paul, no recording her name, says simply that Jesus was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). Little is known about the rest of her life, which traditions say she spent in Jerusalem (the tomb of the Virgin is shown in the Kidron Valley) or Ephesus. The second century Protoevangelium of James identifies her parents as Anne and Joachim.
The angel’s words in Luke 1:32 imply that Mary was descended from David (or that the early Church believed that she was descended from David). She is a model of bold but tender love: she stood at the Cross to watch her Son die as an enemy of the state; Jesus’ brothers are not reported to have been present. The earliest feasts celebrating her death were observed in Palestine from the fifth century, possibly at Antioch in the fourth century. The date of August 15, ordered by the emperor Maurice [ruled 582-603], probably originated with the dedication of a church in her honor. By the sixth century the observance of the date of August 15 was widespread in the East, and the feast day gradually became known as the Feast of the Dormition (Koimesis), the “Falling Asleep”, or passing from this life, of the Virgin. In the seventh century this feast day was observed in rome, and from there it spread throughout the West, where by the ninth century it had come to be called the Feast of the Assumption (referring to the reception of Mary’s body and soul into heaven in anticipation of the general resurrection of the bodies of all the dead at the last day). The belief, apparently unknown to Ambrose (+397) and Epiphanius (+403), appears in certain New Testament apocrypha form the latter fourth century and was first formulated in orthodox circles in the West by Gregory of Tours (+594). In the East, the writings of Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (+730), and other…authors testify to the acceptance of the doctrine. In 1950 Pope Pius XII proclaimed that the teaching of the Assumption was elevated to the status of a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church…
Mary’s perpetual virginity (virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus) is first asserted in the apocryphal book of James, may have been taught by Irenaeus (+c. 202)and Clement of Alexandria, and was certainly held by Athanasius (+373), who used the term “ever virgin”. The teaching was accepted by East and West from the fifth century onward and was given additional impetus at the Council of Ephesus (431), which upheld the title Theotokos (bearer of God), common from the fourth century. [The perpetual virginity of Mary was also accepted and taught by the Reformers, including Martin Luther and John Calvin, and John Wesley stated in a letter to a Roman Catholic that he, too, accepted the doctrine.]
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.
I will bless the LORD at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
I will glory in the LORD; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD; *
let us exalt his Name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
Fear the LORD, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
The Lesson, Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).
The icon of Saint Mary the Virgin, known as the Theotokos of Canada, was written by André J. Prevost and resides at All Saints Orthodox Cathedral in Edmonton.