Veneration of the Virgin Mary
In Orthodox Christian piety, Mary, as the Theotokos (Mother of God), is honored as the Panagia or All Holy who is the supreme example of the cooperation of between God and Man, as God, Who always respects human freedom, did not become incarnate without the free consent of the Virgin. The Holy Scripture tells us, her agreement was freely given: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38).
The veneration of the Mother of the Lord is of the same order as the veneration of all the saints, and shares with it a common foundation, excepting that among the saints, the most Holy Virgin Mary naturally occupies the first place and stands higher than them all. The "blessing" or veneration of the Most Holy and blessed Virgin is expressed in the Orthodox Church, in the first instance, by hymns and readings, praising and glorifying her in the Divine Services. The second expression of her veneration is manifest in the prayerful invocation of her aid in the multifarious needs of our temporal life and for our eternal salvation. Such prayer to the Virgin, and to all the saints, is based on the firm conviction of Orthodox Christians that all who have left the body and the earth are alive, and that the heavenly and earthly Church are united under one Head, Christ, that she is indeed His one body, comprised of many members, who show compassion and support for one another (Luke 20; Eph 1:10; Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12). (Source: Veneration of the Virgin Mary by Protopresbyter Michal Polsky)
Dormition (Koimisis) of the Theotokos
The Feast of the Dormition (Koimisis) of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 15 each year. The feast commemorates the repose (dormition, and in Greek, koimisis) or "falling asleep" of the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The feast also commemorates the translation or assumption into heaven of the body of the Theotokos.
The Holy Scriptures tell us that when our Lord was dying on the Cross, He saw His mother and His disciple John and said to the Virgin Mary, "Woman, behold your son!" and to John, "Behold your mother!" (John 19:25-27). From that hour the Apostle took care of the Theotokos in his own home. Along with the biblical reference in Acts 1:14 that confirms that the Virgin Mary was with the Holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the tradition of the Church holds that she remained in Apostle John's home.
At the time of her death, the disciples of our Lord who were preaching throughout the world returned to Jerusalem to see the Theotokos. All of them, except Thomas, were gathered at her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ Himself descended and carried her soul into heaven.
Following her repose, the body of the Theotokos was taken in procession and laid in a tomb near the Garden of Gethsemane. When the Apostle Thomas arrived three days after her repose and desired to see her body, the tomb was found to be empty. The bodily assumption of the Theotokos was confirmed by the message of an angel and by her appearance to the Apostles.
The Feast of the Holy Dormition (Koimisis) of the Theotokos is preceded by a two week fast, referred to as the August Fast. From August 1st to August 14th (inclusive) Orthodox Christians fast from red meat, poultry, meat products, dairy products (eggs and milk products), fish, olive oil, and wine. The August Fast is a stricter fast than either the Holy Nativity Fast or the Holy Apostles Fast, with only wine and oil (but not fish) allowed on weekends.
Almost every evening Orthodox Christian faithful assemble at their local church to honor, entreat and pray to the Ever-Virgin Mary and Mother of God to intercede for them to her Son and God for His forgiveness, for healing both soul and body and for their salvation. This divine service is called "Paraklesis" or "Supplication" service to the Theotokos. Orthodox Christians submit the names of the living members of their families to the priest to be mentioned at the service, entreating the Mother of God to bless their loved ones with good health and protection from the evil one.
The Eve of the Holy Dormition
On the eve of the Holy Dormition the priest conducts the holy service of Great Vespers, followed by the Blessing of the Five Loaves of Bread and the holy service of the Epitaphios of the Theotokos. The Epitaphios of the Mother of God, a richly embroidered cloth icon portraying her lying in a state of sleep, is used together with specially composed hymns of Lamentations which are chanted with Psalm 116. The Evlogitaria hymns for the Dormition are chanted, echoing the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection chanted at Othros (Matins) on Sundays throughout the year as well as on Lazarus Saturday and Great and Holy Saturday. The Epitaphios is solemnly carried in procession around the Chapel while all the faithful carry a lit candle. Upon the return of the Epitaphios to the Chapel, the faithful are invited to venerate Panagias' holy Epitaphion icon with faith, reverence and profound humility.