The Dormition or Assumption of the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the story of the Jewish Priest Athonios*
“At that time, a Jewish priest called Athonios (some texts give his name as Jephonias) was out on the road. When the cloud had lifted by the command of God, he beheld the holy Apostles and a multitude of Christians who, with lights, were chanting about the bier of the Mother of Jesus. No tongue of clay could adequately describe the joyful procession. But Athonios was filled with envy and had a storm of disbelieving thoughts assail him. Then with great malice in his heart, he blurted out, "Look, what honor surrounds the body of her who bore the impostor Who destroyed the law of our fathers!
Being a strong man by nature, he rushed with mad fury through the crowd of Christians and, running up towards the bier, he attempted to cast the Virgin's body to the ground. When the audacious hands of the priest barely touched the couch, an invisible angel at once struck them off at the elbows with the immaterial sword of divine vengeance. Thus, Athonios' hands clung fast to the bed, while he collapsed to the earth wailing, "Woe is me!" The Jews that beheld this sight of their priest, then cried out, "Verily, He that was brought forth by thee is the true God, 0 Mother of God, Ever-Virgin Mary."
Acknowledging his sin, Athonios repented and turned to the holy Apostles and said, "Have mercy on me, servants of Christ!" The pre-eminent Apostle Peter then ordered the procession to stop. He then said to Athonios, "Now thou hast received thy just fruits. Know that 'the Lord is the God of vengeance; the God of vengeance hath spoken openly' [Ps. 93:1], and, thus, we cannot heal thee of thy wounds. Only our Lord Himself can do this, Whom you had unjustly rose up against, seized and killed. Even He will not bestow healing upon thee till thou wilt believe in Him with all thy heart and confess with thy mouth that Jesus is the true Messiah, the Son of God."
Then Athonios cried aloud, "I believe that He is the Saviour of the world foretold by the prophets--He is the Christ. From the very first we saw that He was the Son of God but, being darkened by malicious envy, we did not acknowledge the greatness of God openly, but delivered Him to death, though He was guiltless. But by the power of His divinity He arose on the third day, putting us all to shame. We attempted to conceal His resurrection by bribing the soldiers, but we could do nothing, as the glory of the Resurrection was manifest and spread abroad.
When Athonios uttered this confession and repented of his sin, the holy Apostles and all the faithful rejoiced with the joy of the angels over a penitent sinner. The holy Apostle Peter then ordered Athonios to put the wounds of his severed arms to the limbs hanging on the bier. He then told him to call upon the most holy Mother of God with faith. Athonios did as he was instructed and, at once, the severed arms were joined at the mark where they had been severed; only a red line remained about his elbows.
Athonios then fell down before the bier, and worshipped Christ God Who was born of the Virgin Mary. He then blessed with many praises His immaculate Mother. Then Athonios began to recite prophesies from Holy Scripture that testified both to the Virgin Mary and to Christ. Therefore, all were doubly amazed at beholding Athonios' miraculous healing and hearing from him the wise words with which he glorified the Lord Jesus and praised the Mother of God. Athonios then joined the procession, following behind the bed with the other Christians to Gethsemane. He was later baptized.
Some, who were part of the rushing mob that were struck with blindness, also acknowledged their sin and penitently approached the honorable bier and touched it with faith. When the Apostle touched their faces with the heavenly palm branch,108 they regained their bodily sight together with the eyes of their soul. Thus, the merciful Mother of all, our most holy Lady, as by her birth she had given joy to the whole world, so at her falling asleep she did not wish to sadden anyone. As the good Mother of the good King, she mercifully consoled even them that were her enemies with gracious gifts. 109
The initiates and eyewitnesses of the Word then continued to hear the angels singing lofty hymns. They, too, desirous to give honor pleasing to God, cried aloud, Rejoice, thou who didst swiftly avenge the evil boldness of the Jew. Rejoice, thou who did grant healing to the same. Rejoice, thou who didst turn the unbelief of Athonios into belief. Rejoice, thou who didst receive his faithful confession.
* According to Prof. Elisheva Revel-Neher of Department of Art History of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in 'The Image of the Jew in Byzantine Art', the earliest known depictions of the scene described above date to the 9th and 10th centuries in Cappadocia.
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