It is worth remembering the great difference between the Orthodox iconographic portrayal of the Dormition, and western religious art depicting the Assumption. In the former, the Mother of God is always shown in repose on her deathbed, surrounded by apostles, saints and angels, with Christ Himself taking her soul in his arms. Western paintings, while not icons as such, to be sure, never show the scene of repose, but always show the Virgin escorted by cherubs to heaven.
The liturgical text of the Vigil of the Dormition is full of references to her earthly, bodily death. It would be interesting to compare this with the equivalent liturgical texts of the Roman Catholic church.
Some excerpts from this feast:
Matins, ode 1: Knowing you, All-blameless, to be a mortal woman, but beyond nature Mother of God, with fearful hands the illustrious Apostles touched you, as you blazed with glory, gazing on you as the Tabernacle that had received God.
Pure Virgin, sprung from mortal loins, your final departure was in conformity with nature; but, as you gave birth to the true Life, you have passed over to the one who is the divine life in person.
Ode 6: Life dawned from you without loosing the keys of your virginity. How then has your spotless tabernacle, source of life, become a partaker in the experience of death?
Once the sacred enclosure of life, you have found eternal life; for through death you, who gave birth to Life in person, have passed over to life.
The Synaxarion entry:
When Christ our God was well pleased to take to himself His own Mother, three days before He told her through an Angel of her translation from the earth. It is the moment, He said, to take My Mother to Myself. Do not then be any way troubled by this, but accept My word with joy, for you are coming to immortal life. And she, in her longing for her translation to her Son, went up the mount of Olives with haste to pray (for it was her custom to go up there to pray). Then there took place a marvel; for the plants on the mount bowed themselves down of their own accord and like living slaves accomplished fitting reverence to their Lady. After her prayer she returned home and at once the whole house was shaken. She prepared many lights and having given thanks to God she invited her relatives and neighbours. She swept the house and prepared the couch and everything needed for the burial. She explained everything which had been told her by the Angel about her translation to heaven and as confirmation of her words showed the reward that had been given her, which was a palm branch [from Paradise]. But the women who had been summoned on hearing this poured out lamentations and tears and lamented with cries of grief. When they ceased their lament they begged her not to leave them orphans. She assured them that when she had passed over she would watch over and protect not only them but the whole world. Much of their grief was assuaged by these words of consolation which she spoke to the bystanders. Then she gave instructions about her two tunics, that the two poor widows who were customarily with her and known to her and who received from her what was required for their nourishment should take one each.
While she was detailing and arranging this, there suddenly came the sound of mighty thunder and the arrival of many clouds from the ends of the earth bringing Christ’s disciples together to the house of God’s Mother. Among them also were the Hierarchs, wise in God, Denys the Areopagite, Hierotheos and Timothy. When they learned the reason of their presence together they spoke to her as follows: While we saw you, Lady, remaining in the world, like our Master and Teacher Himself, we were comforted; but how shall we now bear the suffering? But since by the wish of your Son and God you are passing over to the regions beyond the world, we rejoice for the things that have been so disposed for you. As they said this they wept profusely. But she answered them: Friends and Disciples of my Son and God, do not turn my joy to sorrow, but bury my body just as I have arranged it on the bed.
When these things had been completed, Paul the inspired vessel of election arrived. He fell at the feet of God’s Mother, worshipped and opening his mouth uttered a great eulogy of her, saying: Hail, Mother of life and subject of my preaching. For though I never saw Christ, in seeing you I seem to see him. Then the Virgin took leave of all. She lay down on the bed and arranged her all-pure body as she wished. She prayed for the conservation of the world and for peaceful life. She filled them too with blessing through her, and so committed her spirit into the hands of her own Son and God.
At this Peter began the funeral hymns. The rest of the Apostles took up the bier and accompanied the body that had received God to the grave, some going in front with lamps and hymns, others following behind. At this the rulers of the Jews stirring up some of the crowd persuaded them to try to upset the bier on which the life-giving body had been placed and to throw it to the ground. But already punishment came upon those who dared such things, and they were all smitten with blindness. One of them, who attempting even greater folly had touched the sacred bier, was deprived of both his insolent hands. They were severed by the sword of punishment and left hanging from the bier. He remained a pitiable sight until, after he had come to belief with his whole heart and found healing, he was restored to health as before. So too part of the covering of the bier, when placed on those who had been blinded and come to belief, gave them healing. When the Apostles reached Gethsemane they laid the live-giving body in the grave and remained there for three days responding to the unceasing voices of the Angels.
But when, by divine dispensation, one of the Apostles [Thomas], who had been absent from the burial of the life-giving body, arrived on the third day, he was greatly grieved and distressed that he had not been found worthy of what they had. All his fellow Apostles, who had been found worthy, by a common vote opened the tomb for the sake of the Apostle who had been absent, so it seemed good to all, for him also to venerate that all-blameless body. When they looked they were amazed. For they found it empty of the holy body, and containing only the winding sheet, which remained as a consolation for those who were about to grieve and for all the faithful, and as a sure witness of the Translation. For even until today the tomb hewn from the rock is visible and venerated, and remains empty of a body, to the glory and honour of our most blessed Lady, Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary.
The Exaposteilarion of the feast of the Dormition is particularly moving when sung slowly and reverently:
O you Apostles, assembled here from the ends of the earth, bury my body in Gethsemane; and You, my Son, receive my spirit.