A Year in the Liturgical Orthodox Life
Life Has Always Been Cyclical
The liturgical life was the farthest thing from my mind as a child. I was born and raised in rural Arkansas. It was, by all accounts, an agrarian society as much as it could be in the 1970s and 80s. We lived by the seasons. I knew before I was in school when it was planting season and when it was time to harvest. I knew when it was hunting season and when it was trapping or fishing season. I lived for these seasons a lot more than school or work but the farming or mowing yards paid for the hunting, fishing, and trapping.
We knew these things because they were embedded in our way of life. My family had lived in this area since the mid-1800's. It was what we had done for over a century. So, I had no aspiration to do anything but hunt and fish until I was out of high school and realized there was a much bigger world.
Liturgical life is very much like agrarian life because they work together. Pascha (the new Passover) comes in the spring when new life is starting to show on the trees and planting time has come. Advent comes as darkness grows and we prepare for the Light of Christ to enter the world.
While what my family had done for years was ingrained in what I did, the liturgical year is ingrained in the Church. The Church has followed these patterns for thousands of years. The Didache was a liturgical guide from the first century. How we took the Eucharist then is still relevant in the Orthodox Church today. Why? because it is taken seriously. It is believed to be the body and the blood of Christ. We don't try to explain it, we call it a Holy Mystery and let God deal with it too his liking.(John 14: )
Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace,
The Lord is with You!— Troparion For the Annunciation
Let's Talk Calendar
The churches don't all agree on a calendar. The Russian Orthodox and some other churches still use the Julian Calendar while the rest of the churches use the Gregorian. All Orthodox churches are one, but we are also human and still have disputes. Whether it is the old calendar or new, the honor is still the same.
A Quick Trip Around The Year
The Liturgical Year starts on September 8th and revolves around 12 Great Feasts and one Really Great Feast, Pascha. Yes, we eat a lot, but we also fast a lot. The liturgical year starts with the birth of The Theotokos on September 8th.
Immediately following the Birth of the Theotokos is the Elevation of the Holy Cross which celebrates the finding of the Cross in 326 C.E. by St Helen. Next is the Presentation of the Theotokos at the Temple on November 21st and the Nativity of Christ (Christmas) on December 25th. The new year starts out with the Baptism of Christ Januar 6th, The Presentation of Christ February 2nd, and the Annunciation to Mary March 25th, 9 months before Christmas.
The year ends in August with the Transfiguration of Christ and the Dormition, Falling Asleep, of the Theotokos. These feasts commemorate the important events in the Life of Christ and the Theotokos. The most important are Pascha and the rest of the feasts that revolve around when Pascha falls.
Christ Sitting on Cherubim
The Culmination of Orthodox Liturgical Life
Determining when Pascha falls is a science in itself. For me, I go by the calendar on my phone or on my wall. There are people with degrees to figure this out. There are people with degrees who can't figure this out so I leave it to the higher-ups to let us all know.
Pascha is why we are here. Pascha is the greatest of all feasts because Christ has conquered death. He has risen and our relationship with God can be restored.
From the earliest times, the Ancient Church celebrated Pascha and the earliest account is from Meletis Bishop of Sardis in the 2nd century. His homily On The Pasha gives us a look at the liturgical life theology of the early church and the feelings they had for Christ's Resurrection.
I am the one that destroyed death (...)
Come then, all you families of men
who are permeated with sins
and get forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 10:43, 26:10)
For I am your forgiveness,
I am the Pascha of salvation
I am the lamb slain for you,
I am your ransom,
I am your life— On the Pascha, 102-103
We Like To Stay Up Late
St Paul has been dead for a hundred years by the time this is written. The liturgical life is built into the fervor of the ancient church that is alive today. The Orthodox Church starts at 10 pm and goes until two or three in the morning celebrating the Resurrection of Christ at Midnight. They don't use fireworks at most urban U.S. churches but they still do in Russia and Greece. The resurrection of Christ is a time to celebrate and give thanks for what He has done for us.
Many will spend time that night after church preparing a meal to share when the church comes back together at noon to have a short liturgy and celebrate again.
While Pascha is the feast of all feasts we celebrate the Eternal Passover every week during Divine Liturgy.