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Church Year

Although the first of Sep­tem­ber is con­sid­ered the start of the Church year, accord­ing to the Ortho­dox Church cal­en­dar, the real litur­gi­cal cen­ter of the annu­al cycle of Ortho­dox wor­ship is the feast of the Res­ur­rec­tion of Christ. All ele­ments of Ortho­dox litur­gi­cal piety point to and flow from East­er, the cel­e­bra­tion of the New Chris­t­ian Passover. Even the “fixed feasts” of the Church such as Christ­mas and Epiphany which are cel­e­brat­ed accord­ing to a fixed date on the cal­en­dar take their litur­gi­cal form and inspi­ra­tion from the Paschal feast.

The East­er cycle of wor­ship begins with the sea­son of Great Lent, pre­ced­ed by the spe­cial pre-lenten Sun­days. The lenten order of wor­ship ful­fills itself in Holy Week and the Great Day of Christ’s Res­ur­rec­tion. Fol­low­ing East­er there are the fifty days of paschal cel­e­bra­tion until the feast of Pen­te­cost. Every week of the year is then con­sid­ered in the Church’s wor­ship as a “Sun­day after Pen­te­cost.” The weeks are count­ed in this way (First Sun­day, Sec­ond Sun­day, etc.) until the pre-lenten sea­son begins again when the weeks are giv­en their name and cen­tral con­tent of wor­ship in view of the annu­al return of Easter.

There are two spe­cial litur­gi­cal books for the East­er cycle of wor­ship, the Lenten Tri­o­di­on and the East­er Tri­o­di­on (lit­er­al­ly the Flower Tri­o­di­on), which is also called the Pen­te­costar­i­on. These books are called Tri­o­di­ons because of the “three odes” which are often sung dur­ing the church ser­vices of these sea­sons. The Sun­days and weeks fol­low­ing Pen­te­cost also have their spe­cial book called the Octoe­chos which lit­er­al­ly means the “eight tones.” The Octoe­chos con­tains the ser­vices for each day of the week. Sun­day is always ded­i­cat­ed to the Res­ur­rec­tion of Christ. Wednes­days and Fri­days com­mem­o­rate Christ’s suf­fer­ing and cru­ci­fix­ion. Monday’s theme is the “bod­i­less pow­ers,” the angels. Tues­day is ded­i­cat­ed to the mem­o­ry of John the Bap­tist, Thurs­day to the apos­tles and St. Nicholas, and Sat­ur­day to the Theotokos with the mem­o­ry of the departed.

On each day of the week, begin­ning with the eve of the Lord’s Day, the ser­vices are sung in the same “tone” or musi­cal melody. There are eight sets of ser­vices in eight dif­fer­ent “tones” (hence, the name Octoe­chos), sung in a revolv­ing pat­tern through­out the year. Thus, for exam­ple, on the 2nd Sun­day after Pen­te­cost there would be Tone 1; the 3rd Sun­day after Pen­te­cost, Tone 2; the 4th Sun­day after Pen­te­cost, Tone 3, and so on until the 10th Sun­day which is again Tone. 1. This cycle of “tones” exists for every week of the year, although when the lenten sea­son approach­es the empha­sis falls once more upon the prepa­ra­tion for the cel­e­bra­tion of Easter.

In addi­tion to the East­er cycle of wor­ship with the “weeks after Pen­te­cost,” and exist­ing togeth­er with it, is the Church’s wor­ship for each par­tic­u­lar day of the year, each of which is ded­i­cat­ed to cer­tain saints or sacred events. Each month has a spe­cial litur­gi­cal book called the Menaion which con­tains the spe­cif­ic ser­vice for each day of that month. The solem­ni­ty of the day is pro­por­tion­ate to the impor­tance and pop­u­lar­i­ty of the giv­en saints or events to be commemorated.

There are twelve major feast days of the Church which are uni­ver­sal­ly cel­e­brat­ed: the Nativ­i­ty, Epiphany, Pre­sen­ta­tion to the Tem­ple (called the “Meet­ing”) and Trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ; the Nativ­i­ty, Annun­ci­a­tion, Pre­sen­ta­tion to the Tem­ple and Dor­mi­tion of Mary; the Exal­ta­tion of the Cross; and, from the Paschal cycle, the feast of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, the feast of the Lord’s Ascen­sion and the feast of Pen­te­cost. East­er is not count­ed among the twelve major feasts of the Church since it is con­sid­ered by itself as “the feast of feasts.”

Dif­fer­ent Ortho­dox church­es empha­size the oth­er days of the year accord­ing to their par­tic­u­lar rel­e­van­cy and sig­nif­i­cance. Thus, the day of St. Sergius would be great­ly cel­e­brat­ed in Rus­sia, St. Spiri­don in Greece, and St. Her­man in Amer­i­ca. Some days, such as Saints Peter and Paul, St. Nicholas, and St. Michael, also enjoy a uni­ver­sal pop­u­lar­i­ty in the church.

The feast of Christ­mas has its own cycle of prayer pat­terned after East­er. There is a forty-day lent pre­ced­ing it and a post-feast cel­e­bra­tion fol­low­ing it. The feasts of Mary’s Dor­mi­tion and Saints Peter and Paul also have tra­di­tion­al lenten prepa­ra­tions of short­er dura­tion. Most of the major feasts have a prefestal prepa­ra­tion of litur­gi­cal prayer, and a post-fes­tal glo­ri­fi­ca­tion. This means that the feast is called to mind and is glo­ri­fied in the Church’s litur­gi­cal ser­vices in antic­i­pa­tion of its com­ing and is also cel­e­brat­ed in songs and prayers for some days in the Church after its passing.



Sep­tem­ber 8 The Nativ­i­ty of Mary the Theotokos
Sep­tem­ber 14 The Exal­ta­tion of the Cross
Novem­ber 21 The Pre­sen­ta­tion of the Theotokos to the Temple
Decem­ber 25 The Nativ­i­ty of Christ
Jan­u­ary 6 The Epiphany: The Bap­tism of Christ
Feb­ru­ary 2 The Meet­ing of Christ in the Temple
March 25 The Annun­ci­a­tion
August 6 The Trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ
August 15 The Dor­mi­tion of the Theotokos
Accord­ing to the Spring equinox and the Jew­ish Passover
Palm Sun­day The Entry into Jerusalem
Ascen­sion The Ascen­sion of Christ
Pen­te­cost The Descent of the Holy Spirit