The Church Year

On September 1 the Church, most schools, and the ancient Romans all start their new calendar year.

In the Church’s case, about half of the prayers and feasts are figured out by the date.  These are known as the “Fixed Cycle.”  The first Gospel of the year is where Jesus proclaims His mission to the world:

At that time, Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.

Luke 4:16-22

The “year of the Lord’s favour” has come upon us, and so we recount all of salvation history, not just remembering it but entering into, or sacramentally reliving it, in a logical if not quite chronological way.

Each day we remember various saints, events in our history with God, and even sacred actions and objects (sacraments, icons, relics like the Life Giving Cross which our parish is named after.)  This is where we get things like the Saint of the Day from.

To keep track of these days and their prayers we use a book called the “Festal Menaion.”

The other half of the Church year’s feasts and prayers are figured out by the “Movable Cycle”.  These are all centred around the Feast of Feasts: Pascha! 

Pascha is of course the traditional day where we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and the conquering of Death.  The date of Easter is always celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.

Yes, our Liturgical Calendar even considers the phase of the moon in it’s calculations.  From the date of Easter we go back 40 days plus holy week, plus an extra 4 weeks of Pre-Lent and one Sunday before that.  Then in the other direction (going forward) we add to the date of Pascha; 40 days to the feast of the Ascention; another 10 till the feast of Pentecost; and then we calculate all the following weeks of the year from that day till we collide with the following year’s movable cycle.  So the week after the 50th day after Easter (Pentecost: also known as the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit) would be known as the “First week after Pentecost.” Each of these weeks starts on a Sunday, and then concludes on the 8th day which is the following Sunday, which simultaneously is the beginning of the next week.

During this cycle we commemorate everything past, present and even future, like the Second Coming of our Lord, which from our perspective has not happened yet.

To keep track of these days, their particular prayers, and which of the 8 tones that we sing in, we use 3 different books called the “Lenten Triodion”, the “Flowery Triodion” and the “Pentecostarion”.  (There are many sets of these 8 tones too that are used at different times and places.)

Confused yet?  No?!?

In addition to the moon, the date, and the period of time from easter there is also the days of the week to consider. On Sundays we always celebrate the Resurrection.  Mondays we commemorate the Angels.  Tuesdays we remember St. John the Forerunner (aka Baptist).  Wednesdays and Fridays we honour Christ’s passion on the Cross.  Thursdays are reserved for the Apostles and also St. Nicholas, and finally Saturdays we pray for all the Saints and the deceased.

Then there are also the fasts.  In order to get ready for various important days, we have 4 major fasting periods during the year, and a weekly fast on Fridays (and optionally Wednesdays) with the exceptions of Fridays that follow major feasts of Christ.

Most people are familiar with 2 of these bigger fasts; namely the Great Fast (Lent) together with Holy Week; and also the Pre-Christmas Fast (aka the Nativity Fast or St. Philip’s Fast).  But please don’t confuse this with the Roman Catholic season of Advent.

The 2 lesser known fasts are the Apostle’s fast which starts the Monday after All Saints day (which is itself on the first Sunday after Pentecost) and ends on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.  (Since this fast starts on the “Movable Cycle” and ends on the “Fixed Cycle” it can be as short as 8 days or as long as 30.)  The other Fast is the Dormition fast which, thankfully, always begins on August 1 and ends after 14 days with the feast of the Dormition.

Then there are the hours of the day, which we do various prayers, some publicly and others privately.

Exhausted yet?  I am.

I assume you are too, so I will not get into the difference between the Julian Calendar, the Revised Julian Calendar, and the Gregorian Calendar.  Nor will I talk about the Lukian Jump.  Unless maybe in a future bulletin.

This is frankly quite overwhelming.  Thank God we all do not need to keep track of each detail of each day.  There are books that tell us how to combine the “Movable” and “Fixed” feasts, with the day of the week and any other commemorations or fasts that may come up.  These are lovingly calculated for us and put on a Church Calendar which we give out every year around Christmas (thanks to Park Memorial who sponsor these for our parish).

You will notice on the calendar little fishies on days when we should fast, and Red numbers and backgrounds on the more significant days of the year on which we should try to attend services.

If you can please be aware that the church has 12 Major Feasts, as well as the Feast of Feasts: Pascha (together with all of Holy & Bright weeks).  I have put these very important Feast Days together with their icons and dates below.  On every Sunday and all these big Feasts all the faithful people are strongly encouraged (even obliged) to attend Divine Liturgy.

Oh, and the feast of Sts. Peter & Paul too.