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An Orthodox Handbook

by Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos



Chapter 28 - The Liturgical Year

1. The Eighth Day

"And God saw all the things that He had made, and see, they were exceedingly good. And it came to be evening, and it came to be morning, a sixth day. [...]  And God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it He ceased from all his works that God had begun to make. (Gen.1:31, 2:3)

Man in this manner was called upon by God to likewise sanctify the seventh day and to participate in the joy over Creation's beauty.  However, that world lapsed into sin and its beauty was befouled. Consequently, the seventh day could no longer remain a day of joy over Creation's beauty. Man and the entire cosmos thereafter began to live in a period of sorrow and exile (Gen.3:16-24).

However, with the Incarnation and more especially with the Resurrection of Christ, man and the entire cosmos entered into a new period.  A new day dawned, and that day was the day of the Resurrection - the Day of the Lord - the "Eighth Day" (cmp.Hebr.4:1-11).  The Incarnation, the Death and the Resurrection of Christ signified the abolition of the old period and the commencement of the new one: the period of resurrection and joy.

"Rejoice, o highly favoured one; the Lord is with you!"  (Luke 1:28) the Angel said to the Virgin, thus linking joy to the event of man's reconciliation with God.

"Rejoice!" was the first word with which Christ addressed the women after His Resurrection (Matth.28:9), by which He linked joy to the event of the Resurrection.


2. The liturgical year

All of the events that we celebrate in our Church are located within the new Time, which had been transformed in the light of Christ's Resurrection. During the divine Liturgy, we experience the overall ("catholic") unity with our brethren and with all of Creation: with the Body of Christ as the centre - with the God-human life of the Lord. However, the Holy Virgin Mary also belongs in that same God-human Body, as do all the Saints of our Church (cmp.Ephes.1:22, 5:23; Coloss.1:18, 24; John 10:16; 1 Cor.10:16-17; Galat.3:27-28; Ephes.4, 5:30).

The life of the Saints is Christ's very life, which is being continued throughout the ages. We are linked to them, based on our common, human nature - which Christ had set upright once again with His Incarnation, His Death and His Resurrection. Thus, during divine worship - and especially during the divine Liturgy - we participate in all of the events of Christ's life and the Saints' lives, because we all - together with the Saints and with Christ - constitute one Body; we are all "one, in Christ Jesus" (Galat.3:28).

With the feasts of our Church, we do not merely "remember" Christ and the Saints; we are not "led to" the events of divine Providence and to the lives of the Saints; we secretly experience those events and actually participate in the life of Christ and in the life of the Saints. This is why the hymns of our Church do not "report" to the past, but always to the present:

"Today, He is being hung upon wood!"  (the Crucifixion)

"For today the time of the feast is upon us and a chorus of Angels is worshipping with us!" (the Epiphany)

This word - "today" - is not a figure of speech; it is a mystical truth in the hearts of the faithful. All of the sacred persons are present. We interact spiritually with them and we actually experience all the events that we celebrate because everything is repeated in a mystical manner, in the present.

The Annunciation, the Birth of Christ, the Circumcision, the Baptism, the Transfiguration, the Passions, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Pentecost, and the feast-days of all the Saints, are not merely events that took place in the past, which we now recall so that they may become examples for us. They are something far more: they are the actual experiences of our Church. They are the very Person and the opus of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, which is kept alive in the life of our Church.  It is the inner experience of the Church and of every faithful, of a reality that is already present (cmp.Matth.16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27, 17:21).


3. The cycle of feast-days linked to the Birth of Christ

The feast-day of the Birth of Christ - which is the expression of God's love for fallen man (John 3:16) - has a 40-day preparatory fasting period that encloses the Birth, the Circumcision and the Baptism of the Lord, and is completed on the Sunday after the Epiphany.

The hymns of our Church are the expression of joy by man and the entire Creation for the event of salvation. A joy that is transformed into a full glorification of the Saviour Christ.

«Christ is born - glorify!
Christ from the heavens - meet Him!
Christ is on earth - rise up!
Sing to the Lord, all of earth, and with delight;
extol Him, o peoples, for He is glorified!».
«The Virgin today gives birth to the Çypersubstantial One
and the earth presents the cave to the unreachable One.
Angels, along with shepherds offer glorification;
Magi, along with a star travel together;
for a New Child was born for our sake : the pre-eternal God».

Hymns always depict the whole God-human event. In the eyes of the faithful, the divine infant is not merely a "child" - a weak, newborn child; it is (and simultaneously remains) the "hypersubstantial" and "unreachable" One Who is born and is "presented" for the salvation of mankind.

The hymns of the Circumcision and the Baptism of the Lord move along the same lines:

«A form inalterably human did You assume while being God in essence o most compassionate Lord, and, fulfilling the Law, You did willfully condescend to fleshly circumcision, so that You may cease all that is obscure and withdraw the cover of our passions.  Glory to Thy righteousness; glory to Thy compassion, glory to Thy inexpressible condescension, o Logos.».

«When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity wast made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who hath appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.».


4. The cycle of feast-days of Pascha (Easter)

The Paschal cycle is the climax of the ecclesiastic year and it commences with the Triodion. On the Sunday of the Tax-Collector and the Pharisee, then Meat Fare Sunday, then Cheese Fare Sunday and the rest of the Sundays of Great Lent, we are introduced into the life of repentance and the stadium for intense ascesis.

«Let us avoid lofty words and instead learn the tax-collector's humble manner, crying out with sighs to the Saviour: 'Have mercy on us, as the only conciliatory One'».

«...having foolishly defected from your paternal glory, I squandered in bad things the wealth that you delivered to me, thus I cry out to You in the Prodigal's voice: 'I have sinned before You, merciful Father; accept me the repentant and do with me as You would with one of Your servants».

«The stadium of virtues has opened; enter, you who who intend to train, girding yourselves with the beneficial struggle of fasting, for, those who train legally are rightfully awarded; and, on taking up the armor of the Cross, we battle against the enemy, having faith as an impenetrable wall and prayer as our breastplate and charity as our helmet; instead of a knife, having fasting - which excises from the heart every malice. He who does all these things will receive the victory wreath by the King of all - Christ - on the day of judgment».

This spiritual battle and alertness culminate during the Holy Week of Easter, where the faithful are called upon to meet Christ and to secretly experience His Passions.

«Behold, the Bridegroom is coming, in the middle of the night; and blessed is the servant who will be found alert. Unworthy however is the one who will be found negligent. Take care therefore, o my soul, that you won't be overtaken by sleep, for fear you will be delivered to death, and be shut out of the Kingdom. Instead, recover, crying out 'Holy, holy, holy are You, o God; through the Theotokos, have mercy on us!».

«Today, He is being suspended on wood, Who had suspended the earth upon the waters; A crown of thorns is placed upon His head, Who is the King of Angels.  A false mantle is wrapped around Him, Who wrapped the skies with clouds.  He condescended to being slapped, Who in the Jordan freed Adam.  With nails He was affixed, Who is the Bridegroom of the Church.  A lance has pierced the Son of the Virgin.  We bow before Your Passions, o Christ. Show us also Your glorious Resurrection».

On the evening of the Resurrection the faithful and all of Creation live within an endless light. It is the light of joy and of metamorphosis. Everything enters and participates in it:

«Now, everything is filled with light - the sky and the earth and the underworld.  Let all of Creation therefore celebrate the Raising of Christ, by which it was made secure».

«We celebrate the mortification of Death, the unmaking of Hades, the commencement of another, eternal life.  And leaping for joy, we praise its Cause : the only blessed and most glorious God of our Fathers».

The faithful, therefore, do not find themselves in just any ordinary day. It is the commencement of "another, eternal life".  The "eighth day" has already risen, and it is in this un-setting day that we praise "Christ unto the ages"».

The Paschal cycle closes with the pursuant Sundays - of Thomas, of the Myrrh-bearers, of the Paralytic, of the Samaritan woman and of the blind man.


5. The cycle of the Pentecost

The third cycle of the liturgical year is the cycle of the Pentecost.  It begins with the feast-day of our Lord's Ascension and leads us into the Reign of the Holy Spirit.

At the moment of His Ascension the Lord promises His disciples that He will send the Holy Spirit, Who will render them His witnesses throughout the world (Acts 1:8). This is the event that the hymns of our Church analyze:

«You were taken up in glory, o Christ our God, thus gladdening Your disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit, making them certain with this blessing that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world».

Christ's opus for the salvation of the world was completed on the day of the Pentecost. The Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostles the whole mystery of the divine love and rendered them able to become fiery heralds of Christ.

«The Holy Spirit: light and life and a virtual source of life. Spirit of wisdom, Spirit of prudence, benevolent, direct, intellectual, sovereign, removing all trespasses. Both Deity (God) and deifying, both fire and product of fire, uttering, acting, distributing the charismas, through Whom all the Prophets and Apostles of God had been crowned, along with martyrs. A foreign sound, a foreign sight: fire, dividing itself into distributed charismas».

Man is no longer scattered. The age of Babel is past.  A new era has dawned for mankind. It is the era of unity in the Body of Christ (cmp.Gen.11:1-9; Acts 2:5-12; Revel.7:9-10).

«When descending, the Most High One confused the tongues and partitioned nations; when He partitioned the flames, He invited everyone to unity, and we -accordingly- glorify theMost Holy Spirit».

The result of the divine light - the "violent rush of wind" of the Pentecost - as the consequence of man's return to his unity with the Holy Trinity, is his return to the upright and true faith. It furthermore is the true veneration of the one and only Triune God, Who is the salvation of mankind.

«We have seen the true light, we have received a heavenly spirit, we have found the true faith, in venerating the indivisible Trinity, for that is what saved us».

Throughout this period, Christians are living inside the light of the Resurrection; they are standing on Mount Tabor and are living the inexpressible joy of the Transfiguration.  The Orthodox Church forbids genuflexion during this period. The standing position is the stance of the Resurrection, whereas genuflexion (kneeling) is a stance of mourning and repentance. It is for this reason that we see the righteous around the throne of God in a standing position (Revel.20:12).

But now, we hear once again for the first time the Deacon's exhortation:

«Again and again, on bended knees let us beseech the Lord »!

The faithful are exhorted to return to the world which is in the fallen state and corruption, in order to convey the message of joy and hope by the Holy Spirit. In this way, the world acquires meaning once again. It is bestowed with meaning!


6. The Sunday cycle

Each time that Christians congregate to perform the divine Eucharist and especially each Sunday, the event of the Resurrection and of the Pentecost are repeated.  That is why the people chant with enthusiasm at the end of each divine Liturgy:

«We have seen the true light, we have received a heavenly spirit… ».

Then, afterwards, the priest exhorts all the churchgoers to return once again to the world in order to transmit that joy and this redemptive message: 

«In peace let us go forth!»

With all the above it becomes obvious that in the liturgical year, it is not about certain specific dates and specific hours that a Christian is called upon to live differently, forgetting his pursuits and the daily problems of life.  In other words, it is not about certain interruptions in man's daily toils. On the contrary, whatever the Christian lives in the liturgical space, he is called upon to continue throughout all his life.  His entire life is required to be illuminated and to acquire meaning from that central event of the Resurrection and the Pentecost.  But this is not an easy matter for man in this lifetime. That is why every now and then he must return to the liturgical space, re-live the joy of the Resurrection and the Pentecost, in order to go back into the world with renewed strength, until the Coming of the Lord becomes a reality, when man's entire life -and the entire world's- is finally living a perpetual divine Liturgy within the perpetual glory of the Resurrection and the Pentecost (cmp.Revel.21:22-25, 5; Isaiah 60:1-22).


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Article published in English on: 10-3-2014.

Last update: 10-3-2014.