In a world where it often seems as though we are constantly on the run, where electric lights allow us to wake up early and stay up late, where businesses are open twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, time can pass us by all too easily, and without any sense of stability. The Church, however, offers us a sense of regularity, a calendar of fasts and feasts which ground us in its life. This calendar has its origins in the Roman/Byzantine civil calendar, which overtime became more and more Christianized.
The liturgical year today is a cycle of fasting and feasting which celebrates the mystery of salvation; some of these feasts remain important to our culture as a whole (Pascha and Christmas, for instance), while others are significant to us but probably unknown to those with whom we interact in our daily lives (such as Theophany). The Byzantine liturgical calendar includes the following major observances:
Pascha, the Feast of Feasts: Pascha (Easter) is the New Passover, the greatest celebration of the Christian year. It includes its own cycle of observances and services which include
The Great Fast (40 days before Great Week)-- common observances include Presanctified Liturgy, Great Compline, and the Akathist Hymn.
Great Week-- Daily services held in anticipation of Pascha, including Bridegroom Orthros, Holy Unction, The Lord’s Supper Liturgy and the Crucifixion, the Royal Hours, Vespers at the Cross, and the Funeral for Christ-God.
The Resurrection--the week beginning with Haste Orthros and the Divine Liturgy early on Pascha morning and extending throughout Bright Week.
In addition to Pascha, we also celebrate:
The Twelve Great Feasts-- the major holy days of our Church which focus on events from the lives of Christ and the Theotokos, usually Vespers or Divine Liturgy is celebrated on these days.
Fasting Seasons--In addition to Great Lent, Byzantine Christians observe three other fasting seasons (these will be discussed in coming weeks). Typically these seasons will feature their own penitential services.
Saint’s Days--Saints are commemorated every day of the Church year, but some are especially commemorated. In addition to particularly important saints, locally important saints may also be celebrated in a special way. For instance, a parish might commemorate its namesake more festally than a parish with no particular connection to that saint.