Every day of the year is dedicated to the
commemoration of particular saints or sacred events; these are the feasts. Some
feasts are immovable; they are always observed on the same date; for example,
the Nativity of Christ (and the Christmas Fast which precedes it) and the
Dormition of the Mother of God (and the Dormition Fast.) There are also movable
feasts, whose date varies from year to year. These include all those feasts
which are connected with Pascha (Easter), such as Palm Sunday, the Ascension
Pascha is the most joyous of Christian feasts. It
is "the feast of feasts and the festival of festivals." Our Lord
Jesus Christ arose from the dead on the day after the Jewish Passover (Pascha),
which fell on a Saturday in the year in which He was crucified.
Since the Old Testament Passover was celebrated
according to the lunar calendar, so that it fell on different dates in
different years, the Pascha of the New Testament was also celebrated on a date
related to that of the Old Testament Passover. The First Ecumenical Council
decreed that the Christian Pascha should always be observed on the first Sunday
after the first full moon of spring, but separately from the Jewish Passover.
Tables, called Paschalia, have been compiled,
indicating when Pascha falls in any given year. The earliest date on which
Pascha can fall is April 4 (March 22 by the church calendar), and the latest
date for Pascha is May 8 (April 25 by the church calendar.) Lent, or the Great
Fast, begins seven weeks before Pascha. Each Sunday of Lent is dedicated to a
particular commemoration (See the brochure Great Lent). One week before
Pascha Palm Sunday is celebrated. Forty days after Pascha the Ascension of our
Lord is commemorated, and ten days later comes Pentecost (Trinity Sunday, the
feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles).
Here is a list of the twelve great feasts of the Church
and their dates according to the civil calendar: The Nativity of Christ
(January 7); the Baptism of our Lord (Theophany ó January 19); the Presentation
of our Lord in the Temple (February 15); the Annunciation (April 7); the Entry
of our Lord into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday ó the last Sunday before Easter); the
Ascension of our Lord (40 days after Pascha); the Descent of the Holy Spirit
upon the Apostles (Pentecost or the Day of the Holy Trinity ó 50 days after
Pascha); the Transfiguration of our Lord (August 19); the Dormition of the
Mother of God (August 28); the Nativity of the Mother of God (September 21);
the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 27); the Presentation of the
Blessed Virgin Mary (December 4).
After Pentecost the Church begins the cycle of the
eight tones (particular melodies), with which is associated the cycle of daily
readings from the Epistles and Gospels.
b) The Weekly Cycle of Services
In addition to the yearly cycle of services, there
is also a weekly cycle, in which each day of the week is dedicated to a
particular sacred event or saint. Sunday is dedicated to the Resurrection of
Christ; Monday, to the Angels; Tuesday, to Saint John the Baptist and the
Prophets; Wednesday and Friday, to the remembrance of our Saviourís suffering
on the Cross (hence Wednesday and Friday are days of fasting; it was on
Wednesday that Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, betrayed Christ to
the Jewish high priests; Wednesday, besides being dedicated to the Cross, also
honors the Mother of God); on Thursday are commemorated the holy Apostles and
their successors, the holy Hierarchs, among whom St Nicholas the Wonderworker
is especially venerated; on Saturday the martyrs, holy monks and nuns and all
the saints are honored. Saturday is also the day on which all the faithful
departed are commemorated.
c) The Daily Cycle of Services
In keeping with biblical tradition, the Churchís
day begins in the evening. The biblical account of the days of creation
mentions the evening first: "And the evening and the morning were the
first day" (Gen. 1:5); therefore, the first service of the church day
is Vespers, the evening service. There are nine divine services offered every day: Vespers, Compline, Midnight Service, Matins, the
First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours and the Divine Liturgy. The full cycle of
daily services is usually carried out only in monasteries and some very large
parish churches, which have many people and more than one priest.
the service celebrated at the end of the day, in the evening. At Vespers the
faithful give thanks to the Lord for the past day and ask His grace for the
is the service celebrated after the evening meal, or supper. It consists of a
series of prayers before going to sleep, in which the faithful ask the Lord for
forgiveness of their sins and for protection from the devilís temptations
The Midnight Service is generally a
monastic service, read at , in
commemoration of our Saviourís prayer in the garden
of Gethsemane. The prayers of the Midnight Service urge those at prayer
to be vigilant and always to be ready for the day of judgment,
which will come suddenly, like the bridegroom who came at in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.
The Hours are very short services, read in
the course of the day, usually without any singing. The First Hour corresponds
approximately to the hour after by our
time, since in antiquity the hours were counted from sunrise. At the Third
Hour, corresponding to , the
Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles is recalled. The Sixth Hour () commemorates the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the Ninth Hour () ó the
Death of our Saviour on the Cross.
The most important of all the divine services is
the Divine Liturgy, which is usually celebrated before . At the Liturgy the whole earthly life of the Saviour
comes before the spiritual gaze of the faithful, and in particular the Mystical
(Last) Supper, at which our Lord Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy
Communion. In this sacrament a miracle takes place. The Holy Spirit descends
upon the bread and wine and transubstantiates them, changes their very
substance. The bread becomes the true Body of Christ and the wine in the
chalice becomes the true Blood of Christ.
In the monasteries of antiquity these services
were performed separately, each at its own appointed time. When the services
came to be celebrated in parish churches, they were grouped together for
convenience in two aggregates, the evening services and the morning services.
The evening services include Vespers, Matins and the First Hour. The morning
services are the Third and Sixth Hours and the Divine Liturgy. The Ninth Hour,
Compline and the Midnight Service are usually omitted in parish churches.
On the eves of Sundays and great feasts the
evening service, consisting of Vespers, Matins and the First Hour, is
celebrated with greater solemnity than on weekdays. This service is called the
All-Night Vigil, because the early Christians used to begin the service in the
evening and end the next morning, when they would celebrate the Liturgy, at
which the faithful received Holy Communion.