Tag: great feasts

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As the birthday of the impudent Heron was being kept, the object of the termagant dancer’s oath was achieved; for the head of the Forerunner was cut off and offered on a charger, as food for those reclining.  What a loathsome banquet, replete with wickedness and horrible murder.  As for us, we bless the Baptizer, […]

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Icon, Part 15: The Dormition of the Theotokos

 

When Christ our God wanted to take to Himself his own Mother [to be] with him, then three days before, through an angel, He informer [her] of her departure from Earth. “[It is] time,” he said, “to bring my Mother to me. So do not be disturbed about this but accept the word with joy for you will receive eternal life.” And through [her] desire about departing to Sion, she went up to the Mountain of Olives to pray with sincerity in [her] usual way…⁠1 (St. Andrew of Crete, 8th Century)

On August 15 in the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the final Great Feast of the liturgical year, which began on September 1, and whose first Great Feast was the Nativity of the Theotokos,⁠2 with Falling Asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos. This is more commonly called The Dormition of Mary, since “dormition” is a Latin-derived word that means “the falling asleep.” In Greek this is called “Koimesis.”⁠3 In the Roman Catholic Church this same day is observed as “The Assumption of Mary,” and frankly quite a lot of Orthodox may refer to the feast by the same name. There are subtle differences in the meanings and theology between Assumption and Dormition, but these are fairly minor.

The Dormition, as the last of the Great Feasts, is also the last of the Marian feasts, during which we commemorated not only her Nativity (her birth) but her Presentation at the Temple,⁠4 and the greatest of all her feasts, the Annunciation.⁠5 We have also been with her at Jesus’s Nativity⁠6 (Christmas), Jesus’s own Presentation at the Temple (Candlemass),⁠7 His Crucifixion,⁠8 and his Ascension,⁠9 as well as at Pentecost.⁠10 Mary is the mother of the Church. Jesus, on the cross, put her in the care of the apostle John, and tradition tells us that John cared for her to the end of her days. And while Luke may not have written an account of her death, many believe that the personal touches and remarks of Mary in Luke’s gospel may have been directly due to Luke know her. It is fitting that we honor her death.

Icon, Part 14: The Transfiguration

 

by Theophanes the Greek

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.  And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear Him!” And when the disciples hear it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.  But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”  When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.  Matthew 17: 1-8, Orthodox Study Bible (OSB), 2008.

Icon, Part 8: The Annunciation

 

“Rejoice, O Theotokos, O deliverance of Adam from the curse! Rejoice, O chaste Theotokos! Rejoice, O living bush! Rejoice, O lamp! Rejoice, O throne! Rejoice, O ladder and door! Rejoice, O divine chariot! Rejoice, O bright cloud! Rejoice, O temple, O most-gilded jar! Rejoice, O mountain! Rejoice, O tabernacle and table! Rejoice, O deliverer of Eve!” – Orthros of the Feast, Tone 2​“

On March 25, in both the Orthodox and Catholic churches, The Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and of her assent to bear the Son of God is commemorated.  This is exactly 9 months before the Nativity of Christ (Christmas).  It is, on the Eastern calendar, the 7th Great Feast of the liturgical year.  The primary Gospel account of this miraculous event is in the Gospel of Luke, but as with much else in the liturgical cycle, Church tradition, theology, and hymnody has so much more to say.  In the centuries after the brief ministry of Jesus, succeeding generations of Christians had to come to terms with what, and moreover whom they had witnessed, and then work out and come to an understanding of the significance.  Part of that reckoning was understanding who Mary was, and how profound her own role had been.

The Feast

Icon, Part 6: Theophany

 

Rejoice, O River Jordan, be glad; for within thee the Maker of all things now is here, moved by mercy to seek at a servant’s hand saving Baptism for our sakes. Dance, be glad, O Adam, and, O Eve, our foremother; God supremely good, Who is redemption for all men, is come down to dwell with us.

The Torrent of Delight, Who is Master of all things, doth come unto the river’s swift streams to be baptized; for He willed to give me drink of waters that purify. And when John beheld Him, he cried out to Him, saying: How shall I stretch out my hand upon Thy divine head, whereat all things quake with fear?  Orthros Kathisma of the Fore-feast of Theophany

Coming out of the Advent season, and the 12 days of the Nativity (Christmas), we have reached the Great Feast that marks the end of the Christmas season: Theophany. In the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches (the so-called Oriental Orthodox), Theophany is of far greater significance than the Nativity, and indeed, it is often remarked that in the early days of the Church Theophany was universally the greater occasion than the Nativity, with the Nativity having been originally intended to amplify Theophany. Outside of the liturgical Christian churches, however, this observance has largely been forgotten, which is, I would argue, a significant loss to the understanding and practice of the Christian faith.

Icon, Part 2: The Elevation of the Holy Cross

 

The second Great Feast of the Orthodox liturgical year is on September 14, and marks two related events: first, the finding of The True Cross by Saint Helen, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and secondly, the recovery and restoration, by the emperor Heraclius, of the cross to Jerusalem after its theft by the Persian Empire in its last major war against the Romans.  This feast day is notable for being the only Great Feast day that is not commemorating any Biblical or Biblically-implied event.  It is also the last such Great Feast day until mid-November.

It is also a profound story of imperial conquests, defeats, and cycles of losing and re-finding, played out over 1700 years.  It involves the Christianization of the Roman Empire, a brutal war for the very survival of that empire, coups, assassinations, the elevation of the Cross itself as the single prevailing symbol of the faith, and many figures who loom large in our histories even today.  Its story begins even before the finding of the Cross, with a commoner named Helen, who son Constantine would fundamentally reorder the Roman world.  The story echoes even today in rural Ohio, in small but ornate wooden box, where a tiny fragment of wood, almost too small to be worth noticing, carries with it the arc of Christian history.

The History

Icon, Part 1: The Nativity of the Theotokos

 

September 1 marks the start of the liturgical year of the Orthodox Church. This goes back both to the Romans, who assessed a tax called the Indiction on this date, and to the Jewish calendar, with Rosh Hashanna marking the new year at about this same time. As this is the start of the liturgical cycle of great feasts and great fasts, I’ve decided to put out a series of posts on one of the most recognizable features of Orthodoxy: The Icon.

There are 12 Great Feasts in the Orthodox liturgical year, plus Pascha (Easter), which is the Feast of Feasts (there are also 12 in Catholicism, but with differences). In this series, each part to be posted close to the feast, I’ll be looking both at the event commemorated, and at its iconographic depiction. Through this series I will also try to lay out the functions of icons, their liturgical use, and their accepted proper forms both historically, and as they have developed throughout time (and have both departed from, and returned to their older roots in the process). Here and there I’ll fill in with some additional posts on related topics, certain saints, and the major other icons. Our first selection, corresponding with the first of the Great Feasts, is the Nativity of the Theotokos, which occurs on the eighth of September, just a few days hence.  (Nota Bene: any errors in this series are my own fault.)

The liturgical year in part follows the lives and ministries of two people, Jesus and his mother Mary, as well as significant events in the lives of the Apostles, and of the Church itself. Two of the Marian feasts mirror or foreshadow similar feasts of Christ. Thus we have the Nativity of the Theotokos, and later the Nativity of Christ; and we have the Presentation of Mary at the temple, followed later by the Presentation of Christ at the temple. These two foreshadowing events of the Marian feasts, however, do not celebrate events depicted in the Gospels of the Bible we know today, but events that nonetheless entered the Christian cannon at a very early date. These events are told in the apocryphal gospel of James (The Protoevangelium of James), which, while not accepted into the formal cannon of scripture, is nonetheless considered to illustrate something that was spiritually true or necessary, even if not completely verifiable.