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Feasts and Fasts

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Feasts & Fasts   Prayer

The Church's Year

Pascha Balamand

Pascha (Easter) at Balamand Monastery and Seminary (Lebanon, Patriarchate of Antioch)

Key Facts and Ideas  lb

I am not going to give a lot of detail here about the Feasts and Fasts of the Orthodox Church.  Such detail is already available on a number of excellent sites and I have given the links below.  A question not often discussed though, but which may have occurred to you, is why many churches and the Orthodox Church in particular have all these calendar celebrations in the first place.  Some Protestant Christians argue their case like this:-

(Q):  Surely it makes no sense, for example, to celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25th December when we don't know the month of his birth for sure and when it is quite clear from the historical evidence that the Church took over a pagan holiday for the purpose.  Why celebrate the resurrection at Easter when we know that Christ is risen and alive all the time, not just once a year or on a Sunday, (the weekly feast of the resurrection).  Surely the Bible and maybe other writings are all we need to be equipped as Christians."

(A):  There are a number of misunderstandings here that need to cleared up.

  1. The Orthodox Church doesn't celebrate Christmas as Christ's birthday in the sense that I celebrate mine on 19th June.*  He was born of course, but it simply doesn't matter which month he was born, let alone the day.  That's not why we celebrate.  (*Indeed as an Orthodox Christian I set much more store by my spiritual name day which is the feast of my patron, St. Gregory the Theologian [Nazianzen] - 25th January).

  2. The feasts are observed as part of an annual rhythm, rehearsing the great events of the Church's history, partly to keep people mindful of these events but also to celebrate them, primarily, and to help us all interpret their significance for our lives.

  3. If we only had the Bible to use in worship we would very soon have to split it up into themes and historical sequences in order that our worship would be balanced and comprehensive.  This is, however, precisely what the Christian Calendar does.  It just goes the extra necessary step of designating certain days for each of these allocations.  That way we can be sure that they will all be covered.

  4. The reference to "pagan holiday" is really a critical comment in the minds of some.  However, let's be clear as to why the Church placed many of its feasts on former pagan celebration days.  We did this in order that we might welcome peoples' joy but encourage its redirection it to Christ.  This is also why many ancient Christian churches are built on former pagan sites.  It's a mission strategy and nothing that we should, or in fact do, feel apologetic about.

Let's return to our friendly interrogator!

(Q):  The fasts of the Church ... why are they set out in the Calendar?  why can't you just fast at home as and when you feel it necessary?

(A):   Well we do our fasting together as members of the Church for the same reason that we celebrate together.  We are strengthened as a community in mutual support as we embrace a little difficulty and self discipline together.  It's easier to tread a difficult road if we have companions (literally: "those who share bread") to walk with us.  Moreover when we celebrate together ... my how we party!  That's the joy of the feasts for you ... and look what you are learning and experiencing en route!

Key Principle  cool

Feasting and fasting ... it's a way of always keeping Christ and what he has done for us in mind.

Key Question  ask

How much light and shade is there in my life?  Do I anticipate good times too much?  Do I shrink from times which are tiresome or do I strangely resist joy?

Resources  br

1.  The Major Feasts of the Church (Greek Archdiocese of America)

2.  Sermons on the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church in America - OCA)

3.  Fasting and Fast-Free Seasons of the Church (Orthodox Church in America - OCA)

4.  The Orthodox Ecclesiastical Calendar by M. J. Montes

Your Own Questions Answered Here  help