THE LITURGICAL YEAR
From the book “Orthodox Handbook”
Of the ever memorable fr. Antonios G. Alevizopoulos
Translated by fr. George Dion. Dragas
a) The Eighth Day
«And God saw all the things he had created and behold they were very good. And there was an evening and there was a morning. The sixth day … And God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it; Because on it he rested from all these works which He made» (Gen. 1:31, 2:3).
In this way man is called by God that he too may sanctify the seventh day and participate in rejoicing for the goodness of creation.
However, this world fell into sin and the goodness was spoiled. Consequently, the seventh day could not retain its character as a day of rejoicing for the goodness of creation. Man and the entire world now lived in the time of sorrow and exile (Gen. 3:16).
Nevertheless, with the Ιncarnation and especially with the Resurrection of Christ, man and the entire world entered into a new period. A new day dawned, and this is the day of the Resurrection, the day of the Lord, the Eighth Day (see Hebrews 4:1-11).
The incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Christ signify the abolition of the old man and the inauguration of the new man, and of the time of the resurrection and rejoicing.
«Rejoice, o graced one. The Lord is with you » (Luke 1:28), says the Angel to the Virgin and rejoins the rejoicing with man’s reconciliation with God. «Rejoice!» was the first word of Christ to the women after His resurrection (Matth. 28:9), through which He rejoined the rejoicing with the event of the resurrection.
b) Liturgical Time
All the events that we celebrate in our Church are placed in the new time, which was formed in accordance with the light of the resurrection of Christ. In the Divine Liturgy we experience the catholic unity with the brethren and with the entire creation, with the Body of Christ as the center, i.e. the Lord’s theanthropic life. However, to this theanthropic Body also belong the Virgin Mary and all the Saints of our Church (see Eph. 1:22, 5:23, Col. 1:18, 24, John 10:16, I Cor. 10:16 17, Gal. 3:27 28, Eph. 4:4, 5:30).
The life of the Saints is the same life of Christ which is continued throughout the ages. We too are conjoined with them on the basis of our common nature, which Christ rectified through his incarnation, death and resurrection.
Consequently, in the Divine Worship, and above all in the Divine Liturgy, we participate in all the events of the life of Christ and the life of the Saints, because all of us, constitute one Body with Christ and the Saints, i.e. «one man in Christ Jesus» (Gal. 3:28).
In the Feasts of our Church we do not simply remember the events of the divine economy and the life of the Saints; we are not just “carried to” the events of the divine economy and the life of the Saints, but we experience mystically these events and participate in them. For this reason the hymns of our Church do not refer to the past, but always to the present.
“Today is hung upon a tree, He who hung the earth upon the waters!”
“Today the time of the Feast has come upon us and the chorus of the Holy Angels is churched with us.”
“This “Today” is not a figure of speech, but a mystical reality in the hearts of the faithful. All the sacred persons are present. We communicate with them spiritually and experience all the events which we celebrate, because all of them are repeated in a mystical way in the present.
The Annunciation of the Theotokos, Christ’s Birth, Circumcision, Baptism, Transfiguration, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost and the Feasts of the Saints are not events which simply took place in the past and which we have come to remember again in order to emulate them. They are a lot more: living experiences of our Church. They have to do with the very person and work of Christ and the Holy Spirit that are alive in the life of our Church. They constitute an esoteric experience of the Church and of every believer of a reality which is already present (see Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27, 17:21).
c) The cycle of the Feasts associated with Christmas
The Feast of Christmas, which constitutes the expression of God’s love towards fallen humanity, (John 3:16) is prepared by means of a 40 day fast, includes Christ’s Birth, Circumcision and Baptism and is consummated on the Sunday after the Feast of Lights (Christ’s Baptism).
The hymns of our Church are the expression of the joy of humanity and of the entire creation for the event of salvation. This is a joy that is transformed into a universal doxology offered to Christ the Savior:
“Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Christ descends from the heavens, welcome Him!
Christ is now on earth, O be exalted!
Sing to the Lord, the whole earth,
and with jubilation praise Him,
O people, for He is glorified!”
“Today the Virgin brings forth
the Super transcendent One
And the earth offers a cave
to the Unapproachable One.
Angels and Shepherds offer doxologies
Magi go on a journey following a star
For for us a new child is born
The God who is before all ages!”
The hymns present the entire Theanthropic event. In the eyes of the faithful the divine babe is not simply a “child,” i.e. a weak newly born infant, but is and remains simultaneously as the “super transcendent” and “unapproachable” One, who is born and “brought in” for the salvation of humanity.
The hymns of the Circumcision and of the Baptism of the Lord move along the same level.
“Human form unchangeably, You took upon Yourself,
though being God in essence, O compassionate Master;
and fulfilling the Law willingly,
You condescended to circumcision in the flesh,
in order to end all shadowy things
and to roll away the veil of our passions.
Glory to Your goodness.
Glory to You compassion.
Glory, O Word, to Your inexpressible condescension.”
“When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord,
the veneration of the Trinity was revealed.
For the voice of the Father gave witness to You,
calling You Beloved Son,
and the Spirit, in the guise of a dove,
confirmed the certainty of the Word. You who appeared, Christ our God,
and enlightened the world, Glory to You.”
d) The cycle of the Paschal Feasts
The cycle of the Paschal feasts are the climax of the ecclesiastical year and begins with the Triodion. With the Sundays of the Publican and the Pharisee, of the Prodigal Son, of the Meat fare, of the Cheese fare and the rest of the Sundays of the Great Lent, we enter the life of Repentance and the stadium of intense ascesis.
“Let us flee from the boasting of the Pharisee
and learn the Publican’s humility through sighs,
crying out to the Savior, Have mercy on us,
for You alone are ready to forgive.”
“From Your Fatherly glory, having foolishly run away,
I scattered in deeds of evil
The wealth which You gave me.
So, I cry to You with the voice of a Prodigal,
Against You I sinned, O Father of mercies,
Accept me repentant and make me As one of Your servants!”
“The contests of the virtues is now open.
Those who wish to contest, come on in,
girded with the good fight of fasting,
for those who lawfully fight are justly crowned too,
and taking up the panoply of the Cross,
we shall fight against the enemy,
upholding the faith as an unconquerable wall,
and prayer as a chest protector,
being merciful as a helmet, fasting as a sword,
that cuts out every evil from the heart.
Whoever does these receives the true crown
By the Christ the King of all On the day of judgment! ”
This spiritual contest and vigilance reach their pivotal point on the Great and Holy Week, when the believer is called to meet Christ and to experience mystically His holy passion.
“Behold the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night,
and blessed is the servant whom He finds awake;
unworthy, however, is he whom He finds slothful.
See then, o my soul, lest you are brought down by sleep,
That you might not be delivered to death,
And might not be kept out of the Kingdom.
But be awake and cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy are You O God,
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!”
“Today is hung upon a wood,
He who hung the earth upon the waters.
A crown of thorns is put on Him,
Who is the King of the Angels.
He is covered with fake royal purple
He who covers the heavens with clouds.
He is slapped in the face,
He who freed Adam in the Jordan.
He is nailed with nails,
He who is the Bridegroom of the Church.
He is pierced with a lance,
He who is the Son of the Virgin.
We venerate Your sufferings, O Christ,
Show us also Your glorious Resurrection!”
On the night of the Resurrection the faithful and the entire creation live in a flood of light. It is the light of joy and transformation. All things enter into this and become participants.
“Now all things are filled with light”
both heaven and earth
and all that is under the earth,
Let all creation, then, celebrate
Christ’s resurrection, in which it is Firmly established!”
(Ode 3 of the Service of the Resurrection)
“We celebrate the mortification of death,
the abolition of Hell,
the beginning of another life which is eternal,
and leaping for joy, we bless Him who caused it,
the Only Blessed One, the God of the Fathers
who is superbly glorious!”
The faithful then, do not experience an ordinary day. It is the beginning of “another life.” It is the Eighth Day, that has already dawned and on this unending day we bless “Christ in all the ages!”
The Paschal cycle closes after five weeks that follow and are dedicated to Thomas, the Myrrh bearing Women, the Paralytic, the Samaritan Woman and the Man born Blind.
e) The Pentecostal Cycle
The third cycle of the liturgical year is the cycle of Pentecost. It begins with the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord and introduces us into the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit.
The Lord at the moment of His Ascension promises to His disciples, that He will send them the Holy Spirit, which will make them His witnesses to the entire world (Acts 1:8). This event is analyzed by the hymns of the Church.
“You ascended in glory, O Christ our God,
making joyful the disciples
by the promise of the Holy Spirit,
Confirming in them through the blessing
That You are the Son of God The Redeemer of the world!”
The work of Christ for the salvation of the world was completed on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostles the entire mystery of the divine love and enabled them to become fiery heralds of Christ.
“The Holy Spirit is light and life,
and living source of the mind’s intelligence,
Spirit of wisdom and prudence,
Good, upright, intelligent,
Hegemonic, purifier of offenses,
God and Deifier,
Fire from fire, proceeding,
Speaking, acting, distributing charismas,
By whom all Prophets and God’s Apostles
together with the Martyrs were crowned.
A strange hearing, a strange sight,
A Fire divided into portions of charismas.”
Man is no longer dispersed. The period of Babel has passed. A new era dawned on humanity. It is the era of the unity of the Body of Christ (See Gen. 11:1-9, Acts 2:5-12, Rev. 7:9-10).
“When He came down and confused the tongues
The Most High divided the nations.
When He distributed the tongues of fire,
He called all people into unity,
And accordingly we glorify the All holy Spirit!”
The result of the divine light, the “rush of the mighty wind” at Pentecost, a consequence of man’s turning back to unity with the Holy Trinity, is his return to the right and true faith. It is, also, the true worship of the One God in Trinity, who is the salvation of humanity.
“We saw the true light
We received the heavenly Spirit,
We found the true faith,
Worshiping the undivided Trinity,
For the Trinity saved us!”
Throughout the whole of this period the Christians live in the light of the Resurrection. They are on Mount Tabor and live the indescribable joy of the Transfiguration. The Orthodox Church prohibits kneeling during this period. Standing up is proper to the Resurrection, while kneeling is an indication of grief and repentance. This is why we see the righteous standing up around God’s throne (Rev. 20:12).
Nevertheless, we now hear for the first time the Deacon prompting us:
“Again and again bending the knees let is pray to the Lord.”
The faithful are prompted to return to the world which is a state of fall and corruption, to transmit the message of joy and hope of the Holy Spirit. So, the world regains its sense and is given new meaning!
f) The cycle of Sunday
Every time Christians gather to celebrate the Divine Eucharist, and especially on a Sunday, the event of the Resurrection and of Pentecost is repeated. This is why the people sing with fervor at the end of each Divine Liturgy:
“We saw the true light
We received the heavenly Spirit…!”
Then, the priest prompts the entire congregation to go back to the world to transmit this joy and this joy and this redemptive message:
“In peace, let us go forth!”
With all the above it should have become clear, that liturgical time is not a matter of certain dates, or certain hours, when a Christian is called to live differently, forgetting his daily cares and daily problems of life. In other words, it does not have to do with certain interruptions in man’s daily labors. On the contrary, his entire life is called to be illuminated and acquire new meaning from the central Event of the Resurrection and Pentecost.
To achieve this, however, is not easy for any human being that lives in the present life. This is why one needs to return to the liturgical space, to relive the joy of the Resurrection and Pentecost and to start again with new strength to live in this world, until the Lord’s coming becomes a reality, when man’s entire life and the whole world will live in a constant Divine Liturgy within the glory of the Resurrection and Pentecost (See, Rev. 21:22-25, 5, Is. 60:1-22).