Throughout the year we commemorate the major events in the life of the Theotokos (from the Greek for "God-Bearing One") and Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The record of the birth of Mary is not found in the Bible. The traditional account of the event is taken from the apocryphal writings which are not part of the New Testament scriptures. The traditional teaching which is celebrated in the hymns and verses of the festal liturgy is that Joachim and Anna were a pious Jewish couple who were among the small and faithful remnant—“the poor and the needy”—who were awaiting the promised messiah. The couple was old and childless. They prayed earnestly to the Lord for a child, since among the Jews barrenness was a sign of God’s disfavor. In answer to their prayers, and as the reward of their unwavering fidelity to God, the elderly couple was blessed with the child who was destined, because of her own personal goodness and holiness, to become the Mother of the Messiah-Christ.
The Elevation of the Cross, celebrated on the fourteenth of September, commemorates the finding of Christ’s Cross by Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century; and, after it was taken by the Persians, of its recovery by the Emperor Heraclius in the seventh century at which time it was “elevated” in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. From this latter event the “universal elevation” of the Cross was celebrated annually in all of the churches of the Christian Empire
Mary was brought as a small child to the temple by her parents in order to be raised there in the service of the Lord. Mary was solemnly received by the temple community which was headed by the priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. The main theme of the feast of Mary’s entrance to the Temple, is the fact that she enters the Temple to become herself the living temple of God. The feast celebrates the end of the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. When the child Mary enters the temple, the time of the temple comes to an end and the path to salvation begins.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, was born of the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem during the reign of the emperor Augustus (Octavian). Caesar Augustus decreed that a universal census be made throughout his Empire. The Mother of God and Joseph, since they were descended from the house and lineage of King David, had to go to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed. In Bethlehem they found no room at any of the city’s inns. Thus, the God-Man, the Savior of the world, was born in a cave that was used as a stable.
Having given birth to the divine Infant without travail, the Most Holy Virgin “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7).
“The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ Then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, glorifying God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ Those who heard these things were astonished at what the shepherds told them concerning the Child. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:10-20).
Theophany is the Feast which reveals the Most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord (Mt.3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by Saint John the Forerunner, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove.
The origin of the Feast of Theophany goes back to Apostolic times, and it is mentioned in The Apostolic Constitutions (Book V:13). And is mentioned as early as the second century by Saint Clement of Alexandria.
On the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the Holy Church proclaims our faith in the mystery of one God in three Persons. It teaches us to glorify the Holy Trinity, one in Essence and Undivided.
It is customary to bless Water on this Day.
In accordance with tradition, Forty days after Christ was born He was presented to God in the Jerusalem Temple. Forty days after Christmas, on the second of February, the Church celebrates the feast of the presentation called the Meeting (or Presentation) of the Lord.
The meeting of Christ by the elder Simeon and the prophetess Anna (Lk 2.22–36) is the main event of the feast of Christ’s presentation in the Temple. It was “revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Lk 2.26) and, inspired by the same Spirit, he came to the Temple where he met the new-born Messiah, took Him in his arms and said:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel (Lk 2.29–32).
It is customary in many churches to bless candles on the feast of the Meeting of the Lord.
The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to the Virgin who was betrothed to Saint Joseph: “Hail, thou who art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1: 26-38)
Palm or Flowery Sunday is the celebration of the triumphant entrance of Christ into the royal city of Jerusalem. He rode on a colt for which He Himself had sent, and He permitted the people to hail Him publicly as a king. A large crowd met Him in a manner befitting royalty, waving palm branches and placing their garments in His path. They greeted Him with these words: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (John 12:13).
The time of fulfillment was at hand. Christ’s raising of Lazarus points to the destruction of death and the joy of resurrection which will be accessible to all through His own death and resurrection. His entrance into Jerusalem is a fulfillment of the prophecies. “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zech 9:9).
On Palm Sunday palm and willow branches are blessed in the Church. We take them in order to raise them up and greet our King and Ruler, Jesus Christ.
The feast of Easter is officially called Pascha, the word which means the Passover. It is the new Passover of the new and everlasting covenant foretold by the prophets of old. It is the eternal Passover from death to life and from earth to heaven. It is the Day of the Lord proclaimed by God’s holy prophets, “the day which the Lord has made” for His judgment over all creation, the day of His final and everlasting victory. It is the Day of the Kingdom of God, the day “which has no night” for “its light is the Lamb” (Rev 21.22–25).
Jesus did not live with His disciples after His resurrection as He had before His death. Filled with the glory of His divinity, He appeared at different times and places to His people, assuring them that it was He, truly alive in His risen and glorified body.
To them He presented Himself alive after His passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1.3).
On the fortieth day after His passover, Jesus ascended into heaven to be glorified on the right hand of God (Acts 1.9–11; Mk 16.19; Lk 24.51). The ascension of Christ is His final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of His mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is His glorious return to the Father Who had sent Him into the world to accomplish the work that He had given him to do (Jn 17.4–5).
. . . and lifting His hands He blessed them. While blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Lk 24.51–52)
In the Old Testament Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. As the passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, so Pentecost celebrated God’s gift of the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.
In the new covenant of the Messiah, the passover event takes on its new meaning as the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, the “exodus” of men from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the “new law,” the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ.
When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed as resting upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . . (Acts 2.1–4).
The Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to his disciples came on the day of Pentecost (Jn 14.26, 15.26; Lk 24.49; Acts 1.5). The apostles received “the power from on high,” and they began to preach and bear witness to Jesus as the risen Christ, the King and the Lord. This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.
The transfiguration of Christ is one of the central events recorded in the gospels. The Lord took Peter, James, and John “up to a high mountain”—by tradition Mount Tabor—and was “transfigured before them.”
. . . and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as snow and behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish I will make three booths here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (Mt 17.1–92, see also Mk 9.1–9; Lk 9.28–36; 2 Pet 1.16–18).
The Jewish Festival of Booths was a feast of the dwelling of God with men, and the transfiguration of Christ reveals how this dwelling takes place in and through the Messiah, the Son of God in human flesh. Christ’s transfiguration took place at the time of the Festival of Booths, and became the New Testamental fulfillment of the Old Testamental feast in a way similar to the feasts of Passover and Pentecost.In the Transfiguration, the apostles see Who it is Who has suffered for them, and what it is that this one, Who is God, has prepared for those who love Him. This is what the Church celebrates in the feast of the Transfiguration.
The feast of the Transfiguration is presently celebrated on the sixth of August. The summer celebration of the feast has lent itself very well to the theme of transfiguration. The blessing of grapes, as well as other fruits and vegetables on this day is the sign of the transfiguration of all things in Christ.
The feast of the Dormition or Falling-asleep of the Theotokos is celebrated on the fifteenth of August, preceded by a two-week fast. This feast, commemorates the death, resurrection and glorification of Christ’s mother. It proclaims that Mary has been “assumed” by God into the heavenly kingdom of Christ in the fullness of her spiritual and bodily existence.
As with the nativity of the Virgin and the feast of her entrance to the temple, there are no biblical or historical sources for this feast. The Tradition of the Church is that Mary died as all people die, not “voluntarily” as her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature.
It is the custom in some churches to bless flowers on the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos.
There are many articles on the great feasts published on their website as well as graphics for the icons of the feasts, many of which are featured on this page.
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