Posts Tagged ‘feast days’

Till (maybe) you’ve read the recent Sunday (Triumph) of Orthodoxy sermon of Serbian Orthodox Bishop MAXIM of the Western USA.  Blew me the heck away on a whole bunch of levels I don’t need to bother you with.

(BTW, there’s nothing “ecumenically incorrect” about calling the First Sunday of the Great Fast [Lent] “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.”  The “Orthodoxy” referenced is regarding Holy Images, theoretically maintained by Old Rome and even some High Church Protestants to this day, though in different ways from Eastern Christians, e.g., statues and naturalistic paintings of sacred subjects.  The 7th Ecumenical[!] Synod was several centuries before the break between Rome and the rest of the Church.  ISTR reading that at least some Eastern Catholic Churches still call that Sunday “of Orthodoxy,” and certainly they don’t commemorate something they don’t believe they still share in, even by Rome’s allowance.)

…or one of the importances, anyway, appears in the Kontakion (a kind of hymn) of the Great Feast of the Ascension commemorated last Thursday:

When Thou fulfilledst Thy Dispensation for our sake, uniting things on earth with the Heavens, Thou ascendedst in Glory, O Christ Our God, but departing not hence, remaining inseparable from us, and crying unto them that love Thee: “I am with you, and no one shall be against you!” *

Translations into English may vary, including breaking-off the participial phrases into separate sentences or subordinate clauses.  (Sorry, I’m an English major whom they let study Greek! 😉 )  But Patristics often calls Christ’s Incarnation His “Dispensation;” thus His Ascension into Heaven “fulfilled the Incarnation,” or completed it.  How?  “Uniting things on earth with the Heavens.”  Orthodox Christology maintains that in His Incarnation, Christ united the created with the Uncreated “without confusion, change, division, or separation” of either human nature or Divine (IV Ecumenical Synod, Chalcedon).  This is made even clearer in His Ascension: the humanity that He raised from the dead at Pascha, He enthroned in heaven with the Father and the Holy Spirit at His bodily Ascension forty days later.  This may even be suggested by the idea that in the Gospel and Epistles of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, “He is the vine and we are the branches” (see John 15), bringing us also upward to Heaven after Him at His Ascension, if we wish it with our lives, ie, if we truly are branches of Him, drawing His Uncreated Energy into ourselves by every means possible and manifesting it in our lives by His Graciousness.

Then, the Lord’s Ascension isn’t merely a neat trick, a grand finale, a big farewell, a UFO, or a metaphor, but the final act in His work on earth for our salvation, which work on earth was not complete until then.

(*–Adapted from the Jordanville Prayerbook.)

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

Yes, on the Third Monday of Pascha yesterday morning – May 12 (NS)! – some snow stuck to the ground in higher elevations of southwestern Pennsylvania (link may break), the Commonwealth where I and alot of other Orthodox live!

This discussion goes back to my recent post occasioned by the (Western) Good Friday Blizzard in the U.S. Midwest,* pointing out that the (small-T) traditional Western association of Easter with Spring is actually more likely to be fulfilled by Orthodox Pascha – for the next few thousand years anyway, if the Lord doesn’t return in Glory first – because at this time it’s usually one, two, or five weeks later than Easter, and will gradually get later vis a vis the seasons, over time, until of course it reaches Northern Autumn, at which point it will start moving back behind the other way, so to speak, toward Northern Spring.  Anyway, that means it’s alot less likely to snow in the Northern Hemisphere, or be wintry-cold; not impossible, just less likely!

I’ve been prevented by circumstances from replying to A Simple Sinner’s challenge there until now, among them my own continued study of the Calendar situation within Orthodoxy, and between Orthodoxy and Catholicism / Protestantism.  What I’ve learned is that Old Calendar Christianity – ie, most of Christendom before 1582 – essentially knowingly sacrificed, and continues to sacrifice, a little bit of astrological** accuracy in favor of perfect Liturgical convenience.  (As one calendar expert opines [quoted here], “However accurate we might try to make them, calendars should be judged not by their scientific sophistication, but by how well they serve social needs.”  Or as Another putteth it, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”)

As a result of the determination of the Orthodox Paschalion or scheduling of Easter during the first Christian millennium (pursuant to the decision of the First Ecumenical Synod, the Council of Nicea, in AD 325), Western and Byzantine Christian worship services fell into a 532-year cycle discussed briefly and relatively simply here with relatively little polemic.  NB: Father Alexander, with the staunchly Old-Calendar Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, misspoke at one point: the 19-year cycle is lunar, and the 28-year cycle is solar, not the other way around.  Vis a vis the Julian calendar of dates and leap years, the dates of the moon phases calculated for planning purposes – approximate to the observed phases – follow a sequence that repeats every 19 Julian years.  And as the same linked paragraph also notes, Julian dates recur on the same days of the week every 28 years.  28 times 19 equals 532, the two cycles resynchronizing together every 532 years.

It wasn’t just about Easter / Pascha.  For medieval Byzantine Christians, nearly every day of the year was – and for all Orthodox still is – describable in relation to Pascha, whether it’s a day of a week of the Triodion (pre-Lent), the Great Fast (Lent), Holy Week, the actual Pascha Season, or weeks after Pentecost for the rest of the year and early the following year until the Triodion comes around again.  Most people don’t make this connection – it took me a while – but literally every day is a Moveable Feast!  For medieval Western Christians, only the Season(s) of Advent / Christmas / Epiphany were taken out of the relationship to Easter, days of these weeks being defined specially.  (Byzantine Christians didn’t have such a liturgical Advent [just our Nativity Fast], nor an Epiphany / Theophany ‘season’ really.)  When I was going through Catholic schools and seminaries, even “Ordinary Time” was discussed Pentecostally in terms of “the life of the Spirit in the Church,” even if the name “Ordinary Time” seems like “generic/not exciting”!

Therefore, for Byzantine and High-Church Western Christians then and today still, any given day has two aspects.  Easterners characterize these as the Menaion and the Paschalion, ie, the Fixed and the Moveable – the commemoration of the numerical calendar date, and that of the relation to Pascha.  (This is why some of us consider it imprecise to call the Old Calendar as used in most of the Orthodox Church “the Julian Calendar.”  Caesar didn’t know about the Resurrection of Christ, because JC – the earlier one who only thought he was god – died too soon!  OC Orthodox’ Menaion is Julian, but the Paschalion is Hebrew.)  Westerners traditionally thought of them a little differently, the Liturgical Season (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost) or “Temporal Cycle,” and the saint’s feast of the numerical calendar date otherwise, the “Sanctoral Cycle.”

Why is all this important?  Because as I said, the sequence of services – not just Eucharistic Liturgy, but also the Hours and some other Church services – repeated every 532 years.  Each day’s services were also complicated by multiple commemorations on many days of the year, and because of the Menaion and Paschalion (to use the Eastern terms) seeming to jump with regard to each other yearly, a priest needed help putting together any given day’s services.  He didn’t invent them himself eventually, but had the accumulated Holy Tradition in this regard to guide him.  As Fr. Alexander said in the linked article, for Orthodox the key to this (big-T) Tradition is called the Typikon (or Typicon), a big book that describes all the possible combinations of feasts and fasts for the 532-year cycle.  ISTM the Church of Rome had something similar whose most common name seems to have been the Ordinarius, the basis of the Ordo, although as this (old) Catholic Encyclopedia article emphasizes, it varied a bit with the addition of local, regional, or national feasts, or those pertaining to a particular religous or monastic order, and their interaction with the universal (Latin) feasts; this is also true in Orthodoxy, without vitiating the reliance on the Typicon as a whole.  Examples of Orthodox versions of the annual extracts from the Ordinarius that were eventually printed by dioceses, provinces, nations, and orders of the Church of Rome (as the CE discusses) include these from the (Old Calendar) Diocese of Alaska of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and the “2008 Tipic” currently available on the homepage of the OCA’s (New Calendar) Romanian diocese.  (I don’t know if all the OCA’s dioceses do their own Orders of Divine Services; the Romanian diocese’s commemorations might vary from those of the rest of the OCA due to their Romanian traditions, most of the rest of the OCA being of Russian or Carpatho-Russian heritage.  And Alaska is their only remaining OC diocese, so its Menaion would differ from most of the rest of that jurisdiction [though they also have a few dozen OC parishes in other dioceses].)

So what?  I believe Fr. Alexander exaggerates when he complains that parishes and jurisdictions on the Orthodox New Calendar “throw the Typicon in the trash.”  IIUC, they will only gradually, over the centuries, accumulate combinations of feast-days not currently covered by the Traditional Orthodox Typikon.  But most usage of the Typicon t/Traditionally didn’t consist of the ‘dartboard’ approach he and others often employ – impressively – to prove its usefulness, but instead just marching through it day by day, week by week.  The Typikon in a sense was the calendar, covering both Menaion and Paschalion.  The same for the Ordinarius in the West.  I can’t find discussion of the impact of the Gregorian Calendar reform on the Ordinarius and the Ordo, but since the Western Church went from a 532-year cycle to a nearly 6-million-year one, it has had to require increasing intervention by Rome to account for unaccounted-for combinations of universal (Latin) and other feasts, a significant departure from Tradition.  Or massive depletion of feasts from the calendar, as has happend in the last few generations, with the liturgical “reform’s” increased focus on the Seasons, and the ‘lay-off’ of certain well-known but ancient Saints now questioned, such as Christopher and Philomena, and the Great-Martyr George for God’s sake!  (Sorry, I almost never take God’s Name in vain; but here, is it?!  In any case, Orthodox often include prayers and especially hymns from more than one saint-of-the-day, as well as from the season, in Liturgy, similar to what the Tridentine Mass did.)  As Dr. Roman points out in the linked article, this approach too is highly not-Orthodox – and he’s an Eastern Catholic!  Or even a dramatic simplification of the calendar and approach to feasts: for instance, I have no idea what most of this even means, since I have no memory of the Latin Liturgy before Vatican II.  “Semi-double of the Second Class”?!!  Today Latin observances are in order of increasing importance: Commemorations (ie, de-emphasized Optional Memorials during Lent), Optional Memorials, Obligatory Memorials, Feasts, and Solemnities … period.  In fairness, I don’t know what most of the Orthodox Orders of Services I linked to above are talking about either, since I haven’t had a chance to study the finer points of Orthodox Liturgy yet.  But I’ve probably seen or heard it in church, and I know it’s all hugely valued by Orthodox Holy Tradition, so much that if you touch the Liturgy, there’s rioting in the streets of Greece, even deaths … or (successful) mass resistance to Communist-backed “renovationism” in the USSR in the ’20s.  (I never heard that in “History of the Soviet Union” in college!)  And again in fairness, as Fr. Alexander points out, in the Orthodox New Calendar aka Revised Julian, there’s no cycle, it’s completely open-ended, so that it will require updating at the beginning of just about every century by dioceses or jurisdictions or synods.

Long story short, nearly all the world’s Orthodox keep the Traditional Orthodox Paschalion,*** and the overwhelming majority of the world’s Orthodox keep the Traditional Orthodox Calendar aka Julian (though a minority in the Western world), among many, many other reasons, because this Menaion and Paschalion are, mathematically speaking, internally perfect.  They trade one day every 134 years vis a vis the sun and stars and climatic seasons, for the convenience of continuing to follow the Services sanctified by centuries of Orthodox Fathers and Mothers of the Church, Saints, and the All-Holy Spirit of God, without requiring any more novel Hierarchical intervention than necessary (eg, when new Saints are added to the calendar), or the gutting of the calendar or its feasts and Saints (most of the world’s Orthodox treat their Saint’s name-day more importantly than their “birthday according to the flesh”), or of the Liturgical Tradition itself.  And it’s not rare among Orthodox to express doubt that the Lord will delay His Return in Glory long enough to let us seriously worry about Pascha in Northern Autumn – though if He does, there’s always the Southern Hemisphere!  (I guess then they’ll trade kielbasa at the parish Pascha bash after late-night Liturgy, for “shrimps on the barbie“!  Or wait, they’re shellfish and not part of the Fast.  You get what I mean though….)

Think of it computerwise: The raw data are (1) the universal calendar, (2) the elements of the Liturgies (Eucharist, Hours, etc.), (3) a national or regional calendar, and (4) a local calendar.  The Typikon or Ordinarius is/was the database assembled from these raw data.  Holy Tradition is/was the software.  And the annual Ordo’s or other printouts are the output.  Michael Purcell (Orthodox) says his Menologion 3.0 software (both calendars) is ready for download and use on your computer, but generally speaking, the Typikon is in some ways similar to that, and in other ways different, as you could see sampled at the Alaskan and Romanian links above.  To really see it computerwise, a Melkite Catholic priest (Gregorian Calendar) has computerized (5.6 MB) an unofficial software version of his diocese’s typicon for the next 1,000 years(!), and although he says the Hours will be added in a software update expected at the end of next year, the list of options just for Eucharist is more than the Menologion provides, because the Menologion isn’t intended to provide those things.

(*–As well as part of a long-term ongoing attempt to get my head around Orthodox calendar stuff for the sake of explaining it here.)

(**–As they called it a long time ago.)

(***–Metropolitan KALLISTOS [Ware] in The Orthodox Church says Finland’s Orthodox are required by the government to follow the Gregorian Calendar, ie, not even the Revised Julian.  I don’t know why Constantinople’s Estonians do, representing one in eight Orthodox in that country.)

What follows is an extended quote (from pp. 9-10) from Women and Men in the Church, a 1980 work/study by a committee of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). I’m still wrestling with all its implications, myself, but thought I’d offer it here as an example of an Orthodox approach to questions and issues:

Sacraments and Saints, Councils and Canons

The Holy Tradition of the Church is rooted and grounded in the Holy Scriptures and is thoroughly shaped by biblical words and images. It is expressed in the Church’s liturgical worship and sacramental rites, as well as in her ecumenical councils and canons, the writings of her fathers and the lives of her saints. It is expressed also in her sacred art, particularly the holy icons.

Of particular relevance to the issue of women and men in the Church are the following specific sources:

  1. The sacramental rituals, particularly those dealing with baptism, churching and marriage.
  2. The more than one hundred canons of the ecumenical councils which deal specifically with men and women in the Church.
  3. The writings of the Church fathers, particularly Clement of Alexandria, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and most especially Saint John Chrysostom.
  4. The liturgical services, particularly of the conception and nativity of John [t]he Baptist and the Virgin Mary; the Annunciation; the Nativity of Christ, the Presentation of Christ to the Temple; the Entrance of Mary to the Temple; the Dormition of Mary and many services to the saints, especially saintly women.
  5. The lives of the saints, particularly the women saints. The lives and acts of women martyrs and missionaries, as well as the women ascetics and married saints, especially those who bear the title “equal to the apostles.”
  6. The holy icons, particularly the icons of the Virgin Mary, [of] the liturgical festivals mentioned above, and [of] the women saints.

In these sources, and in these sources alone, are to be found the basic, essential and final revelation of the truth of God about women and men in the Church [emphasis in original]. All other sources are additional, and are to be judged and interpreted in the light of these sources, which means in the light of Christ and the Holy Spirit, as this light shines forth from God in the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church. This does not mean that the findings of “modern science” — biological, sociological, psychological, medical, political, economic [–] are unimportant and valueless. It means rather that they are subject to examination in the light of God’s revelation in Christ, the Spirit and the Church. It means that they are always limited and partial, and that they may sometimes simply be wrong; not “science” at all, but merely the opinions of persons who voluntarily or involuntarily are blinded by ignorance or evil. (See Romans 1:18ff). The final word in every instance belongs to the Word Himself, Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God who remains the Lord and Master of all creation in the Church which is his body, “the pillar and the bulwark of the truth.” (I Timothy 3:15).

On Monday August 1, we entered the Transfiguration / Dormition Fast, which continues through 8/14. (It’s usually just called the Dormition Fast.) And it occurred to me that Orthodox commemorate Mary’s falling asleep on the 15th, but the West, her Assumption, which we say took place within three days of her burial. That is, the Assumption may have taken place right after she was buried; all we know for sure is that her tomb was empty on the third day when St. Thomas, in God’s Providence, arrived from India and found it so.

Considering that the West is agnostic concerning her death, who is more credible?