Painting of the The Last supper

Feasts and Holy Days

The Classification of Feasts

According to their point of view, feasts may be divided into several classes:

Objects of the Feasts: Feasts are divided into feasts of our Lord, feasts of His Mother, and feasts of the saints following the order of the liturgical year. Feasts are either movable or immovable.  Movable feast days depend on Easter.  Immovable feasts are those which are celebrated every year on the same day of the month.

The pre–paschal period itself is
subdivided into three seasons

  1. The pre–Lenten season, which begins with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee and ends with Cheese Fare Sunday including in all, four Sundays and three weeks;
  2. Lent or the Lenten season, also called the “Great Fast” or  “Forty Days.” Which lasts from the Monday after Cheese Fare Sunday until the Friday before Palm Sunday.
  3. Holy week or Passion Week, which begins on the Monday after Palm Sunday and ends with the Resurrection Service on Easter Sunday.  The Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday are joyful and festive days which actually close the period of fast, but at the same time lead into Holy Week.  According to some division, the Lenten season also includes Holy Week.  But liturgically speaking, the Lenten period ends on the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus.

Immovable Feasts

The Immovable feasts are those which are celebrated on the same day of the month every year.  Their cycle begins September 1 and ends with following August 31.

The centre of the immovable feasts is the Nativity of our Lord, since many of these feasts have an intimate dependence upon Christmas.

The Movable Feasts
Easter and the Sacred Seasons Connected with Easter

If the liturgical year were simply a summary of the chief acts in the drama of salvation and a history in orderly succession of the principal events in our Savior’s life, then we should begin with Christmas, the festival of Christ’s birth.  But if we want to read the liturgical year historically, we are bound to commence with Easter, since Easter existed from the very beginning of Christianity and formed the natural starting point for all other feasts.  It did not come into existence gradually, as did other feasts, but formed an immediate link with the Old Testament.  Easter owes its origin to no human wisdom or piety.

Easter is the most important feast of the liturgical year.  It is the chief festival of Christianity, the first and oldest of all feasts.  The liturgy call it that chosen and holy day, the one standing our from among all the Sabbaths, king and lord among all the days, the feast of feasts and the solemnity of solemnities” (Eight ode of the Resurrection Service).  On this day no one should fear death, for the Savior’s death and glorious resurrection have set us free. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.  Christ is risen, and angels rejoice, Christ is risen and life lives.  For Christ, having risen from the dead, has become the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep.  To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

With regard to the name, the English work “Easter” comes from the Anglo-Saxon Estre, akin to the German Ostre, originally a Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and spring.  In her honor, fires, later known as the Easter fires, were kindled in spring.  Pascha is the Greek form of the Aramaic word “Pasach – Passover.”  Easter is also called “the Day of Resurrection,” or simply “the Great Day.”

The connection of the
Christian Feast with the Jewish Passover

The connection between the Jewish Passover and the Christian feast of Easter is both historical and logical.  It is historical because Christ died on one of the days of the Passover, the 15th of Nisan.  It is logical because what took place on the Christian Easter had been prefigured in the Old Testament by symbols, particularly in the paschal lamb eaten towards evening on the 14thof Nisan.  As the Passover, was the principal holy day of the Old Law, so the Christian Pascha or Easter rightfully occupies the place of prime importance among the holy days of the New Law.

The Jewish Passover was commemoration of what had taken place on the evening of the exodus from Egypt.  On that occasion, the Israelites were instructed to kill a lamb and to mark their door posts with its blood in order that the angel of death might pass over their houses, then consume the lamb at ceremonial meal.  This final meal which the Israelites ate in Egypt on the eve of their departure, the 14th of Nisan, was of a sacred character and was to be repeated every year on the same day. 

Several of the rites prescribed at the offering of this lamb pointed ahead to the atoning death of the Messias.  These and several other particulars emphasized the connection between the sacrifice of the Passover and that of the cross.  St. Paul declared that the sacrifice of Christ replaces the Passover, though he had no objections to Christians holding a Passover supper even if he otherwise expressed himself very strongly against their continuing to observe Jewish practices. (I Cor,)  Similarly the Fathers of the first centuries see a striking connection between the Passover and the Christian Easter.  The blood of the first paschal lamb saved the Jewish first – born from the hand of the destroying angel.  But a more important liberation was coming.  A new Promised Land, the Kingdom of Heaven, was to be won and entered, by virtue of the blood of the future Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, through whose sacrifice mankind was set free from the bondage of sin, restored man to the friendship of God and the life of grace.

Even without this Jewish feast, however, Christians would have celebrated the anniversary of the death and resurrection of Christ.  But for this it was desirable to know the exact date of Christ’s death.  The question was a simple one for the Jews.  It was the day following the 14th of the first month, the 15th of Nisan in their calendar.  But for Christians of other countries it was more difficult.  In the Roman Empire under which most Christians lived, different methods of reckoning time and different calendars were in use. Since 45 B.C., the Romans themselves used the revised Julian Calendar, giving perfect freedom to subject nations to adopt it or to continue their own system.  Chief among these calendars, were the Egyptian, the Syro – Macedonian and the Semitic, each with its own way of dating the year.  Because of these various reckonings on time, it was difficult to establish a fixed date for the Christian Easter, which would be acceptable to all.

Thus, the very connection between the Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover explains the movable character of he feast.  Easter has no fixed date because the Jewish 15th of Nisan, based on a lunar calendar, varied from year to year.  Since Christ died on one of the days when Jews were celebrating the Passover, Jewish Christians followed the Jewish method and commemorated the death of Christ on the 15th of Nisan and His resurrection on the 17th of Nisan, no matter on what day of the week they fell.  In other parts of the Empire, other considerations predominated.  In Asia Minor, for instance, the death and resurrection of Christ were celebrated on the same day. In Rome and Alexandria, Easter was celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. There is evidence that his rule for determining the date of Easter was followed in Rome since the time of Pope Sixtus I, possibly even earlier.  Finally the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) decreed that the Roman practice should be observed throughout the Church.  Today Easter may fall on any of the days between March 22 and April 25, that is, on any of 35 days.

Easter, as the chief feast of the Liturgical year, besides being commemorated each Sunday has a special and solemn paschal cycle of its own during which the Church properly prepares for it, solemnly celebrates it, and reverently recalls it.

The Paschal or Easter cycle begins ten weeks before Easter with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and closes with All Saints’ Sunday, which is eight weeks after Easter.  This whole Easter cycle can be divided into pre- paschal and paschal periods.

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