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
- 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;
- 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.
- 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.
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.
The Nativity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
From the “Protoevangelium of James”
IN THE HISTORY of the twelve tribes of Israel there was a man named Joachim, who was exceedingly rich. He brought double offerings to the Lord God, saying: “My super-abundance shall be an offering for the benefit of all the people, and a sacrifice of atonement to the Lord God for the forgiveness of my sins.”
Now a great feast of the Lord was at hand, and the sons of Israel were bringing their offerings. And there, Rueben stood in opposition against him and said: “It is not lawful for you to offer your gifts first, because you have no offspring in Israel.” Joachim was exceedingly grieved. He went away to the registries of the twelve tribes of the people, saying: “I shall see the registries of the twelve tribes of Israel, to determine whether I alone have no offspring in Israel.” And he searched and found that all the righteous had raised-up offspring in Israel. Then he called to mind the patriarch Abraham, how God in the end gave him a son, Isaac.
And so, Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and would not return home to his wife. Instead, he withdrew to the wilderness, where he pitched his tent and fasted for forty days and forty nights, saying to himself: “I will not go down either for food or drink, until the Lord my God shall look upon me; prayer shall be my food and my drink.”
In the meantime, his wife Anna mourned and lamented on two accounts, saying to herself: “I shall bewail my widowhood; and I shall bewail my childlessness.”
The great day of the Lord was at hand, and Judith her maid-servant said to her: “How long will you humiliate your soul? Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand, and it is unlawful for you to mourn. But take this headband, made by a woman who gave it to me. It is not right for me to wear it, for I am a maid-servant and it has a royal appearance.” Then Anna replied, saying: “Depart from me; for I do not presume such things, and the Lord has exceedingly humbled me. I fear that some deceitful person has given it to you, and you have come to make me share in your sin.” And Judith answered: “Why would I wish evil upon you, seeing that the Lord has closed your womb, so as not to give you fruit in Israel?”
Grieving exceedingly, Anna set aside her garments of mourning and washed her head. She put on her wedding garments; and at about the ninth hour, she went down to the garden to walk. Seeing a laurel-tree, she sat beneath it and prayed to the Lord, saying: “O God of our fathers, hear my prayer and bless me, as You blessed the womb of Sarah and gave her a son, Isaac.”
Now as she was gazing towards heaven, she saw a bird’s nest in the laurel-tree, and she lamented, saying to herself: “Alas! Who begot me? And what womb has produced me? For I have become a curse in the presence of the sons of Israel. With mockery and ridicule, they have driven me out of the Temple of the Lord. Alas! To what am I likened? I am not like the birds of the heavens, because even the birds of the heavens are productive before You, O Lord. Alas! To what am I likened? I am not like the animals of the earth, because even the animals of the earth are productive before You, O Lord. Alas! To what I am likened? I am not like these waters, because even these waters are productive before You, O Lord. Alas! To what am I likened? I am not like this earth, because even the earth brings forth its fruit in season and blesses You, O Lord.”
And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by her, saying: “Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer; you shall conceive and bring forth a child; and your seed shall be spoken of throughout the world.” And Anna said: “As the Lord my God lives, if I give birth to a male or female, I will bring the child as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall serve Him all the days of its life.”
Then, two angels appeared, saying to her: “Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks. For an angel of the Lord came to him, saying: “Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Come down from here; for behold, your wife Anna shall conceive.”
And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying: “Bring me ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they shall be for the Lord my God; and bring me twelve tender calves, and they shall be for the priests and the elders; and a hundred goats for all the people.”
And so, Joachim came with his flocks, while Anna stood by the gate. And when she saw Joachim coming, she ran and hung upon his neck, saying: “Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow is no longer a widow, and I the childless one, shall conceive.” And Joachim rested in his house the first day.
And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying to himself: “If the Lord God has been gracious to me, the plate on the priest’s forehead will make it manifest to me.” Joachim brought his offerings, and attentively observed the priest’s plate as he went up to the altar of the Lord; and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said: “Now I know that the Lord has been gracious to me and has remitted all my sins.” And he went down from the Temple of the Lord justified and departed to his own house.
After her months were fulfilled, in the ninth month Anna brought forth a child. And she said to the midwife: “What have I brought forth?” And she said:” A girl.” And said Anna: “My soul has been magnified this day.” And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and she gave breast to the child, and called her name Mary.
The child grew strong day by day. When she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to see if she could stand, and Mary walked seven steps and came into her bosom. 2 Then Anna lifted her up, saying: “As the Lord my God lives, you shall not walk on this earth until I bring you before the Temple of the Lord.” And she made her bedroom a holy place, permitting nothing common or unclean to come near her. And she called the pure daughters of the Hebrews, and they were led in.
Now when the child was a year old, Joachim prepared a great banquet; and he invited the priests, the scribes, the elders, and all the people of Israel. And Joachim brought the child to the priests; and they blessed her, saying: “O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations.” And all the people said: “May it be, may it be, amen.” And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her, saying: “O God Most High, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be forever.”
The Protoevangelium of James is the oldest written history of Mary’s conception and nativity, her perpetual virginity and betrothal to Joseph the Righteous. It was extensively used in the East. It has also inspired the Church to establish several important Marian feasts: The Conception by Ann (Dec 9), the Nativity of Mary (Sept 8), and the Entrance of Mary into the Temple (Nov 21). Over the centuries, the Protoevangelium has had an influence upon liturgy, theology, monasticism, spiritual life and Marian devotion. It has also inspired the composition of liturgical hymns for feast days, liturgical poetry, devotions and iconography. Although it does not carry the authority of Holy Scripture, it does carry the authority of any other early Christian work or writing of the Fathers of the Church.
The Empress Helena Finds The Tomb of Christ and the Cross
The Garden of Golgotha and the tomb in which Jesus was buried and rose from the dead was located very close to the site of His crucifixion on Calvary. At that time, both sites were just outside the city walls. But in the years 41-44 AD, when King Agrippa completed the building of a new third perimeter wall, the city was enlarged, and the two sites were enclosed to become part of Jerusalem.
The early Church in Jerusalem established the custom of making processions to the Garden of Golgotha, the site of the resurrection. Processions would begin from the Mother Church (synagogue) on Mount Sion, the site of the Last Supper, and led to the Garden of Golgotha for the solemn commemoration of the great events that took place there: The Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
During those early years of the Church, life in Jerusalem was far from being peaceful. St. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem and brother of the Lord, was martyred in 62/63 AD. Due to growing turmoil within the city and the prophetic words spoken by Jesus about the “end times,” just prior to the first Jewish revolt in the year 66 AD the Jewish-Christian community decided to leave Jerusalem and flee to the town of Pella of the Decapolis, located on the east side of the Jordan in the northern part of the Jordan Valley.
This first Jewish Revolt ended in a blood bath. In the year 70 AD the Roman Army invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, stone by stone. The original house-church where the Last Supper had taken place was probably also destroyed by the Romans.
Sometime after the destruction of the Temple (75-80 AD?), the Judeo-Christian community decided to return to Jerusalem and to build a new church (synagogue) on Mount Zion at the site of the Last Supper. Large hewn stones were dragged from a Herodian building, or even possibly from the rubble of the Temple itself. This synagogue was not built, as were previous synagogues, in the direction of the Temple, but in the direction of the place of Resurrection (the Garden of Golgotha).
The political situation in the city remained uncertain and very tense. The city was now guarded by the 10th Roman Legion, which crushed an uprising in the year 116 AD and the final outbreak of violence in 133-135 AD. This last outbreak is known as the Second Jewish Revolt led by Simon Bar Kokhba.
After suppressing the Second Revolt in 135 A.D., the emperor Hadrian decided to demolish the entire city of Jerusalem in order to erase all the sites which could incite another revolt by the Jews. From that point on, Jews were forbidden to enter the new city by law, punishable by death.
Although Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jerusalem Church (synagogue) survived, thanks to the presence of a Gentile Christian community that continued to live in city and worship on Mount Zion. This community ensured the continuity of identification of the sacred Christian sites.
Hadrian re-constructed a whole new city, based on Hellenistic plans and renamed it Aelia Capitolina (“Aelia” in his honour, and “Capitolina” because it would contain a “Capitol” or temple for Roman gods.) In his new architectural plan of the city, the Garden of Golgotha was located off the main north-south road, close to the centre of the city. Hadrian wanted the “Capitol” to be built there. So. the Garden of Golgotha was filled with earth to create a flat lever surface for the construction of the new Roman temple. Some writers believe that the pagan temple built on the site of the Garden was dedicated to the main Roman gods – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Other authors, based on the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea, maintain that the temple was dedicated to Aphrodite (or Venus). Nevertheless, both schools believe that a pagan temple was build over the site of the Garden. The temple of Hadrian stood over the sacred site for almost 180 years. According to St. Jerome, a statue of Jupiter stood over the site of Christ’s resurrection, and a statue of Venus over the site of Golgotha.
The Search for Jesus’ Tomb (325-326 AD)
In the year 325 AD, during the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea, the Bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, appealed to Emperor Constantine to destroy the pagan temples built atop Christian holy sites in the city of Jerusalem. The Emperor, now Pontifex Maximus of the whole Roman Empire and residing in “New Rome” (Constantinople), agreed to the request. He decreed that pagan temples built atop Christian sites be demolished. This is how the historian Eusebius described the destruction of the pagan temple built over the Garden of Golgotha in Jerusalem: “He (Constantine) judged it incumbent upon himself to render the blessed locality of our Saviour’s resurrection an object of attraction and veneration to all. He issued immediate injunctions, therefore, for the construction of a house of prayer upon that spot. He did this no on the mere natural impulse of his own mind, but being moved in spirit by the Saviour Himself… As soon, then, as his commands were issued, these engines of deceit (pagan temples) were cast down… statues and evil spirits which they represented were overthrown and utterly destroyed… he [the emperor] directed that the ground itself should be dug up to a considerable depth, and the which had been polluted by the foul impurities of demon worship be transported to a far distant place.”
Besides clearing the area from the pagan temples, the work involved also an excavation of the land-fill which the Emperor Hadrian had brought into the Garden of Golgotha to level the area. Once again, the historian Eusebius describes the event as follows: “… As soon as the original surface of the ground, beneath the covering of earth, appeared, immediately and contrary to all expectation, the venerable and hallowed monument of our Saviour’s resurrection was discovered. Then indeed did this most holy cave present a faithful similitude of His return to life, in that, after lying buried in darkness, it again emerged to light, and afforded to all who came to witness the sight, a clear and visible proof of the wonders of which that spot had once been the scene, a testimony to the resurrection of the Saviour clearer than any voice could give.”
The emperor Constantine also directed his mother, Queen Helena, to travel to Palestine on his behalf and to oversee the building of various churches upon identified sites associated with the life of Christ and the events of the gospels (i.e. Bethlehem, the cave of the Nativity of Christ, the Shepherd’s field, the site of the Multiplication of the Loaves in Galilee, the site of the Transfiguration, the site of the Last Supper (Zion Basilica), the House of Caiaphas, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Garden of Golgotha, Bethany and the site of the Ascension, etc.) In the year 326 AD, she was personally present in Jerusalem to witness demolition of the pagan temple built by Hadrian, the excavations and the construction of the new Church of the Resurrection. It was during the excavations that Helena is believed to have found not only the tomb of Christ’s burial and resurrection, but also the cave in which the True and Life-giving Cross had been hidden and stored for over 180 years.
The Construction of a New Church
Constantine’s architects had great plans. The new church to be built on the site of Christ’s tomb was to be a great monument of wondrous beauty, worthy of the site it was to encompass.
The construction of a magnificent basilica upon the site required a complete change in the topography of the site. To make way for this great monument, the architects had to isolate the tomb from the surrounding rock on the northern and western flanks. The tomb, which was dug out in the western facade of the quarry’s walls, ended up being a free-standing structure in a wide empty space. Here a building in the form of a circular royal Roman mausoleum was to be built to enclose the tomb of Christ. It was to be known as the “Anastasis” (Resurrection).