The Feast of Feasts-The Holy Pascha of the Lord.
On Saturday, the day after the crucifixion of the Lord, His disciples and followers were filled with gloom, for they had seen their Lord and Master die, crucified on a cross. As Holy Scripture tells us, there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Luke 23:50-52). Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away His body. [He and] Nicodemus also, who had at first come to Him by night…took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen clothes…as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42). The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how His body was laid; then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:55-56).
Great Feasts of the Paschal Cycle.
The Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (Sunday Before Pascha).
On the Sunday before Pascha, the Holy Church celebrates the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem. Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 12:1). While tarrying there, in the house of Lazarus, many of those who had accompanied Him on the way from Jericho managed to reach Jerusalem and spread the tidings that Christ the Savior was coming there for the Feast of the Passover, and had stopped for a while in Bethany. Hearing this news, Christ’s enemies, the scribes and Pharisees came to Bethany, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, Whom He had raised from the dead (John 12:9).
The Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Aug. 6).
At one point in His earthly ministry, Our Lord asked His disciples, Who do men say that the Son of man is (Matt. 16:13)? The disciples gave various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Then He said to them, But who do you say that I am (Matt. 16:15)? Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Shortly after this confession of faith, Jesus went up a high mountain (according to Church Tradition, Mt. Tabor) to pray, taking with Him Peter, James and John. And as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with Him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.
The Holy Supper.
Christmas customs among the Orthodox people are simple, yet beautiful and rich with meaning. Among these customs is the Holy Supper which is served on Christmas Eve. We must emphasize, however, that the traditions which follow are not necessarily followed in every detail by every family that serves the Holy Supper, for Orthodoxy is rich in its diversity.
Traditionally, the meal is served on Christmas Eve at the time of the appearance of the first evening star. This, of course, serves to remind us of the Star of Bethlehem which shone in the East to the Magi coming to worship the Savior. The table itself is covered with straw and linen, which reminds us of the manger in which Christ lay and the linen cloths with which He was wrapped. A lit candle is placed on the table, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem and the Light of Christ shining out in the darkness and despair of the world.
4. Feasts of the Orthodox Church.
The Twelve Great Feasts.
The Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Sept. 8)
The first Great Feast to fall in the Church Year is the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theoto-kos. It is entirely fitting that at the beginning of the new religious year all Orthodox Christians should come before the highest example of human holiness that the Orthodox Church holds pre-cious and venerates — that of Mary, the Theotokos and Mother of God. This day is seen as one of universal joy; for on this day — the boundary of the Old and New Covenants — was born the Most-Blessed Virgin, pre-arranged from the ages by Divine Providence to serve the mystical In-carnation of God the Word.
Great Lent and Pascha
The Feast of Feasts the Holy Pascha the Resurrection of the Lord-is the climax of the Church’s liturgical year and is also the most glorious, most joyful and bright festival of the Christian Church. On it Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ arose as victor over death, destroying the power of death over man once and for all and annulling the curse pronounced upon man in Paradise. But, before the bright joy of Pascha, the Church has ordained a lengthy period of repentance and spiritual searching a period of preparation, so to speak the 40-day Great Lent.
The Forty Days of Great Lent commemorates Israel’s forty years of wandering in the Wilderness the forty years of painful struggle as Israel longed for and then received entrance into the Promised Land (Ex. 16:35) Moses remained fasting on Mt. Sinai for forty days (Ex. 34:28) and the Prophet Elijah fasted for forty days as he journeyed to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Great Lent also recalls the forty days the Lord spent in the Wilderness after His Baptism, when He contended with Satan, the Temptor.
Concerning Bows and the Sign of the Cross.
Orthodox worship is characterized by a complete utilization of the senses — sight, smell, hearing, speech and touch. We see the candles, Icons, frescoes, etc., we hear the sounds of singing and reading, at times lifting up our own voices, and we smell the characteristic odor of the incense. The whole of the human person is involved in worship, and important among the senses is the actual deportment of the human body. The attitude of the Orthodox Believer to worship is reverential, and certain types of bodily movements are utilized to reinforce this sense of reverential piety — we stand during the services, we make bows and prostrations, and with great frequency, we make the Sign of the Cross. Accordingly, there are several types of Bows, depending on the solemnity of the moment.
Prostration (Great Metanoia — Great Poklon).
Here the worshipper prostrates the whole body, throwing the weight forwards onto the hands and touching the ground with the forehead.
The Liturgical books used in Orthodox worship fall into three main groups. The first of these are three books containing readings from Holy Scripture. These are the Book of Gospels, the Book of Epistles (Apostol), and the Book of Psalms (Psalter).
Book of Gospels.
This book contains the text of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) ar-ranged in sections called pericopes (or zachalo in Russian). This book normally rests on the Holy Table, and is customarily treated in the same way as the Holy Icons, itself being regarded as an Icon of the Savior in His teaching ministry.
Communion is preceded by the fraction of the Lamb. The Priest and concelebrating Cler-gy, if any, communicate from the portion XC and the portions NI and KA are for the Commu-nion of the laity. The portion IC is placed in the Chalice last. Hot water is poured into the Chalice after the IC portion, symbolizing the water that poured forth from the Lord’s side, showing that although He was dead, His body was not devoid of divine virtue — that is, the warmth and vitality of the Holy Spirit.
After the Communion of the Clergy, the curtain is opened and the Priest comes out with the Chalice, at the exclamation, “In the fear of God and with faith, draw near!” Before the Com-munion of the Faithful, the Communion Prayer — a brief Symbol of Faith in Christ — is recited.
The Divine Liturgy.
The Divine Liturgy has its origins in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, instituted by the Lord Himself: Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will You have us prepare for You to eat the passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and ‘ay to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.’“ And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they pre-pared the Passover. When it was evening, He sat at table with the twelve disciples…. Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins… And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:17-20; 26-28, 30). This Eucharistic Supper and the Lord’s commandments concerning it were held sacred by the Apostles; for when they met together, they spent the time in prayer, in the singing of sacred hymns, and the breaking of bread in memory of Christ.
Compline, most often served in monasteries, is the Service of Prayer before retiring to bed and thus it is sung after Supper (Greek — Apodeipnon — after supper). As sleep is the image of death, Compline is filled with the thought of death and repentance. On Great Feasts and Saturday evenings, if All-Night Vigil is served, Compline is omitted. There are two types of Compline: Great Compline and its shorter form, Small Compline.
Great Compline consists of three parts, each of which begins with the introductory “Come, let us worship…” and ending with a concluding prayer and the Priest’s blessing. The first part begins with a special set of six Psalms and then the special hymn, “God is with us…,” taken from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Savior Who was to come into the world. Then fol-lows prayers addressed to the Holy Trinity, the Creed, the Invocation of the Theotokos and all the Saints and the Prayer of St. Basil the Great. Thus, in this first part of Compline, we give thanks to God for the day that has just passed and we express the hope that He will grant us a restful sleep during the coming night, as well as a peaceful repose after death with all the Saints.
3. Orthodox Worship.
The Five Cycles.
The Great Cycle of Life.
The life of an Orthodox Christian can be seen as being composed of five cycles. There is, first of all, the great cycle of life, which embraces the whole life of a man from birth to death, and which consists in liturgical actions which are not repeated, occurring only once in a person’s lifetime. These are Holy Baptism, Holy Chrismation, and the Burial Service. In addition, there also belongs in this great cycle the Sacraments or Sacramental Blessings which bestow special grace for a particular office or vocation with the community. These are Holy Matrimony, the Monastic Tonsure and Holy Orders.
The Daily Cycle.
Another major cycle which involves the entire life of an Orthodox Christian is the daily cycle of prayers and praises offered by the Church, once every twenty-four hours. These services express our remembrance of events which happened at certain hours and contain petitions rele-vant to these memories.