Honoring the Liturgical Cycle
The Church in Her Holy wisdom offers us a cycle of fasting and feasting. This cycle is based on the life of Christ. The key is to learn to follow it, to participate in it, and not to allow other activities in life to be viewed as more important. Follow the prescribed fast times. Participate in the major feast days of the Church. Plan your schedule to make this a reality.
The Church year begins in September. This initiates a period of preparation for the celebration of the Nativity and Baptism of Christ. As we approach Christmas there is a 40-day Nativity Fast. Participate in it and consciously prepare for this important spiritual event. This will counteract the commercial madness we normally experience at this time of year. Following the Nativity, there is a feasting period (the twelve days of Christmas) capped by the celebration of Theophany or the Baptism of Jesus on January 6th. Celebrate with others during this period. Make an effort to turn your life into this cycle of fasting and feasting.
Shortly after the Theophany, there begins the period to prepare us for the most important event, Pascha or Easter. It begins with a preparatory three week period prior to the Great Fast of Pascha, called the Triodion. Use this period and the teachings designated for the four Sundays during this period to help you get into the right attitude for the Great Fast of Lent. When Lent begins, fast to the best of your ability, keeping in mind the fasting guidelines of the Church for this period. The fast leads up to Holy Week, which is the most intense period in the Church Liturgical cycle. Holy Week takes us through the Passion of Christ and His Crucifixion and leads us to His glorious Resurrection and victory over death. Take time off from normal activities this week to participate in these beautiful services. You will find new meaning in the Resurrection as you break the fast with the joyous announcement of the Resurrection at midnight on the first dawning of the feast day of Pascha. Following Pascha, plan for another period of feasting and celebration with family and friends. Next we await the Ascension of Jesus, which comes 40 days after Pascha. Ten days later, this is followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, celebrating the time when the apostles were empowered to carry forward the teachings of Jesus to all parts of the world. We can think of this as the birth of the Church here on earth.
In addition to these large cycles, there is a weekly cycle and even a daily cycle. During the week we should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. Make a commitment to remember to control your eating habits by restraining them on these two days in remembrance of our God.
In addition to the normal morning and the evening daily prayers, the Church prays additionally on what are called the Hours: midmorning, noon, mid-afternoon, and at the setting of the sun. As you mature in your prayer life you can make time for such prayers throughout the day.
The liturgical cycle provides for periods where you can more intensely focus on your spiritual needs. The time of Great Lent is most important for this. It provides a time to withdraw from your busy life, to limit your normal activities, to increase your time in prayer and reading of Scriptures, and to concentrate on your inner self, seeking what is most important for your soul to become united with God.
Here are the 12 major Feasts of the Church:
- September 8 - Nativity of the Theotokos
- September 14 - Elevation of the Holy Cross
- November 21 - Presentation of the Theotokos
- December 25 - Nativity of Jesus
- January 6 - Epiphany (The Baptism of Christ)
- February 2 - Presentation of the Lord
- March 25 - Annunciation
- Sunday before Easter - Palm Sunday
- Easter - Pascha
- Forty Days after Easter - Ascension of the Lord
- Fifty Days after Easter - Pentecost
- August 6 - Transfiguration of our Lord
- August 15 - Dormition of the Theotokos
Arrange your schedule so you can participate in the Divine Liturgies held on these days. Of course, don’t forget to make each and every Sunday a time for participating in the Liturgy as well.
It will provide a challenge for you to give priority to the schedule of the Church and not to allow it to become secondary to all other activities. Always keep in mind that union with God is your aim in life and that through your full participation in the Liturgical cycle of the Church you will be helped to continually grow closer to Him. This commitment is difficult in a society which does not pay any attention to the liturgical cycle of the Church. But if you plan ahead, even if you have a very busy schedule, just like you can fit in your physical fitness activities, time with your children and other non-work related activities, you can find ways to build your schedule around the key events in the Church’s liturgical cycle. Think about how you plan to fit other activities into your schedule, like a vacation, school, or sports, and make the same effort for these spiritual events.