The Liturgical Year in the Orthodox Church

The Liturgy and all the sacraments in the Orthodox Christian Church begin with the prayer:

"Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, always, now and forever".

The aim of all Christian living -- praying, studying, working and resting is to bring us before the awesome and renewing reality of the kingdom of God. Although God's kingdom may be described by many words (God's will, rule, power, lordship, majesty, glory and grace), put simply it is God's personal holy presence. To live in the reality of God's kingdom is to live in the presence of God -- with a sense of wonder, joy and thanksgiving in all circumstances and for all things.

What is the significance of the liturgical year?

The liturgical year is a way of discipline in prayer, a pattern of worship, an anchor of support for the life of the Church. But it also has deeper significance. The late George Florovsky, an eminent Orthodox theologian of blessed memory, has taught us that worship is a response to the call of God who has already made known His redeeming love to us through decisive events culminating in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Worship has two major aspects: remembrance (anamnesis which means not only historical remembrance but also re-living the events commemorated) and thanksgiving (including praise and doxology).

Thus the liturgical year, by bringing unceasingly before us God's mighty deeds of salvation and the reality of God's kingdom in our midst, is the sanctification of time and thereby the true fulfillment of both personal and corporate aspects of our lives as Christians. Far from being simply a calendar, the liturgical year in the life of the Church -- the life of Christians living in community as brothers and sisters -- in awareness of God's kingdom, remembering the entire communion of Prophets, Apostles, Saints and all of God's people on earth and in heaven, being renewed by God's saving love, helping one another, witnessing to Christ's good news, and waiting for the fullness of the coming kingdom according to God's timing.

"If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord" (Rom. 14:8)

Orthodox worship proclaims the centrality of Christ. The liturgical year celebrates the presence of the mystery of Christ in the life of the Church and seeks to make the living Christ a renewing life-source for every Orthodox Christian.

Do not the most important feastdays of the year celebrate the good news of the life and work of Christ, the Annunciation, His Birth, Presentation in the Temple, Baptism, Transfiguration, Triumphal Entry, Passion Week, Easter, Ascension and His gift of the Spirit on Pentecost day, all of which are based on the New Testament? Do we not remember and re-live His death and resurrection on each Sunday (Kyriake, that is, the Lord's Day) and in each Liturgy? Do we not continuously hear about Jesus' teachings, miracles and encounters with men and women from all walks of life? Even the Feastdays of the Prophets, the Apostles, the Theotokos and the Saints, properly understood, point to the centrality of Christ, the Saviour and Lord of all.

This is the essential message of the Orthodox faith: Christ lives and desires to be one with us in a union of holy love. He is the Leader of our life and the Celebrant of the sacraments. He is the Good Shepherd who continues not only to seek out the lost but also to feed those who are already in His flock. Are we prepared to hear His call? Are we willing to open our hearts to Him? Do we seek Him as eagerly as He seeks us? I would like to end this preface with the image of Christ the Pursuer from the conclusion of St. John Chrysostom's 15th Homily on 1 Timothy, a passage to which George Florovsky has pointed. In the final part of this Homily, St. John Chrysostom meditates on Christ's love for us and exhorts Christians to glorify Christ for His countless material and spiritual gifts -- the same Christ that we often neglect and perhaps even secretly dislike for pursuing us and seeking to change our lives. Then St. John has Christ speaking to us in these words:

"But what shall I say? It is not in this way only that I have shown my love to you, but also by what I have suffered. For you I was spit upon, I was scourged. I emptied myself of glory, I left my Father and came to you, who hate me, and turn from me, and are loath to hear my name. I pursued you, I ran after you, that I might overtake you. I united and joined you to myself, "eat me, drink me," I said. In heaven above I hold you, and on earth below I embrace you. Is it not enough for you that I have your pledge of salvation in heaven? Does this not satisfy your desire? I again descended on earth (through the Eucharist): I not only am mingled with you, I am entwined in you. I am eaten, broken into tiny particles, that the fusion, intermingling, and union may be more complete. Things united remain yet (sometimes) in their own limits, but I am interwoven with you. I would have nothing separating us. I will that we both be one".

from the Preface to A year of the Lord. Liturgical Bible Studies, v. 1., July 1981
by Theodore Stylianopoulos (Professor of New Testament and Eastern Orthodox Spirituality,
Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology, Theological Consultant Department of Religious Education,
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America)

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