This is a reference page for major church feasts.
The Nativity of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
(Source: Greek Orthodox Church of North America)
The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.
According to the story found in this book, Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, were childless for many years. They remained faithful to God, but their prayers for a child were unanswered. One day, when Joachim came to the temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest who chastised him for his lack of children. To hide his shame, Joachim retreated to the hill country to live among the shepherds and their flocks.
As Joachim was praying, his wife Anna was praying at the same time at their house in Jerusalem. An angel appeared to both of them and announced that Anna would have a child whose name would be known throughout the world. Anna promised to offer her child as a gift to the Lord. Joachim returned home, and in due time Anna bore a daughter, Mary.
Icon of the Feast
The icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos presents to us the central figures of Saints Joachim and Anna, Mary's parents, and the Mother of our Lord as an infant. Saint Anna is in the middle of the icon with her right hand extended toward her daughter. Likewise, Saint Joachim, Mary's father, is gazing upon the young child with his right hand extended toward her. Anna is surrounded by attendants who have assisted with the birth.
The icon directs attention to Mary as the central figure in this feast. It also acknowledges the joy that was felt by Joachim and Anna as new parents with a child received through a promise from God. The liturgical texts of the feast acknowledge this joy and confirm the special role of Mary as the Mother of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ. In this event, another step is made in sacred history in preparation for the entrance of Christ into the world.
The icon and the feast also acknowledge a transition from barrenness to life. This was but another foreshadowing of what would be offered through Christ, the transformation from death to eternal life.
How do we Celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos?
The Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is conducted on the morning of the Feast and preceded by a Matins (Orthros) service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast are the following: At Vespers: Genesis 28:10-17; Ezekiel 43:27—44:4; Proverbs 9:1-11. At the Matins: Luke 1:39-49, 56. At the Divine Liturgy: Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28.
Exaltation of the
(Source: Greek Orthodox Church of N. America)
This feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.
In the twentieth year of his reign (326), the Emperor Constantine sent his mother Saint Helen to Jerusalem to venerate the holy places and to find the site of the Holy Sepulchre and of the Cross. Relying upon the oral tradition of the faithful, Saint Helen found the precious Cross together with the crosses of the two thieves crucified with our Lord. However, Helen had no way of determining which was the Cross of Christ.
With the healing of a dying woman who touched one of the crosses, Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem identified the True Cross of Christ. Saint Helen and her court venerated the Precious and Life-Giving Cross along with many others who came to see this great instrument of Redemption.
The Patriarch mounted the ambo (pulpit) and lifted the Cross with both hands so that all of the people gathered could see it. The crowd responded with "Lord have mercy".
This became the occasion of the institution in all of the Churches of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, not only in memory of the event of the finding of the Cross, but also to celebrate how an instrument of shame was used to overcome death and bring salvation and eternal life.
The feast is an opportunity outside of the observances of Holy Week to celebrate the full significance of the victory of the Cross over the powers of the world, and the triumph of the wisdom of God through the Cross over the wisdom of this world. This Feast also gives the Church an opportunity to relish the full glory of the Cross as a source of light, hope and victory for Christ's people. It is also a time to celebrate the universality of the work of redemption accomplished through the Cross: the entire universe is seen through the light of the Cross, the new Tree of Life which provides nourishment for those who have been redeemed in Christ.
Icon of the Feast
The icon of the Feast of the Precious Cross tells the story of the finding of the Cross and of its Exaltation. Patriarch Macarius is standing in the pulpit elevating the Cross for all to see and venerate. On each side of the Patriarch are deacons holding candles. The elevated Cross is surrounded and venerated by many clergy and lay people, including Saint Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine.
In the background of the icon is a domed structure that represents the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. This church was one of the churches constructed and dedicated by Emperor Constantine on the holy sites of Jerusalem.
How do we celebrate the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross?
This Feast of our Lord is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is conducted on the day of the feast and preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the feast.
On the day of the Feast at the conclusion of the Matins or of the Divine Liturgy, a special service is held: the Cross is placed on a tray surrounded by branches of basil and is taken in solemn procession through the church to the chanting of the Hymn of the Feast. The tray is placed on a table, and the priest takes the Cross and offers petitions from each side of the table, the four directions of the compass. This represents the universal nature of the offering of Christ upon the Cross. As the people respond by chanting "Lord have mercy", the priest raises and lowers the cross, a commemoration of its finding and exaltation. At the conclusion of the service, the people come and venerate the cross and receive the basil from the priest. The basil is used and offered, as it was the fragrant flower growing where the Cross was found.
Scripture readings for the Feast of the Cross are the following: At Vespers: Exodus 15:22-16:1; Proverbs 3:11-18; Isaiah 60:11-16. At the Orthros (Matins): John 12:28-36. At the Divine Liturgy: I Corinthians 1:18-24; John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35.
Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
This feast commemorates the occasion when, as a young child, the Virgin Mary entered the Temple in Jerusalem.
The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.
When Mary was three years old, Joachim and Anna decided that the time had come to fulfill their promise and to offer her to the Lord. Joachim gathered the young girls of the neighbourhood to form an escort, and he made them go in front of Mary, carrying torches. Captivated by the torches, the young child followed joyfully to the Temple, not once looking back at her parents nor weeping as she was parted from them.
The holy Virgin ran toward the Temple, overtaking her attendant maidens and threw herself into the arms of the High Priest Zacharias, who was waiting for her at the gate of the Temple with the elders. Zacharias blessed her saying, "It is in you that He has glorified your name in every generation. It is in you that He will reveal the Redemption that He has prepared for His people in the last days."
Then, Zacharias brought the child into the Holy of Holies—a place where only the High Priest was permitted to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. He placed her on the steps of the altar, and the grace of the Lord descended upon her. She arose and expressed her joy in a dance as wonder seized all who saw this happen.
The Virgin Mary dwelt in the Temple for nine years until, reaching an age for marriage, she was taken from the Temple by the priests and elders and entrusted to Joseph as the guardian of her virginity.
The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple signifies her total dedication to God and her readiness for her future vocation as the Mother of the Incarnate Lord. This is a feast of anticipation. As honour is shown to Mary, the faithful are called to look forward to the Incarnation of Christ, celebrated in a little more than a month by the Feast of the Nativity.
Icon of the Feast
The icon of the feast tells the story of Mary's entry into the Temple. The High Priest, Zacharias, is in his priestly robes standing on the step of the Temple. His arms are outstretched, ready to greet and receive the Virgin. Mary is shown as a small child, standing before Zacharias with her arms reaching up to him.
In some icons the young maidens who served as her escort are depicted standing behind her. Also, we see her parents, Joachim and Anna, offering their child to God and His divine service.
In the upper centre portion of the icon, the Virgin is seated on the steps of the Holy of Holies. An angel is there, attending to the one chosen by God to bring the Saviour into the world.
How do we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos?
The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is conducted on the morning of the Feast and preceded by a Matins (Orthros) service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast are the following: At Vespers: Exodus 40:1-5, 9-10, 16, 34-35; I Kings 7:51, 8:1, 3-4, 6-7, 9-11; Ezekiel 43:27—44:4. At the Matins: Luke 1:39-49, 56. At the Divine Liturgy: Hebrews 9:1-7; Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28.
Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America
The Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
The Feast of the Nativity of Jesus is one of the most joyful days of the Orthodox Church. It ranks next to the greatest holiday, the Resurrection of Jesus. The Feast of the Birth of Jesus is also known as the "Incarnation of Christ." This means that Jesus became a man and came into the world to save us. We also refer to this joyous feast as Christmas.
The story of the Nativity of Christ is beautifully told in the Holy Scriptures. The story is found in Matthew 1:18-25 and in Luke 2:1-20. No matter how often the Birth of Jesus is told, we realise that it is an important event.
As the story is told by the Apostles, the Roman Empire was powerful. The Romans had conquered much of the then known world. Judea and Samaria, what we know today as Israel, were included in their conquests. Emperor Augustus ordered that a census be taken in all his lands. He needed to know how many people lived in the empire so he could tax them. Everyone had to go to the town of their family's origin to register for the census. This meant that Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. They were descendants of King David and Bethlehem was the City of David.
Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth and it was a great distance from Bethlehem. It was about 100 miles over very rugged roads. Moreover, Mary was expecting the baby and it was almost time for her to give birth. Bethlehem was a small town and there were many descendants of David who had come to register for the census. By the time Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem there was no place for them to stay.
Joseph tried very hard to find a place to sleep that evening. There was no room at the inn. Finally, Joseph found a cave-like place where they could rest. This place was used by shepherds to protect their sheep in stormy weather. It was here that Mary gave birth to Jesus. The baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the straw in the manger.
Now, that night the shepherds were out in the fields guarding their sheep. Suddenly, there was a bright light which startled the shepherds. The light was so bright that it turned the night into daylight. Of course, the shepherds were frightened. Nothing such as this had ever happened. Soon an angel appeared and calmed them. The angel said:
"Fear not for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour; which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11-12).
Then a larger group of angels appeared. They praised and glorified God and sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men" (Luke 2:14). When the angels finished singing, they disappeared and the light began to fade. It became dimmer and dimmer until it was dark again. The shepherds were awed. They didn't know what to do. Finally, they decided to leave their flocks of sheep and go to Bethlehem. They decided that they wanted to see for themselves what the angels had told them. When they reached Bethlehem, they found Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus. They fell to their knees and adored Jesus.
Some Wise Men came from the East for they knew of the coming of Jesus. They had seen a star that told them that a new king had been born to the Jews. They followed the star and were looking for the child. At this time the governor of Judea was King Herod. He was a wicked man and was feared and hated by the people. When Herod heard about the Wise Men looking for the child, he invited them to his palace. Herod asked the Wise Men to find the child so that he, too, could worship Him. But Herod was lying. He did not want anyone to take his place. The Wise Men went on to look for Jesus. The Star led them to Jesus and Mary. When the Wise Men found Jesus, they fell to their knees and worshipped Him. They gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Wise Men left but did not return to Herod. They had a dream that warned them that Herod wanted to harm Jesus. Instead, they returned to their native country by a different route.
Icon of the Nativity
The icon of the Nativity tells the story of Christ's birth from the Scriptures. It also shows that all creation is taking part in Christ's birth. The angels give thanks with their song; the heavens give the star; the Wise Men give their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The poor, humble shepherds give their praise and amazement; the earth gives the cave, and humanity gives the Virgin.
This Holy Icon is an icon with many scenes. First, it stresses the importance of the Theotokos, the Mother of Jesus. She is placed in the centre and is the largest figure in the icon. In this icon, she is kneeling with crossed arms, looking at the Christ child. The three stars, denoting her virginity before, during, and after the Nativity, are on her garments. The Christ Child, in the center of the icon, is in swaddling clothes and is lying in the manger. In the background is the dark cave where He was born. In the cave are an ox and a donkey guarding the newborn Babe. Even though the Gospels say nothing of the cave, this information is from Holy Tradition. Neither do the Gospels speak of the ox and the donkey, but all icons of the Nativity include these animals. Including the animals in the icon fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 1:3, "The ox knows his master, and the donkey his master's crib; but Israel does not know me, and the people have not regarded me." The long ray of light from the star points directly to the cave. This ray comes from the star and travels to all parts of the world. It teaches that this bright star is an astronomical happening, and is a messenger from heaven announcing the birth of Jesus.
On the left hand side of the icon is another scene. The Wise Men, who were led by the star, are riding horses to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus. The Wise Men are of various ages. One is without a beard. In those days, young men did not wear beards. The other Wise Man has long hair and a long beard, which indicates that he is much older. These details teach that regardless of age and appearance, the Good News was given to each and everyone.
Opposite the Wise Men is the scene with the humble shepherds. An angel proclaims the glad tidings. A young shepherd plays a reed instrument. This scene reveals that the music of the humans was added to the hymn of the angels. Across from the shepherd's scene is the heavenly choir of angels. They are giving glory to God. The angels serve two purposes in the Nativity of Christ. They give glory to God and announce the good news to all mankind.
The background shows a very rugged terrain. This is not a true representation of the land in this area. Joseph could not find room in Bethlehem, so they went outside of Bethlehem to a cave. This rocky mountain formation only serves as a background for the event.
In the lower part of the icon are two more scenes. In the right hand corner are the two women Joseph brought to take care of the Christ child. They are bathing Him just as any baby is bathed. The humanity of Jesus is clearly shown in this setting.
Opposite the bathing of Jesus scene sits a sad and worried Joseph. He is not part of the central group the Christ Child and the Theotokos. Joseph is not the natural father. Joseph is troubled and despondent. There is an old man talking to Joseph. The old man is Satan. Satan can appear in many forms. Here he is as an old man who is tempting Joseph and disturbing him. Satan is telling Joseph that virgin birth is impossible. He's telling Joseph that he's a fool if he believes this. This story comes to us from Holy Tradition. The sad Joseph shows us not only his personal predicament but the dilemma of all mankind the difficulty of accepting that which is "beyond words or reason."
The tree, which is in the middle of the lower part of the icon, is a symbol of the Tree of Jesse. This tree refers to Isaiah 11:1-2, "But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him." King David was often mentioned as the son of Jesse and Jesus was from the House of David.
The Holy Icon of the Nativity reminds one to praise and glorify the Birth of Christ. The celebration of Christmas each year serves to remind each and everyone of us that Christ came for you and me.
How do we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity?
As with Pascha, or Easter, the Feast of the Nativity begins with a period of preparation. It is preceded by a fast corresponding to Lent and lasting for forty days.
On the Sundays immediately before the feast, special commemorations emphasise the link between the Old Covenant and the New. On 2 January, the Forefeast of the Nativity is commemorated, and the daily liturgical texts are directed toward the Feast itself. On Christmas Eve, services include the Great or Royal Hours, the Great Vespers, and the Liturgy of Saint Basil.
On Christmas Day the service commemorates the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, the adoration of the Shepherds, and the arrival of the Wise Men with their gifts. The service held on this day is the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.
The days following Christmas are associated with the Theotokos and Joseph:
8 January - Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos
10 January - St. Joseph the Betrothed
and on 11 January, the Holy Innocents slain by Herod are commemorated.
14 January marks the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ.
Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America
Troparion — Tone 1
When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan / the worship of the Trinity was made manifest / for the voice of the Father bore witness to You / and called You His beloved Son. / And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, / confirmed the truthfulness of His word. / O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself / and have enlightened the world, glory to You!
Kontakion — Tone 4
Today You have shown forth to the world, O Lord, / and the light of Your countenance has been marked on us. / Knowing You, we sing Your praises. / You have come and revealed Yourself, / O unapproachable Light.
For more examples of the icon of the Theophany, see 'The Meaning of the Incarnation' above.
(Source: The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America).
The Great Feast of the Holy Theophany of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is celebrated each year on January 19. The Feast commemorates the Baptism of Christ and the divine revelation of the Holy Trinity. At the Baptism of Christ, all three Persons of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—were made manifest. Thus, the name of the Feast is Theophany, meaning manifestation of God.
The Biblical story of the Baptism of Christ is recorded in all four of the Gospels: Matthew 3, Mark 1:1-9, Luke 3:21-22, and John 1:31-34.
St. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus and the one chosen by God to proclaim His coming, was preaching in the wilderness and was baptizing all who would respond to his message calling for repentance. As he was doing this, John was directing the people toward the one who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11).
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. Initially, John would not do this, saying that Jesus should baptize him. Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness (3:15). John consented and baptized Jesus.
When Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened suddenly, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. The Bible records that the Spirit descended like a dove and alighted on him. When this happened, a voice came from heaven and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This was the voice of God the Father.
Christ’s baptism in the Jordan was “theophany,” a manifestation of God to the world, because it was the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry. It was also a “theophany” in that the world was granted a revelation of the Holy Trinity. All three Persons were made manifest together: the Father testified from on high to the divine Sonship of Jesus; the Son received His Father’s testimony; and the Spirit was seen in the form of a dove, descending from the Father and resting upon the Son.
Icon of the Feast of the Theophany
(See above ). On the left side of the icon we see John the Baptist who is dressed in camel’s hair and has the appearance of one who lives in the wilderness. His arms are outstretched, showing an attitude of prayer and reverence, but also directing others to Christ. With his right hand he is conducting the baptism.
In the centre of the icon is Christ being baptized in the Jordan. He is standing in the water wearing a waistcloth, and with His right hand He is blessing the waters of the Jordan. Above His head is the Holy Spirit descending as a dove upon Him. At the top of the icon, a semicircle depicts the opening of the Heavens and the voice of the Father.
On the right side of the icon angels are shown with their heads bowed in reverence to Christ . They are prepared to receive Him as He comes out of the water.
How do we celebrate the feast of the Theophany?
The Blessing of the Waters is conducted in the church after the Divine Liturgy; however, in many places throughout the world services are conducted near open bodies of water.
The holy water from the church is given to the faithful to consume and to use in blessing their homes. In the weeks following the Feast, clergy visit the homes of parishioners and conduct a service of blessing using the holy water that was blessed on the Feast of Theophany.
Parish celebrations of Theophany:
Troparion — Tone 1
Hail, Virgin Theotokos, full of grace! / From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, / enlightening those who were in darkness! / Rejoice, O righteous Elder; / you received in your arms the Redeemer of our souls, / Who grants us the Resurrection.
Kontakion — Tone 1
By Your birth, You sanctified the Virgin’s womb, / and You blessed Simeon’s hands as was meet, O Christ God; / by anticipation You have saved us even now. / Grant peace to Your faithful people, and strengthen the Hierarchs You have loved, O only Lover of mankind.
Poetry by Joseph Brodsky: 'Nunc Dimittis' in Russian with English translation - click on the button below:
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
(Source: The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America)
This great feast, celebrated on February 15, and also known as the 'Meeting of our Lord', concludes the observances related to the Nativity of Christ, a period that opened with the beginning of the Nativity fast.
The story of the Presentation is told in Luke 2:22-29. Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews and observed their religious customs. An important custom was for the couple to take their first-born son to the Temple. The baby was taken to the Temple forty days after his birth and was dedicated to God. In addition, if the parents were wealthy, they were to bring a lamb and a young pigeon or a turtle dove to be offered as a sacrifice at the Temple. The custom provided that if the parents were poor, they were to offer two pigeons or two turtle doves for the sacrifice.
Joseph and Mary were not wealthy, so they took two turtle doves with them to offer as a sacrifice at the Temple.
When Jesus was forty days old, Mary and Joseph took Him to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were not wealthy, so they took two turtle doves with them to offer as a sacrifice at the Temple. As they arrived at the Temple, Mary and Joseph were met by a very old man named Simeon. He was a holy man and was noted as a very intelligent scholar. Simeon spent much time studying about the prophets of Israel. It was during his studies that he learned of the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah to come and deliver Israel from their conquerors. From that time on, Simeon spent his time praying for the Messiah to come. He spent many years in prayer. Finally, while Simeon was praying he heard the voice of God. God promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.
When Simeon saw Jesus, he took the baby in his arms and blessed the Lord and said:
"Lord, now let Your servant go in peace according to Your promise, because my eyes have seen Your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory to your people Israel."
Also, in the Temple was Anna the Prophetess. She had been a widow for many years. Anna was about eighty-four years old and spent her time in the Temple worshiping, fasting, and praying. When she saw the Christ Child she praised God and spoke of him to all who were awaiting the Messiah.
After Jesus was presented in the Temple, the family returned to Galilee to the town of Nazareth. The Bible tells us that Jesus grew and became strong, and was filled with wisdom.
Icon of the Feast
The Holy Icon shows that the meeting takes place inside the Temple and in front of the altar. The altar has a book or a scroll on it and is covered by a canopy. The Theotokos stands to the left and is holding out her hands in a gesture of offering. The one hand of the Theotokos is covered by her cloak or as it is known, the maphorion. She has just handed her Son to Simeon.
Christ is shown as a child, but He is not in swaddling clothes. He is clothed in a small dress and his legs are bare. Jesus appears to be giving a blessing. Simeon holds Jesus with both hands which are covered. This shows the reverence Simeon had for the Messiah. Simeon is bare headed and there is nothing to show that he is a priest. Some biblical scholars say that Simeon was probably a priest of the Temple or a Doctor of the Law.
Joseph is behind the Theotokos. He is carrying the two turtle doves for the sacrifice. Anna the Prophetess is also standing behind the Theotokos and is pointing to the Christ child.
The words Simeon spoke when he saw the Christ Child are known as "St. Simeon's Prayer." This prayer is sung daily at the evening Vespers services of the Orthodox Church.
In the Orthodox Church, both baby boys and baby girls are taken to the Church on the fortieth day after their birth. This is done in remembrance of the Theotokos and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the Temple.
How do we celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple?
This Feast of our Lord is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is conducted on the day of the Feast and preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast are the following: at Great Vespers – extracts from Exodus 12:15-13:16; Leviticus 12 and Numbers 8; Isaiah 6:1-12, and 19:1,3-5,12,16,19-21; at Matins – Luke 2:25-32; at the Divine Liturgy –Hebrews 7:7-17 and Luke 2:22-40.
From the Akathist to Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos:
To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!
An archangel was sent from heaven to say to the Theotokos: Rejoice! And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to her such things as these: Rejoice, Thou through whom joy will shine forth: Rejoice, Thou through whom the curse will cease! Rejoice, recall of fallen Adam: Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve! Rejoice, height inaccessible to human thoughts: Rejoice, depth undiscernible even for the eyes of angels! Rejoice, for Thou art the throne of the King: Rejoice, for Thou bearest Him Who beareth all! Rejoice, star that causest the Sun to appear: Rejoice, womb of the Divine Incarnation! Rejoice, Thou through whom creation is renewed: Rejoice, Thou through whom we worship the Creator! Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!
Seeing herself to be chaste, the holy one said boldly to Gabriel: The marvel of thy speech is difficult for my soul to accept. How canst thou speak of a birth from a seedless conception? And She cried: Alleluia!
Seeking to know knowledge that cannot be known, the Virgin cried to the ministering one: Tell me, how can a son be born from a chaste womb? Then he spake to Her in fear, only crying aloud thus: Rejoice, initiate of God’s ineffable will: Rejoice, assurance of those who pray in silence! Rejoice, beginning of Christ’s miracles: Rejoice, crown of His dogmas!
Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God came down: Rejoice, bridge that conveyest us from earth to heaven! Rejoice, wonder of angels sounded abroad: Rejoice, wound of demons bewailed afar! Rejoice, Thou Who ineffably gavest birth to the Light: Rejoice, Thou Who didst reveal Thy secret to none! Rejoice, Thou Who surpassest the knowledge of the wise: Rejoice, Thou Who givest light to the minds of the faithful! Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!
(Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of
The Feast of the Annunciation of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on April 7 each year. The Feast commemorates the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would become incarnate and enter into this world through her womb.
(Click on the arrow halfway down and to the right of the text below to find out about the icon. Alternatively, select the right hand dot underneath the text).
Troparion — Tone 4
Today is the beginning of our salvation, / the revelation of the eternal mystery! / The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin / as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. / Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: / Hail, O Full of Grace, / the Lord is with You!
Kontakion — Tone 8
O Victorious Leader of Triumphant Hosts! / We, your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos! / As you possess invincible might, set us free from every calamity / so that we may sing: Hail, O unwedded Bride!
How do we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation?
The Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is conducted on the morning of the Feast and preceded by a Matins (Orthros) service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast are the following: At Vespers: Genesis 28:10-17; Ezekiel 43:27—44:4; Proverbs 9:1-11. At the Matins: Luke 1:39-49, 56. At the Divine Liturgy: Hebrews 2:11-18; Luke 1:24-38.
The biblical story of the Feast of the Annunciation is found in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke (1:26-39). The Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, who was living in Nazareth, and said to her, “Hail, O favoured one, the Lord is with you.” Mary was perplexed and wondered what kind of greeting this was.
The angel told her not to be afraid, for she had found favour with God. He said, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary responded to the angel by asking how this could happen since she had no husband. The angel told her that the Holy Spirit and the power of God would come upon her, and that the child to be born of her would be called holy, the “Son of God.”
The angel then proceeded to tell the Virgin Mary that her cousin Elizabeth had conceived a son in her old age (John the Baptist), and affirmed that with God nothing is impossible.
In faith and obedience to the will of God, Mary replied to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be according to your word.” Upon her response, the angel departed.
It is on the Feast of the Annunciation, that Orthodox Christians commemorate both the divine initiative of God, whereby He took on flesh from the Virgin for our salvation, and the human response, whereby Mary freely accepted the vocation offered to her. He elected to become man, and He desired to do this with the willing agreement of her whom He chose as His mother. Mary could have refused, for she was not a passive instrument, but an active participant with a free and positive part to play in God’s plan for our salvation. Thus, when on this and other feasts the Orthodox Church honours the Theotokos, the Mother of God, it is not just because God chose her but also because she herself chose to follow His will.
The Entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem
(Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of N. America)
On the Sunday before the Feast of Great and Holy Pascha and at the beginning of Holy Week, the Orthodox Church celebrates one of its most joyous feasts of the year. Palm Sunday is the commemoration of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem following His glorious miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Having anticipated His arrival and having heard of the miracle, the people went out to meet the Lord and welcomed Him with displays of honour and shouts of praise. On this day, we receive and worship Christ in this same manner, acknowledging Him as our King and Lord.
The biblical story of Palm Sunday is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-38; and John 12:12-18). Five days before the Passover, Jesus came from Bethany to Jerusalem. Having sent two of His disciples to bring Him a colt of a donkey, Jesus sat upon it and entered the city.
People had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover and were looking for Jesus, both because of His great works and teaching and because they had heard of the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. When they heard that Christ was entering the city, they went out to meet Him with palm branches, laying their garments on the ground before Him, and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”
At the outset of His public ministry Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God and announced that the powers of the age to come were already active in the present age (Luke 7:18-22). His words and mighty works were performed "to produce repentance as the response to His call, a call to an inward change of mind and heart which would result in concrete changes in one's life, a call to follow Him and accept His messianic destiny. The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a messianic event, through which His divine authority was declared.
Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king: the Word of God made flesh. We are called to behold Him not simply as the One who came to us once riding on a colt, but as the One who is always present in His Church, coming ceaselessly to us in power and glory at every Eucharist, in every prayer and sacrament, and in every act of love, kindness and mercy. He comes to free us from all our fears and insecurities, "to take solemn possession of our soul, and to be enthroned in our heart," as someone has said. He comes not only to deliver us from our deaths by His death and Resurrection, but also to make us capable of attaining the most perfect fellowship or union with Him. He is the King, who liberates us from the darkness of sin and the bondage of death. Palm Sunday summons us to behold our King: the vanquisher of death and the giver of life.
Palm Sunday summons us to accept both the rule and the kingdom of God as the goal and content of our Christian life. We draw our identity from Christ and His kingdom. The kingdom is Christ - His indescribable power, boundless mercy and incomprehensible abundance given freely to man. The kingdom does not lie at some point or place in the distant future. In the words of the Scripture, the kingdom of God is not only at hand (Matthew 3:2; 4:17), it is within us (Luke 17:21). The kingdom is a present reality as well as a future realization (Matthew 6:10). Theophan the Recluse wrote the following words about the inward rule of Christ the King:
“The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master ‘both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13). This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our willful sins, is re-established.”
The kingdom of God is the life of the Holy Trinity in the world. It is the kingdom of holiness, goodness, truth, beauty, love, peace and joy. These qualities are not works of the human spirit. They proceed from the life of God and reveal God. Christ Himself is the kingdom. He is the God-Man, Who brought God down to earth (John 1:1,14). “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not” (John 1:10-11). He was reviled and hated.
Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king - the Suffering Servant. We cannot understand Jesus' kingship apart from the Passion. Filled with infinite love for the Father and the Holy Spirit, and for creation, in His inexpressible humility Jesus accepted the infinite abasement of the Cross. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions and made Himself an offering for sin (Isaiah 53). His glorification, which was accomplished by the resurrection and the ascension, was achieved through the Cross.
In the fleeting moments of exuberance that marked Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the world received its King, the king who was on His way to death. His Passion, however, was no morbid desire for martyrdom. Jesus' purpose was to accomplish the mission for which the Father sent Him.
“The Son and Word of the Father, like Him without beginning and eternal, has come today to the city of Jerusalem, seated on a dumb beast, on a foal. From fear the cherubim dare not gaze upon Him; yet the children honor Him with palms and branches, and mystically they sing a hymn of praise: ‘Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna to the Son of David, who has come to save from error all mankind.’” (A hymn of the Light.)
“With our souls cleansed and in spirit carrying branches, with faith let us sing Christ's praises like the children, crying with a loud voice to the Master: Blessed art Thou, O Savior, who hast come into the world to save Adam from the ancient curse; and in Thy love for mankind Thou hast been pleased to become spiritually the new Adam. O Word, who hast ordered all things for our good, glory to Thee.” (A Sessional hymn of the Orthros).
Blessing the Palms - Beijing 2020
View video on desktop / laptop
The Icon of the Feast
In the Icon of the Feast of Palm Sunday, Christ is the central figure, depicted seated upon the colt of a donkey as He enters Jerusalem, a fulfillment of the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9. Christ is blessing with His right hand, and in His left hand is a scroll, symbolizing that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, the Anointed One who has come to redeem us from our sins and break the power of death. The colt, one of the animals that were considered unclean according to the Law, is symbolic of the inclusion of all peoples of all nations in the new covenant that will come through the death and Resurrection of Christ (Isaiah 62:10-11). It is also a sign that our Lord has revealed a heavenly and spiritual kingdom that offers true and enduring peace.
On the right, the disciples accompany Jesus in His Triumphal Entry. Depicted on the left are the Jews who greet Him crying “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” The word “Hosanna” means “Save, I pray” or “Save now.”
The children are the small people who are greeting Christ with palm branches and laying these and their garments on the ground before Christ as tokens of honor for one who is acknowledged as a King. The city of Jerusalem is shown as the walled buildings, and the temple is depicted as the building with the dome.
How do we celebrate Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening according to the order prescribed in the Triodion. Scripture readings for Palm Sunday are: At the Vespers: Genesis 49:1,8-12; Zephaniah 3:14-19; Zechariah 9:9-15. At the Orthros (Matins): Matthew 21:1-17. At the Divine Liturgy: Philippians 4:4-9; John 12:1-18.
On this Sunday, in addition to the Divine Liturgy, the Church observes the Blessing and Distribution of the Palms. According to the rubrics of the Typikon, this prayer is read at the Orthros just before the Psalms of Praise (Ainoi). The palms are then distributed to the faithful. In many places today, the prayer is said at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, before the apolysis. The text of the prayer, however, indicates clearly that it is less a prayer for the blessing of the palms, even though that is its title, and more a blessing upon those, who in imitation of the New Testament event hold palms in their hands as symbols of Christ's victory and as signs of a virtuous Christian life. It appears then, that it would be more correct to have the faithful hold the palms in their hands during the course of the Divine Liturgy when the Church celebrates both the presence and the coming of the Lord in the mystery of the Eucharist.
Ascension of our Lord
Source: Greek Orthodox Church of North America
The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is celebrated each year on the fortieth day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter). Since the date of Pascha changes each year, the date of the Feast of the Ascension changes. The Feast is always celebrated on a Thursday.
The Feast itself commemorates when, on the fortieth day after His Resurrection, Jesus led His disciples to the Mount of Olives, and after blessing them and asking them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, He ascended into heaven.
The story of the Ascension of our Lord, celebrated as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church, is found in the book of the Acts of the Apostles 1:3-11. It is also mentioned in the Gospels of Mark (16:19) and Luke (24:50-53). The moment of the Ascension is told in one sentence: "He was lifted up before their eyes in a cloud which took Him from their sight" (Acts 1:9).
Christ made His last appearance on earth, forty days after His Resurrection from the dead. The Acts of the Apostles states that the disciples were in Jerusalem. Jesus appeared before them and commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the "Promise of the Father". He stated, "You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5).
After Jesus gave these instructions, He led the disciples to the Mount of Olives. Here, He commissioned them to be His witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It is also at this time that the disciples were directed by Christ to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Jesus also told them that He would be with them always, "even to the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).
As the disciples watched, Jesus lifted up His hands, blessed them, and then was taken up out of their sight (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). Two angels appeared to them and asked them why they were gazing into heaven. Then one of the angels said, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him going into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
The Icon of the Feast
The icon of The Ascension of Our Lord is a joyous icon. It is painted with bright colors. Christ is shown ascending in His glory in a mandorla A mandorla is a design which is almond-shaped or round. Inside the mandorla is the figure of a holy person. Christ blesses the assembly with His right hand. In His left is a scroll. The scroll is a symbol of teaching. This icon shows that the Lord in heaven is the source of blessing. In addition, Jesus is the source of knowledge. The icon reminds us that Christ continues to be the source of the teaching and message of the Church, blessing and guiding those to whom He has entrusted his work.
The Theotokos occupies a very special place in this icon. She is in the center of the icon, immediately below the ascending Christ. The gesture of her hands is gesture of prayer. She is clearly outlined by the whiteness of the garments of the angels. The Theotokos is depicted in a very calm pose. This is quite different from the appearance of the Disciples. They are moving about, talking to one another and looking and pointing towards heaven. The entire group, the Theotokos and the disciples represent the Church.
The icon expresses the sovereignty of Christ over His Church; He is its Head, its guide, its source of inspiration and teaching; it receives its commission and ministry from Him, and fulfils it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
How do we celebrate the feast of the Ascension?
This Feast of our Lord is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is conducted on the day of the Feast and preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast are the following: At Vespers: Isaiah 2:2-3, 62:10-63:9; Zechariah 14:1,4,8-11. At the Orthros (Matins) Mark 16:9-20; At the Divine Liturgy: Acts 1:1-12; Luke 24:36-53.
The Birthday of the Church!
(Trinity Saturday: Why do we commemorate the dead on Saturdays? See below: underneath this section).
Source: Greek Orthodox Diocese of North America
The Feast of Holy Pentecost is celebrated each year on the fiftieth day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter) and ten days after the Feast of the Ascension of Christ. The Feast is always celebrated on a Sunday.
The Feast commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, a feast of the Jewish tradition. It also celebrates the establishment of the Church through the preaching of the Apostles and the baptism of the thousands who on that day believed in the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ. The Feast is also seen as the culmination of the revelation of the Holy Trinity.
The story of Pentecost is found in the book of The Acts of the Apostles. In Chapter two we are told that the Apostles of our Lord were gathered together in one place. Suddenly, a sound came from heaven like a rushing wind, filling the entire house where they were sitting. Then, tongues of fire appeared, and one sat upon each one of Apostles. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as directed by the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).
This miraculous event occurred on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, celebrated by the Jews on the fiftieth day after the Passover as the culmination of the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10). The Feast of Weeks began on the third day after the Passover with the presentation of the first harvest sheaves to God, and it concluded on Pentecost with the offering of two loaves of unleavened bread, representing the first products of the harvest (Leviticus 23:17-20; Deuteronomy 16:9-10).
Since the Jewish Feast of Pentecost was a great pilgrimage feast, many people from throughout the Roman Empire were gathered in Jerusalem on this day. When the people in Jerusalem heard the sound, they came together and heard their own languages being spoken by the Apostles (Acts 2:5-6). The people were amazed, knowing that some of those speaking were Galileans, and not men who would normally speak many different languages. They wondered what this meant, and some even thought the Apostles were drunk (Acts 2:7-13).
Peter, hearing these remarks, stood up and addressed the crowd. He preached to the people regarding the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He spoke about Jesus Christ and His death and glorious Resurrection. Great conviction fell upon the people, and they asked the Apostles, "What shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38-39).
The Bible records that on that day about three thousand were baptized. Following, the book of Acts states that the newly baptized continued daily to hear the teaching of the Apostles, as the early Christians met together for fellowship, the breaking of bread, and for prayer. Many wonderful signs and miracles were done through the Apostles, and the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
Icon of the Feast
The icon of the Feast of Pentecost is known as "The Descent of the Holy Spirit". It is an icon of bold colors of red and gold signifying that this is a great event. The movement of the icon is from the top to the bottom. At the top of the icon is a semicircle with rays coming from it. The rays are pointing toward the Apostles, and the tongues of fire are seen descending upon each one of them signifying the descent of the Holy Spirit.
The building in the background of the icon represents the upper room where the Disciples of Christ gathered after the Ascension. The Apostles are shown seated in a semicircle which shows the unity of the Church. Included in the group of the Apostles is Saint Paul, who, though not present with the others on the day of Pentecost, became an Apostle of the Church and the greatest missionary. Also included are the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, holding books of the Gospel, while the other Apostles are holding scrolls that represent the teaching authority given to them by Christ.
In the center of the icon below the Apostles, a royal figure is seen against a dark background. This is a symbolic figure, Cosmos, representing the people of the world living in darkness and sin, and involved in pagan worship. However, the figure carries in his hands a cloth containing scrolls which represent the teaching of the Apostles. The tradition of the Church holds that the Apostles carried the message of the Gospel to all parts of the world.
In the icon of Pentecost we see the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, sent down upon the Apostles who will teach the nations and baptize them in the name of the Holy Trinity. Here we see that the Church is brought together and sustained in unity through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit guides the Church in the missionary endeavour throughout the world, and that the Spirit nurtures the Body of Christ, the Church, in truth and love.
How do we celebrate Pentecost?
This great Feast of the Church is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom on the Sunday that is the fiftieth day after the celebration of Pascha. The Liturgy is conducted on the day of the Feast, and is preceded the evening before by a Great Vespers service and on the morning of the Feast by the Matins service. On the day of the Feast a Vespers service is conducted that includes the kneeling prayers. These prayers mark the beginning of the practice of kneeling during the Liturgy at the time when the holy gifts of bread and wine are consecrated as the body and blood of Christ. The practice of kneeling has been suspended during the Paschal season. On the Monday following the Feast, the Divine Liturgy is conducted in commemoration of the All-holy and Life-creating and All-powerful Spirit, Who is God, and One of the Trinity, and of one honour and one essence and one glory with the Father and the Son (From the Synaxarion of the Feast).
Scripture readings for the Feast are the following: At the Saturday Vespers: Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29; Joel 2:23-32; Ezekiel 36:24-28. At the Orthros (Matins): John 20:19-23. At the Pentecost Sunday Divine Liturgy: Acts 2:1-11; John 7:37-52, 8:12. At the Divine Liturgy on the Monday of the Holy Spirit: Ephesians 5:8-19; Matthew 18:10-20.
Prayer of the Holy Spirit
Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life: come and abide in us, cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.
Trinity Saturday / Pentecost 2020 in Beijing and Hong Kong:
(Click on the picture to see the full image).
The Transfiguration of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ
(Source: Greek Orthodox Church of North America)
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ is celebrated each year on August 19th. The feast commemorates the transfiguration or metamorphosis of Christ on Mount Tabor, when our Lord appeared in His divine glory before the Apostles Peter, James, and John.
The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
(Source: Greek Orthodox Church of North America)
The Feast of the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 28th each year. The Feast commemorates the repose (dormition and in the Greek kimisis) or "falling-asleep" of the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Feast also commemorates the translation or assumption into heaven of the body of the Theotokos.
The event of the Transfiguration is recorded in three of the four Gospels:Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. Jesus took the Apostles Peter, James, and John with Him up upon a mountain, and while they were on the mountain Jesus was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and His garments became glistening white.
Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ, talking to Him. Peter declared how good it was for them to be there and expressed the desire to build three booths for Moses, Elijah, and Christ. This reference to the booths could imply that this occurred during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles when the Jews would be camping out in the fields for the grape harvest; for this Feast had acquired other associations in the course of its history, including the memory of the wanderings in the wilderness recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus.
While Peter was speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice came from the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him." When the disciples heard this they fell on their faces filled with awe. Jesus came to them and told them to not be afraid. When the three looked up they saw only Jesus.
As Jesus and His disciples came down the mountain, He told them not to speak of what they had seen until He had risen from the dead.
The Icon of the Feast
In the icon of the Feast of the Transfiguration, Christ is the central figure, appearing in a dominant position within a circular mandorla. Heis clearly at the visual and theological centre of the icon. His right hand is raised in blessing, and his left hand contains a scroll. The mandorla with its brilliant colors of white, gold, and blue represent the divine glory and light. The halo around the head of Christ is inscribed with the Greek words O on, meaning "The One Who is".
Elijah and Moses stand at the top of separate mountain peaks to the left and right of Christ. They are bowing toward Christ with their right hands raised in a gesture of intercession towards Him. Saint John Chrysostom explains the presence of these two fathers of the faith from the Old Testament in three ways. He states that they represent the Law and the Prophets (Moses received the Law from God, and Elijah was a great prophet); they both experienced visions of God (Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Carmel); and they represent the living and the dead (Elijah, the living, because he was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire, and Moses, the dead, because he did experience death).
Below Christ are the three Apostles, who by their posture in the icon show their response to the transfiguration of Christ. James has fallen over backwards with his hands over his eyes. John in the center has fallen prostrate. Peter is kneeling and raises his right hand toward Christ in a gesture expressing his desire to build the three booths. The garments of the Apostles are in a state of disarray as to indicate the dramatic impact the vision has had on them.
The icon of the feast directs our attention toward the event of the Transfiguration and specifically to the glory of God as revealed in Christ. This event came at a critical point in the ministry of our Lord, just as He was setting out on His journey to Jerusalem. He would soon experience the humiliation, suffering, and death of the Cross. However, the glorious light of the Resurrection was revealed to strengthen His disciples for the trials that they would soon experience.
The feast also points to the great and glorious Second Coming of our Lord and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God when all of creation will be transfigured and filled with light.
How do we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration?
This Feast of our Lord is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is conducted on the day of the feast and preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the feast. Scripture readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration are the following: At Vespers: Exodus 24:12-18, 33:11-23, 34:4-6, 8; I Kings 19:3-9, 11-13, 15-16. At the Orthros (Matins): Luke 9:28-36. At the Divine Liturgy: II Peter 1:10-19; Matthew 17:1-9.
The Holy Scriptures tell us that when our Lord was dying on the Cross, He saw His mother and His disciple John and said to the Virgin Mary, "Woman, behold your son!" and to John, "Behold your mother!" (John 19:25-27). From that hour, the Apostle took care of the Theotokos in his own home.
Along with the biblical reference in Acts 1:14 that confirms that the Virgin Mary was with the Holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the tradition of the Church holds that she remained in the home of the Apostle John in Jerusalem, continuing a ministry in word and deed.
At the time of her death, the disciples of our Lord who were preaching throughout the world returned to Jerusalem to see the Theotokos. Except for the Apostle Thomas, all of them including the Apostle Paul were gathered together at her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ himself descended and carried her soul into heaven.
Following her repose, the body of the Theotokos was taken in procession and laid in a tomb near the Garden of Gethsemane. When the Apostle Thomas arrived three days after her repose and desired to see her body, the tomb was found to be empty. The bodily assumption of the Theotokos was confirmed by the message of an angel and by her appearance to the Apostles.
The Icon of the Feast
The Icon of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos shows her on her deathbed surrounded by the Apostles. Christ is standing in the centre. looking at His mother. He is holding a small child clothed in white representing the soul of the Virgin Mary. With His golden garments, the angels above His head, and the mandorla surrounding Him, Christ is depicted in His divine glory.
The posture of the Apostles direct attention toward the Theotokos. On the right Saint Peter censes the body of the Theotokos. On the left Saint Paul bows low in honour of her.
Together with the Apostles are several bishops and women. The bishops traditionally represented are James, the brother of the Lord, Timothy, Heirotheus, and Dionysius the Areopagite. They are shown wearing episcopal vestments. The women are members of the church in Jerusalem.
In front of the bed of the Theotokos is a candle (that helps to form a central axis in the icon). Above the candle is the body of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. Standing over His mother is Christ holding her most pure soul. Above Christ the gates of heaven stand open, ready to receive the Mother of God.
This great Feast of the Church and the icon celebrates a fundamental teaching of our faith—the Resurrection of the body. In the case of the Theotokos, this has been accomplished by the divine will of God. Thus, this Feast is a feast of hope, hope in Resurrection and life eternal. Like those who gathered around the body of the Virgin Mary, we gather around our departed loved ones and commend their souls into the hands of Christ. As we remember those who have reposed in the faith before us and have passed on into the communion of the Saints, we prepare ourselves to one day be received into the new life of the age to come.
We also affirm through this Feast as we journey toward our heavenly abode that the Mother of God intercedes for us. Through Christ she has become the mother of all of the children of God, embracing us with divine love.
How do we celebrate the feast? See below.
How do we celebrate the Feast of the Dormition?
The commemoration of the Dormition of the Theotokos and the preparation for the Feast begin on August 1 with a period of fasting. A strict fast is followed on most of the days (no meat, dairy, oil, or wine), with the exceptions of fish on the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) and the day of the Dormition. Oil and Wine are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays.
On the weekdays before the Feast, Paraklesis services are held in most parishes. These consist of the Great Paraklesis and the Small Paraklesis, both services of supplication and prayer for the intercessions of the Theotokos.
The Feast of the Dormition is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is conducted on the morning of the Feast and preceded by a Matins (Orthros) service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast of the Dormition are the following: At Vespers: Genesis 28:10-17; Ezekiel 43:27-44:4; Proverbs 9:1-11. At the Matins: Luke 1:39-49, 56. At the Divine Liturgy: Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28.