CHRISTIAN LIFE, SACRAMENTS, AND LITURGICAL CYCLES

Our life in the Church is shaped and sustained by several liturgical cycles. The cycle of life, beginning with birth and ending with death of a body, is punctuated by the sacraments and rites of Baptism, Chrismation, Communion, Repentance, Unction, and Burial. Our other individual life choices, like marriage, monasticism, and pastoral ministry, are blessed and sanctified by the Sacrament of Matrimony, Monastic Tonsure, and Sacrament of Ordination (see Sacraments and Needs).

In addition to these sacraments and unique rites, the Church offers us several cycles of public, or communal, prayer cycles, which allow us to be part of sanctifcation of our life time on daily, weekly, monthly, and annual, basis. Below you can find a short description of these main cycles.

DAILY CYCLE OF PRAYER

 The Daily Cycle consists of services which are prescribed for every day of the year. These hymns, readings, and prayers are related to the events which happened at certain time of the 24-hour cycle. The latter is divided according to ancient tradition into several parts:
  • Night begins at our 6:00 pm and is divided into four "watches" (time of changing guards): Evening (6:00 - 9:00 pm); Midnight (9:00 pm - 12:00 am); Cock-crow (12:00 am - 3:00 am); and Morning (3:00 am - 6:00 am).
  • Day begins at 6:00 am and is divided into four "watches," or "hours": First Hour (6:00 - 9:00 am); Third Hour (9:00 am 12:00 pm); Sixth Hour (12:00 - to3:00 pm); and Ninth Hour (3:00 - 6:00 pm).

The list of corresponding services is as follows:

  • Small / Great Vespers: Small Vespers is celebrated on evening weekdays; Great Vespers -  on Saturday evenings and on the eve of Feast Days.
  • Midnight Services
  • Matins (Greek Orthros)
  • First Hour - daybreak (6:00 am): thanksgiving for the new day
  • Third Hour - to mid-morning (9:00 am): remembering the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost
  • Sixth Hour - mid-day (12:00 pm): remembering Christ's Crucifixion
  • Ninth Hour - mid-afternoon (3:00 pm): remembering Christ's death on the cross
  • Small Great Compline
The evening service includes Ninth Hour, Vespers, and Compline, and ends before sunset.
  • The night/morning service includes Nocturns (Midnight Office), Matins/Orthros, and First Hour, and begins before sunrise.
  • The day service includes Third Hour, Sixth Hour, and, when celebrated, the Divine Liturgy, although the latter is not part of the Daily Cycle as such.

*

  • In the Greek, Albanian, Romanian, Syrian, and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches, Vespers are usually held in the evening, while in the morning Matins are followed by the Great Doxology and the Divine Liturgy.
  •  
    In the Russian and Serbian Churches, Vespers, Matins, and the Great Doxology are usually celebrated in the evening (the Vigil), followed by the First Hour, while in the morning the Third and Sixth Hours are followed by the Divine Liturgy.
Liturgy
  • Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is celebrated on most Sundays and weekdays.
  • Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated 10 times during the liturgical year: on the first five Sundays of the Great Lent, on Thursday and Saturday of the Holy week, Christmas Eve, St. Basil’s feast (January 1) and Theophany/Baptism of Christ (January 6).
  • Divine Liturgy of St. James the Apostle is celebrated, when chosen, on October 23 - the feast day of the apostle.

THE WEEKLY CYCLE OF PRAYER

    Each day of the Weekly Cycle is dedicated to special theme:
  • Sunday, the Lord's Day - celebration of the Jesus' resurrection;
  • Monday - celebration of the Angelic/Bodiless Powers;
  • Tuesday - celebration of the prophets and especially St John the Baptist;
  • Wednesday - celebration of the Cross and recollection of Judas' betrayal of Jesus;
  • Thursday - celebration of the Apostles and St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia who represents the bishops - successors to the Apostles and the teachers of the Church;
  • Friday - celebration of the Cross and recollection of the Crucifixion;
  • Saturday - celebration of All Saints, especially Mother of God, and commemoration of all departed members of the Church.

    Each week also has its particular Tone, one of the Eight Tones (melodies) used in the Church in sequence beginning with with Tone One on Saturday Evening of Bright Week (the Eve of St. Thomas Sunday).


LITURGICAL FEASTS OF THE YEAR 

The Menaia (Greek plural from Menaion - The Book of Month) contain liturgical services on the immovable feasts of the Church and are usually divided into  monthly volumes. The Feasts that fall within The cycle of Great Lent and Easter could be found in the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostation (see Liturgical Books).
Great Feasts of the Lord:

1. The Elevation of the Cross (September 14). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, see Elevation of the Cross. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

2. The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas, December 25).

 

For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, see Nativity. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

3. The Theophany/Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ (January 6). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, see Theophany. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

4. The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (February 2).For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast,see Presentation of the Lord. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

5. The Entrance of Our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday - Sunday before Pascha). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast,  see Palm Sunday. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

6. The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ (40 days after Pascha). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, see Ascension. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

7. Pentecost /The Descent of the Holy Spirit (50 days after Pascha). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, see Pentecost. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

8. The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ (August 6). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, seeTransfiguration.For a short historical overview, go here 

 Great Feasts of the Mother of God:

1. The Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast,see Nativity of the Theotokos.For a short historical overview, go here.

 

2. The Presentation of the Theotokos at the Temple (November 21).For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, see Presentation. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

3. The Annunciation to the Theotokos (March. 25). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, see Annunciation. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

4. The Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15). For the Orthodox understanding of the Feast, see Dormition. For a short historical overview, go here.

 

All of the Great Feasts, except Palm Sunday and Pentecost, are preceded by a period of preparation - the Forefeast. In addition, The Nativity and the Dormition are preceded by a fasting period -  the Nativity Fast begins on November 15 and the Dormition Fast begins on August 1. Three of the Feasts are followed by a distinctive commemoration known as a Synaxis: The Nativity of Christ is followed on December 26 by the Synaxis of the Theotokos; the Theophany is followed on Janaury 7 by the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist; and the Annunciation is followed on March 26 by the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel. All Great Feasts, except Palm Sunday, are followed by the Afterfeast, during which the Feast  celebration continues. The last day of the Afterfeast, called the Leavetaking,  is the end of the Feast's celebration.


GREAT LENT 

The period of several weeks before Pascha, filled with intense prayer, fasting, and Bible study, was initially established in the Church for the preparation of catechumens to baptism on Great, or Holy, Saturday. This allowed for their full participation in the celebration of Christ's Resurrection on the Day of Pascha/Easter. With time, the forty-day period (in imitation of Christ's forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert - cf. Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13) was expanded into a longer cycle, augmented with a few preparatory weeks and the Holy Week.


Three weeks of preparation, preceding Lent:

  1. Sunday of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
     (John 1:43-52),
  2. S
    unday of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32),
  3. Sunday of the Last Judgment, or Meatfare (Matthew 25:31-46),
  4. Sunday of Adam's expulsion from Paradise, or Cheesefare (Matthew 6:14-21).

Sundays of the Great Lent are as follows:

  • Sunday of Orthodoxy (John 1:43-52),
  • Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas (Mark 2:1-12),
  • Sunday of Adoration of Cross (Mark 8:34-38, 9:1),
  • Sunday of St. John Climacus (Mark 9:17-31),
  • Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt (Mark 10:32-45),
  • Palm Sunday, although it is rather part of the Holy Week with its particular set of services (see below)


HOLY WEEK

  1. Palm Sunday (John 12:12-18), - Entry of Lord Jesus into Jerusalem
     
  2. Holy Monday
    1. Matins (Matthew 21:18-43) - the story of the fig tree as a symbol of the world failing to bring spiritual fruit in its response to God; 
    2. Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (Matthew 24:3-35) - Jesus' eschatological discourse on the signs of the End.
  3. Holy Tuesday
    1. Matins (Matthew 22:15-23:39) - condemnation of Pharisees as hypocrits;
    2. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (Matthew 24:36-26:2) - the parables of the ten wise virgins and of the ten talents; warning about the Last Judgement.
  4. Holy Wednesday - Judas' decision to betray Jesus
    1. Matin (John 12:17-50) - the rejection of Christ, the growing conflict, the final warning ofthe Judgment;
    2. the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (Matthew 26:6-16) - pouring of the precious ointment on Jesus by a woman as symbol of love and repentance as ways to union with Christ.
  5. Holy Thursday - commemoration of the following events: Jesus washing the disciples’ feet; institution of the Eucharist; the agony in Gethsemane; betrayal by Judas;
  6. Holy Friday - commemoration of the suffering, death, and burial of Christ;
     
  7. Holy Saturday - commemoration of the "Day of Rest," when Christ's body rests in the tomb, while his soul desends to Hades.

EASTER. or PASCHA. SUNDAY


Easter Cycle/Pentecostarion - The Annual Cycle of movable Feasts, centered around Pascha (Easter Sunday): Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Pascha), Holy Ascension (the 40th day after Pascha) and Holy Pentecost (the Descent of the Holy Spirit; the 50th day after Pascha)