Orthodox Christian Holy Days
The Eastern (Orthodox) Christian Churches use the Julian calendar, unlike the Western Church, which uses the Gregorian calendar. Since the actual solar year is approximately 11.25 minutes shorter than the Julian year, the Julian calendar had fallen 10 days behind the solar year by the 16th century. At present the Gregorian and Julian calendars are 13 days out of phase.
For both churches, Easter or Pascha (Orthodox Easter) is the basis for movable festivals such as Pentecost and Ascension. The moon’s phases and March equinox determine these dates, which vary from year to year. Pascha may be celebrated up to five weeks later than Easter because of the difference in calendars.
Great Lent (or the Great Fast) is the Eastern Orthodox Lenten season. It is the church’s longest, strictest and most important fasting time, leading up to Pascha (Orthodox Easter Sunday). As in Western Christianity, Great Lent lasts 40 days (but includes Sundays) and moves from year to year. The period runs from Clean Monday, seven weeks before Pascha, through Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. Fasting continues until Pascha morning.
Starting the week before Lent, believers avoid meat and other animal products. (Eggs and dairy are allowed.) During the first five days, they eat nothing from Monday morning to Wednesday evening and take only two full meals, on Wednesday and Friday. Throughout the rest of Lent, believers mostly avoid meat and animal products, fish, dairy products, wine and oil, with wine and oil allowed on weekends. During Holy Week, the last meal before Pascha is ideally Thursday evening and may include wine and oil. Great and Holy Friday is the year’s strictest fast day and is encouraged even for those who have not kept a strict Lenten fast. The fast may end Saturday night or on Pascha.
Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches observe the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15. Western Catholics know this day as the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Commemorating “the falling asleep of the Mother of God,” the feast celebrates Mary’s death and bodily assumption by God into heaven.
In the Orthodox Church, the feasts of Mary celebrate believers’ own lives in Christ. Those who follow the Holy Mother in obedience and love will also be lifted up to eternal life. The Feast of the Dormition is the sign that all who hear and obey God’s Word will likewise receive her destiny.
Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos, who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life, by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb (Kontakion).