Orthodox Christian Holy Days

Nearly all Eastern (Orthodox) Christian churches follow the Julian calendar for their liturgical years. Since the Julian year is about 11.25 minutes longer than the actual solar year, by the 1500s it had fallen 10 days behind. Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 introduced the more accurate Gregorian calendar, which the Western Church has used since. The Julian calendar currently is 13 days behind the Gregorian year.

In 1923, a number of Orthodox churches adopted the Revised (New) Julian calendar, which aligns with the Gregorian calendar from March 1600 through February 2800. Pascha (Orthodox Easter) is the basis for the dates of other movable feasts such as Pentecost.

Great Lent

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.

Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos – August 15

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).