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Religion Library: Eastern Orthodoxy

Sacred Time

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Three of the feasts are dated in relation to the feast of Easter. The date of Easter is determined by the lunar calendar, which means the date of Easter changes. Easter and these three feasts, Palm Sunday, the Ascension, and the Pentecost, are called "movable" feasts, while the others are "fixed." There is a host of other festivals or feasts, generally fixed, throughout the liturgical year, some of which commemorate significant events in the Gospels, and others that commemorate significant individuals from the Bible, along with angels, saints, and martyrs.

Many liturgical Christians such as Roman Catholics and Anglicans fast in penitence during Advent and Lent. Eastern Orthodox Christians also fast in penitential preparation for significant holy days, but fasting in the east tends to be more rigorous than fasting in the west. Fasting is seen as an important aspect of Christian discipline, purifying the body as well as the soul, and self-control is regarded as a virtue.

There are Four Great Fasts during the Christian year. The Lenten fast begins seven weeks before Easter. The Christmas Fast, which occurs during Advent, lasts 40 days, from November 15 to Christmas Eve. The Fast of the Apostles begins on Monday, eight days after Pentecost, and lasts until June 28, the eve of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The length of this fast varies significantly, from one to six weeks, depending on the date of Easter. Lastly, the Dormition Fast lasts from August 1 to August 14, which is the eve of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. This commemorates the "falling asleep" or death of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Orthodox Christians may also fast every Wednesday, the day of Judas' betrayal of Jesus, and every Friday, the day of the crucifixion.

Fasting is strict by western standards. Devout Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, fish, dairy, wine, and oil, while others might practice different kinds of fasts, less severe, throughout the year. Married couples will abstain from sex, instead devoting themselves to prayer. Dispensation is granted to those who are physically unable to withstand the deprivations of fasting, such as pregnant and nursing mothers, the very young and the very old, the sick, and those who don't control their diets, such as prisoners and soldiers. Orthodoxy normally relaxes the fast on feast days that occur during the Great Fasts, such as on the Feast of the Transfiguration, which falls during the Dormition Fast.

The repetitive rhythms of feast and fast throughout the calendar year conspire to create a sense of timelessness, connecting the believer to the communion of saints and enfolding the believer in the love of the eternal God.

Study Questions:
1.     Why is Eastern Orthodoxy a liturgical faith?
2.     How do Eastern Orthodoxy’s rituals transform time?
3.     What are some of Eastern Orthodoxy’s liturgical holidays? When do they occur?
4.     Describe the process of fasting. How does it create sacred time?


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