Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church

Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church

The feast of the Resurrection of Jesus, called Pascha (Easter), is the greatest of the feasts of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In addition, there are other days of great importance in the life of the Church - the Twelve Great Feasts.

The Twelve Great Feasts

Eight great feasts in honor of Jesus Christ, and four great feasts honoring the Virgin Mary - the Theotokos - comprise "The Twelve Great Feasts." [Mother Mary and Ware, Kallistos, "The Festal Menaion", p. 41. St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1998. ]
#September 8, the Nativity of the Theotokos
#September 14, the Exaltation of the Cross
#November 21, the Presentation of the Theotokos
#December 25, the Nativity of Christ
#January 6, the Baptism of Christ -- Theophany, also called Epiphany
#February 2, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
#March 25, the Annunciation
#The Sunday before Pascha -- the Entry into Jerusalem or Flowery/Willow/Palm Sunday
#Forty Days after Pascha -- the Ascension of Christ
#Fifty Days after Pascha -- Pentecost
#August 6, the Transfiguration
#August 15, the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos

Short explanations of the feasts

Nativity of the Theotokos

Mary was born to elderly and previously barren parents by the names of Joachim and Anna (now saints), in answer to their prayers. Orthodox Christians do not hold to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, in which it is taught that Mary was preserved from the ancestral sin that befalls us all as descendants of Adam and Eve, in anticipation of her giving birth to the sinless Christ. The Orthodox believe that Mary, and indeed all mankind, was born only to suffer the consequences of the ancestral sin (being born into a corrupt world surrounded by temptations to sin), the chief of which was the enslavement to Death, and thus needed salvation from this enslavement, like all mankind. The Roman Catholic Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception also recognizes that Mary was in need of salvation, viewing her as prevented from falling into the filth of sin, instead of being pulled up out of it. Orthodox thought does vary on whether Mary actually ever sinned, though there is general agreement that she was cleansed from sin at the Annunciation. [ Ware, p. 47]

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross (also called the Elevation of the Cross) commemorates the recovery of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The Persians had captured it as a prize of war in Jerusalem in the year 614, and it was recovered by the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire ("Byzantine Empire") in 629. The cross was joyously held up for veneration by the Christian faithful upon its recovery. [ Ware, p. 50]

Presentation of the Theotokos

According to Tradition, Mary was taken -- presented -- to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem as a young girl, where she lived and served until her betrothal to Joseph. [ Ware, p. 51] [M.R. James, "The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford, 1924. Cited by Ware, p. 47]

Nativity of the Lord

December 25 -- Christmas. The nativity account(Gospel of Luke ). It is known by the Orthodox as both Epiphany (i.e., "manifestation") and Theophany ("manifestation of God"). These are bundled, along with Christmas, differently in some eastern Christian traditions. [ Ware, p. 55]

Presentation of the Lord

In the Gospel of Luke ). The crowds threw palm branches in his path in jubilation, and even the children shouted praises to Him. The Orthodox celebrate this day with joy, but with the realization that very sad events are soon to come. Among the Russian Orthodox, pussy willow branches are substituted in the celebration of this event, owing to the lack of availability of palm trees in Slavic climes.


Forty days after the Resurrection, while blessing His disciples (Gospel of Luke ).


Fifty days after the Resurrection, on the exising Jewish feast of Pentecost, while the disciples and many other followers of Jesus were gathered together to pray, the Holy Spirit descended upon them in the form of "cloven tongues of fire", with the sound of a might rushing wind, and they began to speak in languages that they did not know. There were many visitors from the Jewish diaspora to Jerusalem at that time for the Jewish observance of the feast, and they were astonished to hear these untaught fishermen speaking praises to God in their alien tongues (Acts of the Apostles ).


Jesus had gone with his disciples (later called apostles) Peter, James, and John (also called John the Evangelist) to Mount Tabor. Christ's appearance was changed while they watched into a glorious radiant figure. There appeared Elijah and Moses, speaking with Jesus. The disciples were amazed and terribly afraid. This event shows forth the divinity of Christ, so that the disciples would understand after his Ascension that He was truly the radiant splendor of the Father, and that his Passion was voluntary. Gospel of Mark [ Ware, p. 61]

Dormition of the Theotokos

The Orthodox feast of the Dormition is analogous to what Roman Catholicism calls the Assumption of Mary. According to Orthodox Tradition, Mary died like all humanity, "falling asleep", so to speak, as the name of the feast indicates. (Catholic theologians are divided on the issue of whether Mary died. Today most would favor an actual death before the Assumption.) The Apostles were miraculously summoned to this event, and all were present except Thomas when Mary passed from this life. She was buried. Thomas arrived a few days later, and desiring to see her one more time, convinced the others to open her tomb, and behold! her body was not there. This event is seen as a firstfruits of the resurrection of the faithful that will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. The event is normally called the "Dormition", though there are many Orthodox Churches with the name "Assumption". In Greek, "Dormition" is "Kimisis" -- falling asleep in death -- from which the word "cemetery" derives. [ Ware, p. 63]

See also

* Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar
* Paschal Cycle


* [ Icons of the Church Year] , [ Orthodox Church in America] . Accessed October 15, 2007.
* [ The Major Feasts of the Church] , [ Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America] . Accessed October 15 2007.
* [ Web Sites for Special Occasions] , Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Access October 15 2007.

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