Tag Archives: church calendar

Let us eat of it and live forever.

Many, if not most, Orthodox Christians in the world will celebrate our Lord’s Nativity on January 7, as was the custom for all Orthodox until less than a century ago. Under various pressures to westernize, some began to use the “secular” calendar as had been requested of them since the 16th century. I happen to have been baptized into a “new calendar” diocese, so here I am! When I announce a feast day or a calendar date of a commemoration, saying “We –,” I don’t disregard the vast numbers of my beloved brothers and sisters who are waiting thirteen more days for their holy day. But here I go again:

We have entered the Forefeast of the Nativity of our Lord:

Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all!
Adorn yourself, O Ephratha,
for the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave!

Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit:
If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam.
Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!

Annus est Christus.

Much earth and earthiness, fruitfulness, and aromas from it all, here on September 1st. I have been gardening a lot, soaking up the heat, collecting seeds, and ripping out vegetables that are done in by “pests,” those other hungry creatures who enjoy my garden. In a few days, God willing, my Monarchs will emerge from their delicate green chrysalises. In the meantime, other insects have been patiently posing for me.

I keep buying plants, and sticking them in the ground or in pots. Lots of perennials that will go dormant in a few months, but then they will be beautiful in the spring. I’m planning for another year in the garden, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

This nursery in the country that I rarely visit, I managed to drive to yesterday; they specialize in edible perennials and pollinator plants. I bought five unusual plants, which I’ll have to tell about in a separate post. One lovely thing  I saw but didn’t buy was this passion flower that has decided to grow all over the mesh ceiling of the nursery.

In my own space, Alejandro spent a couple of hours trimming the lamb’s ears back to the steel edging of the paths. If we let it, it would grow all the way across the path, living a dry existence in the bark mulch, waiting for winter rains. I like to have my helper come at a time when I also can be working in my garden, and for some reason we seem to get more than double the work done. The other day he told me that my plum trees seem very likely to bear next year, judging from all the fruit spurs on them. 🙂

That mantis praying makes me want to tell you that it’s the beginning of the church year! Why, you may ask, does it start now? Why, because of Rosh Hashanah! I had been thinking a lot about this special day in preparation for teaching 7th-10th graders this morning, and then in today’s homily we were given a heavenly vision of this church calendar year and its cycles within cycles, with Christ at the center.

One book I used to prepare my lesson is The Year of Grace of the Lord by A Monk of the Eastern Church. He says, “The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man. According to a medieval Latin saying, the liturgical year is Christ himself, annus est Christus.”

Our homilist taught us about how we humans, along with angels, were made to live in a created eternity, something different from the unchanging, eternal nature that characterizes the Holy Trinity. But since the fall of mankind into sin, we find ourselves in a linear, world time, a fallen time that carries death in it; we are born, grow old, and die.

But we don’t have to live there exclusively; in the Church Christ gives us Himself by many means, including the daily, weekly and yearly cycles of prayers and hymn-filled services, feasts and saints’ days. The calendar brings the heavenly realm down and puts it into fallen time, where it is possible for us to enter in and live. We often get a taste of this kind of life at Pascha, but it is happening all the time.

I love the church calendar, and have always reckoned it a great gift — that is, since I found the Orthodox Church. It was August twenty years ago that I was invited to a women’s retreat at a monastery, and the brief immersion into the daily, weekly and festal cycles of worship — eleven services! — made me feel that I’d found my true home. Here was a way to live with Christ!

It’s more helpful to think of the church calendar not as the paper type with boxes for each day, but as circles and cycles and rhythms, some following the cycles of the sun or the moon, some celebrations fixed on the linear calendar and some moving with the changes of the earthly seasons. Jesus Christ entered our linear time, where He lived through 33 years of Jewish festal seasons; through the church calendar we can follow Him through His life, death, Resurrection, and the birth of His Church, and use it all to unite ourselves to Him day by day. 

I think August and September might be my favorite months of the year. We’ve had other traditional, seasonal events, like barbecues at church – yum! Green beans from my garden slathered with pesto from my garden, and Gravenstein apples, harbingers of fall. September is the month that I love most to go to my cabin in the mountains, but this year is full in ways that prevent that. It’s really a year of preparation of my house, so that I can, if possible, live here for a long time to come, and continue to make it a hospitable place for my family and others whom the Lord brings.

“We can only see a short distance ahead,
but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
~ Alan Turing

Now that the days are growing…

Do you know that the Pre-Festal Hymns begin on the twentieth of December? light palm & xmas tree sf 2012 - CopyThe Church has also wisely set the last day in which the night grows longer. On the twenty-first of the month the day begins to grow longer. The nights and noetic darknesses leave while light and days increase. Let us ask God to take away from us the darkness of our hearts now that the days are growing and they become completely illumined, now that the time of the year is changing. The Church announces this to us with the rising of the true light, the Sun of our souls.

-Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra

Brunch with Sophia and Brigid

ForglP1030339 a long time I’d been hoping to keep St. Brigid’s Day with some kitchen activity; I even programmed the idea into my online calendar and every year toward the end of January the e-mail reminder arrived, “If it’s not a fasting day, make Irish food.” As the day came and went year after year, always on the eve of a major feast of the Orthodox Church, there was never time or energy to enact my plan. Until this year.gl P1030341

I had invited my goddaughter Sophia for a birthday brunch on February 1st, and when I started planning the menu I realized that we could remember St. Brigid at the same time and have an Irish theme to the food.

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St. Brigid’s Oaten Bread would be the center of the spread, and I found many recipes for it online,  all  identical. I added a few more menu items imitating an “Irish Breakfast,” which I know was not perfectly authentic, but we relished the bread and everything else, warmed by a good fire in the stove and drinking Irish Breakfast tea to boot.

Next year I might incorporate more of the Celtic traditions surrounding St. Brigid, including the fact that February 1st is considered Celtic Spring, and the custom of not bringing snowdrop flowers into the house until that day. From Heather’s comment on my snowdrop post, and from other sources, I learned more about the saint and the season just after my party. I didn’t even think to bring snowdrops into the house on that Celtic spring day, because I had so many flowers left from our house blessing the week before.

glP1030347Confession: I actually did alter the bread recipe a bit, partly because I had an egg yolk left over from making these Candied Espresso Walnuts (a food that would have been strange to St. Brigid). I thought she would have thought it natural to use the extra yolk in the bread, because a farm girl like her would not waste it. And she would not blink an eye when she saw me adding an extra tablespoon of butter; I know this because more than one story about her reveals her appreciation of this wonderful food. Sophia and I blessed our Brigid’s bread by spreading extra butter on our thick slices.

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The next day after St. Brigid’s we would commemorate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, which is also called Candlemas because we bless candles. This year our rector mentioned Groundhog Day and its marking of shadows. He noted that because we came to church, we ourselves saw no shadows, only the Light of Christ shining in the world.

I like what Macrina Lewis wrote recently about these days and others through the church year:

…many of our major Christian feasts hearken back with echoes through prior centuries to pre-Christian religious and cultural celebrations, often tied closely to the earth and to the earthly rhythms of human life: birth, death, harvest, preparation, feasting. In the illuminating glory of the saBrigid2ints’ lives and the liturgical expression of the church, these feasts, these divine seasons, have been revealed in their fullness, elucidated and offered as a way for each of us to personally participate in their mysteries directly. What was formerly in shadow…has been illumined with the knowledge of faith and the fullness of God’s presence.

Thinking about those earthly rhythms, I have to say that the darkness of January did not get me down this year as it has tended to do in recent years, and I wonder why… Is it because I have so much work to do? Just watching the birds through the window as they explore my new garden must elevate my mood. Certainly being part of a worshiping community, right here in my house, keeps the gloom at the level of something “out there” that we don’t have to partake of; we worked joyfully to spiff up the house and cook a meal together for the occasion of our house blessing last week. The skies have featured rain or wind, which is not the kind of weather that leads to a prohibition of wood fires, and now three of us in one house both appreciate and even build fires almost every day.

I’ve continued to sorrow and to grieve the loss of my husband, but in sharper, briefer episodes than the kind of depression that can come from lack of sunlight. The sadness often comes over me when I’m standing in church, as sitting in my Father’s lap, and He soon comforts me by making me feel all the love and loveliness in His house. Into the darkness of a hurting and wintry world, Jesus Christ shines warm and bright.

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