Assumption of Mary, Dormition of Theotokos: Christians honor Virgin Mary

Painting Mary falling asleep

A depiction of the “falling asleep” of Mary. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15: The Eastern Orthodox Dormition Fast has ended, and both Eastern and Western Christians bow their heads, today, for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary / Dormition of the Theotokos. Two names for the same event, both the Assumption and the Dormition proclaim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven in body and soul. Whether or not Mary died before being assumed does vary by tradition, though—for Catholic Christians, the question remains open, while for Orthodox Christians, firm belief holds that she did, in fact, die a mortal death.

Did you know? In 588 CE, the Emperor Maurice officially adopted the commemoration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin) into the liturgical calendar of the Byzantine Empire.

No evidence of Mary’s Assumption exists in scripture, yet the belief has been engrained in both branches of Christianity for centuries. With no scriptural evidence, the Church points, instead, to passages in Revelations, Genesis and Corinthians, to mention of a woman “caught between good and evil” and to those fallen asleep after Christ’s resurrection. Theologians and Christians have pointed out that a woman so close to Jesus during his earthly life would have naturally been assumed into Heaven, to be with him there.

To many Christians, Eastern and Western, the Assumption is also the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday. Mary’s acceptance into the glory of Heaven is viewed as the symbol of Christ’s promise that all devoted Christians will be received into Heaven, too. The feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in many countries, from Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to Italy, Romania and Spain. The day doubles as Mother’s Day in Costa Rica and parts of Belgium.

THE ASSUMPTION: FROM THE 4TH CENTURY TO 1950 A.D.

Apocryphal accounts of the Assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since the 4th century, and teachings of the Assumption have been widespread since the 5th century. Theological debate continued in the centuries following, and though most Catholic Christians had held belief in the Assumption for quite some time, it wasn’t until 63 years ago—on November 1, 1950—that Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith.

IN THE NEWS: A 2017 INTERFAITH (CONTEST) OPPORTUNITY

The Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has announced a contest, open to individuals of all faith traditions, for submission of a video, photo or thesis that best captures the Orthodox Church’s commitment to interfaith cooperation and dialogue. Three winners will each be awarded $500, in the categories of “Original video,” “Original photography” and “M.A. thesis.” Submissions must be turned in by September 21, 2017. (Find more details here.)

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Categories: Christian

Lammas, Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans, more welcome harvest season

Loaves of bread, various sizes and shapes

Photo courtesy of Pexels

TUESDAY, AUGUST 1: As July breaks into August and grains turn golden in the fields, Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark the feast of Lammas. An ancient festival of the wheat harvest, Lammas—or Lughnasadh—has long been called “the feast of first fruits.” In England and in some English-speaking countries, August 1 is “Lammas Day”; historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to the church for a blessing.

Did you know? The Anglo-Saxon version of Lammas, or “loaf-mass,” refers to the practice of bringing a loaf of freshly baked bread to one’s local church for blessing.

It is the joyful simplicity of gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s occasion. Lughnasadh customs were commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair.

Morris dancing on green grass

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)

In the Neopagan and Wiccan faiths, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbats and is the first of three harvest festivals. Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnasadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnasadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries.

IN THE NEWS: 2017 EUROPEAN LAMMAS FESTS

Residents and visitors of Eastbourne, England marked Lammas this year with a two-day festival flanked with traditional Lammas Morris dancers, a parade, food and crafts, storytellers and a special-edition Lammas Ale. (Read more in the Eastbourne Herald.)

Watch a video of traditional Morris dancing, in Oxford, at this YouTube link.

In Keighley, baker and baking columnist Mike Armstrong will demonstrate breadmaking and talk about Lammas on August 1. Armstrong will give his bread-making demonstration in a local historic kitchen. (Learn more here.)

Interested in making a Lammas loaf? Try this recipe, from Recipes for a Pagan Soul:

4 cups all purpose/bread flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Stir flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and raisins together. Separately, fork-blend eggs and buttermilk, then add to dry ingredients. Stir until sticky batter is formed. Scrape batter onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly. Shape batter into a ball, then place in a round, non-stick casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake uncovered in preheated 350-degree oven for about 1-1/4 hours.

Wait 10-15 minutes before attempting to remove bread from casserole, then cool on wire rack. If desired, cut loaf into quarters and then slice thinly.

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Categories: ChristianWiccan / Pagan

Trinity Sunday: Western Christians revere Trinity, Orthodox mark Pentecost

Stained glass window of symbols of holy Trinity

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 11: White banners are draped and vestments shine as a sign of purity as Western Christian churches worldwide celebrate Trinity Sunday. Note: In the Eastern Christian Church, Trinity Sunday is observed on the Sunday of Pentecost. A culmination of the Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday calls to mind the role that each member of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—play in Christianity.

Many Christians are surprised to learn that the original writers of the New Testament did not use the term “Trinity” as it appears in mainline Christianity today. While the three elements of divinity, God and Christ and Holy Spirit, were a part of the faith from its early years, the famous theologian Tertullian (who lived and wrote in Africa) is widely credited as introducing the first full analysis of the Trinity in the early 3rd century. The doctrine wasn’t formalized among Christian leaders until the fourth century.

For centuries, church leaders argued that the Trinity was honored every Sunday. But, in the 12th century, Thomas Becket declared that the day of his consecration should be an annual festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. The observance spread through Western Christianity, and was placed in the general calendar in the 14th century.

There is, perhaps, nothing more central to the creed of the Christian faith—and yet, so elusive, in comprehension of it—than the Holy Trinity. Through the centuries, countless saints have attempted to teach about the Trinity. Among the most famous was a three-leaf clover that tradition says was used by St. Patrick.

CUSTOMS & THE ATHANASIAN CREED

On this one Sunday each year, many Christians around the world recite the Athanasian Creed (read it here). Some bake cloverleaf rolls to reflect the Trinity, or set the table with a centerpiece of triple-leaf flowers. For a Catholic perspective or to read Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Trinity, go to CatholicCulture.com.

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Categories: Christian

It’s Easter! East and West rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus

Sunlight through window, dove, white garment over stone bench

Image by Grace Oasis, courtesy of Vimeo

SUNDAY, APRIL 16: Both Eastern and Western Christians rejoice in the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter, or Pascha—the focal point of the entire Christian calendar. Hot cross buns, chocolate bunnies and brunch souffles fill tables and baskets of plenty on this joyous day, as families and friends gather. Lilies adorn altar spaces and remind churchgoers both of resurrection (blossoms from dormant spring bulbs) and that Jesus enjoyed a form of lily himself, as is evidenced in the Gospel of Luke. The 50 days following Easter are called Eastertide.

Urbi et Orbi: The pope’s Urbi et Orbi (to the City (Rome) and the world”) blessing, along with Easter Mass, will be available live on YouTube.

Holy Week 2017: Interested in the papal schedule for Holy Week? It was released by the Vatican and is available here.

News 2017: In Jerusalem, the newly restored tomb of Christ, which has been under restoration for almost one year, is reportedly still at risk—but this time, at risk of “catastrophic” collapse, warn scientists, if foundation renovations are not underway soon. (Read more from National Geographic.) A shrine known as the Edicule, enclosing what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus Christ, sits inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; however, as celebrations are underway for the completion of the first renovation, recent surveys have uncovered an unstable foundation beneath the sacred monument. Exactly how to proceed with the difficult archaeological work, however, has yet to be determined.

AROUND THE WORLD: FROM BUNNIES TO LAMBS

Bunny and basket and umbrella on vintage greeting

An Easter greeting. Photo by ArtsyBee, courtesy of Pixabay

Easter in America may be characterized as much by the Easter Bunny and pastel-hued candies as it is by Christian joy in Christ’s Resurrection: Egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many American families.

For many Christians, shared meals may involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle. A traditional Easter menu also often features lamb—a symbol of Christ at this time of year as the Paschal Lamb—although these days, Easter hams far outpace cuts of lamb, even on the tables of the faithful.

Hosting your own Easter brunch or dinner? Find recipes at Food Network and AllRecipes, decorating tips from Martha Stewart, and free Easter-themed printables from HGTV.

Easter marketsAustria hosts a whole heap of traditional Easter markets and festivals every year, from the market at Innsbruck to the Salzburg Easter Festival, with plenty of concerts, artisan shows and spring-centered celebrations in between.

ACCORDING TO THE GOSPELS:
THE WITNESS OF AN EMPTY TOMB

The New Testament describes the events of the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe verify him as the Son of God. There is no recorded “moment of resurrection,” but rather, a discovery by Mary Magdalene (and others) early on Sunday morning that Jesus’ tomb was empty.

In his crucifixion, Jesus died on a Roman cross. That evening, according to Christian tradition, Joseph of Arimathea asked the Roman official Pilate for the body, wrapped it in linen cloth and laid it in a tomb.

Saturday passed, and early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene (and, some Gospels attest, other women in attendance) visited the tomb of Jesus. Much to their surprise, the tomb’s stone was moved, and a messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Gospel accounts vary regarding the messenger’s specific message and the women’s response, but all emphasize that the empty tomb was witnessed. To this day, sunrise services are popular in some regions on Easter Sunday, echoing the traditional stories of the empty tomb.

Basket of shiny, marblized, vibrant eggs photographed outside

Photo by Alexas_Fotos, courtesy of Pixabay

Did you know? Ukrainian legend has it that after Christ rose, He threw Satan into a pit and chained him with 12 iron chains. Throughout the year, Satan chews at the chains, but just as he gets to the final chain, Easter arrives and the people shout, “Christ is risen!” If devotees ever cease this Easter acclamation, the end of time has come.

THE EASTER EGG: A SYMBOL & A TRADITION

The Easter egg shines with spring symbolism, and even ancient civilizations associated the egg with new beginnings. Today, children around the globe search for hidden eggs on or near Easter, and decorating those eggs can be as simple or elaborate as the artist allows.

WHITE HOUSE EGG ROLL 2017 UPDATES: On Monday, April 17, the President and First Lady will host the 139th annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The White House Easter Egg Roll is a tradition that dates to 1878, and today, it has grown from local children rolling eggs on the White House lawn to the largest event held at the White House.

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Categories: Christian

The Paschal Triduum: A Christian journey to Easter

A darkened room of people looking forward, some reading books, holding candles, sitting in a church

A Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. Photo by George Martell, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, APRIL 13 and FRIDAY, APRIL 14 and SATURDAY, APRIL 15: Holy Week began several days ago with Palm Sunday, but this week’s events start to culminate with Holy Thursday and the launch of a trio of days known as the Paschal Triduum. For three days, Christians will perform centuries-old rituals and review the final events in the life of Jesus. From foot washing to the Stations of the Cross, Christians will lament the tragic events of Jesus’ final days; with prayer and fasting, the faithful will prepare for the most joyous holiday of the year: Easter (or Pascha), the Resurrection of Christ.

Note: This year, both Eastern and Western Christians will celebrate Easter (or, as it is known as in Eastern Christianity, Pascha) on Sunday, April 16.

News on Pope Francis and Holy Week: According to news reports, Pope Francis is slated to conduct a Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday; later, Francis will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the traditional washing of feet; and he will preside over an afternoon liturgy commemorating the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday. Later that night, he will pray the Via Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, with thousands at the Colosseum. The following night, Holy Saturday, Francis is scheduled to celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica; on Easter Sunday, he will hold a public Mass in St. Peter’s Square at 10 a.m. and, immediately following, will give his Urbi et Orbi blessing—“to the city and to the world.”

HOLY (MAUNDY) THURSDAY: THE LAST SUPPER

Priest in black robes with head down, ornate background

Holy Thursday in the Eastern Christian Church. Photo by Saint-Petersburg Theological Academy, courtesy of Flickr

The Paschal Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles.

Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. Following the Maundy Thursday service, in most Christian denominations, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries.

At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.

Priests in black robes arrying crosses down dirt street

A Good Friday procession in Malta. Photo by Antonio Caselli, courtesy of Flickr

GOOD FRIDAY: THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS

While in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and, eventually, to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion. In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated.

In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday.

Check local news reports in your part of the world: In the U.S., each year, more groups of churches in cities and rural areas are planning annual processions of the cross.

HOLY SATURDAY: SUSPENSE AND SOLEMNITY

Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. Traditionally, the altar remains bare or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ. In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

THE EASTER VIGIL—At approximately 6 p.m. on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins. The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.

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Categories: Christian

Palm Sunday: Christians begin Holy Week with fronds and Jesus’ Jerusalem entry

Sunlight through palm fronds on tree

Palm fronds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, APRIL 9: Christians around the world enter Holy Week in preparation for Easter on Palm Sunday, marked by the ancient story of Jesus’ donkey ride into Jerusalem. Biblical accounts and artists through the centuries describe overjoyed people in the streets of Jerusalem celebrating Jesus’s entry by throwing down of cloaks and palm branches in his path, in imitation of a custom used only for those of highest honor. Described in all four Gospels, Jesus’ ride was a popular event. Yet how quickly events will turn within a week, Christians recall today, amid the waving fronds.

As Jesus rode slowly into Jerusalem, according to Christian tradition, the gathered crowd began singing from Psalms: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Today, Christians regard this entry as the fulfillment of a prediction in Zacharias; as such, many churches distribute their own fresh palm branches. In climates where palm branches aren’t available, other tree branches—yew, box and willow, for example—may be distributed instead. A church-wide procession often follows the blessing of the branches.

What happens to those branches after they’re distributed? In many congregations, members save them in their homes. Traditional Catholics tend to tuck them behind a crucifix. Some countries pride themselves on the historical tradition of tying elaborate shapes with the fresh palms. In Mexico and Italy, especially, many will weave the palms into elaborate patterns and shapes and hang them above holy pictures, behind a crucifix or on the wall.  In Elche, Spain—the site of the largest palm grove in Europe—palm leaves whitened and dried, after which skilled craftsmen braid them into extravagant shapes and figures.

Interested in braiding your own palm fronds? Learn how, with help from this YouTube video tutorial.

In many churches, the branches from today’s services are saved until the next year’s Ash Wednesday, when they are burned as a source of ashes.

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Categories: Christian

Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday: Christians prepare for, begin Lenten season

Mardi Gras mask sitting in pile of colorful paper ribbons

Photo by annca, courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 28 and WEDNESDAY, MARCH 1: Haul out the eggs, sugar and cream, and let yourself indulge—it’s Fat Tuesday! During the last 24 hours before the start of Western Christian Lent, recipes vary by country: English families fry up pancakes, Polish and Lithuanian homes serve donuts and Swedes and Finns cook up semla pastries—but all reflect the old Christian tradition of using up the rich foods in one’s home before starting the fasting season of Lent. Then, following Fat Tuesday, more than a billion Western Christians begin fasting for the start of the season of Lent. From solemn church services to a nationwide movement nicknamed “Ashes to Go,” adherents observe Ash Wednesday in solemnity.

Did you know? Originally, Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, in French) was known as “Shrove Tuesday,” which derived from shrive, meaning “to confess.” 

MARDI GRAS: CARNE LEVARE VS. CARNIVAL

The popular Carnival associated with Mardi Gras, primarily celebrated in Portuguese-, Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries, derives from carne levare, meaning “to take away flesh/meat.” Street processions abound in Brazil and Venice for Carnival, while a customary eating of salted meat takes a literal meaning to the day in Iceland.

Pile of rounded donuts covered in powdered sugar

A variety of sweet breads, ranging from paczkis to pancakes to pastries, is traditionally baked for Fat Tuesday. Photo by freestocks.org, courtesy of Flickr

PANCAKES & RACES: Gorging on paczkis (pronounced pounch-keys) may be customary in the United States, but the custom of eating pancakes in the United Kingdom takes place on such a massive scale that the tradition has all but been renamed “Pancake Day.” The most famous pancake race has been held annually since 1445 in Olney at Buckinghamshire. Legend has it that a housewife was once so busy making pancakes that she lost track of the time until she heard the church bells ringing for service, and she raced out of the house while still carrying her pan with pancakes. Today in Olney, contestants of the pancake race must carry a frying pan and toss pancakes along the race course; all participants are required to wear an apron and scarf. A church service always follows the races.

MARDI GRAS and CARNIVAL 2017: Parades and festivities start gearing up days before Fat Tuesday, and Mardi Gras New Orleans offers an in-depth look at the rich history behind this American party (along with parade routes, photos, a countdown and much more). Carnival in Venice—a more formal, period-era celebration than the parties in Rio and New Orleans—is thought to have been started in 1162, and today draws approximately 3 million visitors to Venice annually. (View a slideshow of Venetian festivities, here.) Staying home on Mardi Gras? Check out recipes for everything from jambalaya and crab cakes to king cake at Taste of Home and Southern Living.

ASH WEDNESDAY (& CLEAN MONDAY)

In the Western church, Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and prayer. In some churches, palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are blessed and burned into ashes, although many churches conducting these services now purchase the ashes from religious-supply companies. During a liturgy marking the day, a church leader swipes the ashes into the shape of a cross on the recipient’s forehead. Rather than wash the ashes, recipients are supposed to let the ashes wear off throughout the remainder of the day as part of their spiritual reflections.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke detail the story of Jesus spending 40 days fasting in the desert, where he is repeatedly tempted by Satan. Lent similarly marks 40 days—not counting Sundays.

CLEAN MONDAY: Eastern Orthodox Christians will start Great Lent the same week as Western Christians, this year, and in 2017, February 27 is Clean Monday—the start of the fasting period for Eastern Christians that prohibits meat, dairy and various other foods. Clean Monday—a public holiday in Greece—is commemorated with outdoor picnics, kite flying and shared family meals. (Find a recipe for Lagana Bread, a traditional Greek Clean Monday favorite, here.)

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Categories: Christian