Ecclesiastical Year: Eastern Orthodox Christians begin new year

Painted arched ceilings of Orthodox church depicting Virgin Mary

St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo. Photo courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: As children around the world begin a new school year—millions of Eastern Christians also are starting a new year today—the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Year. (Those following the Julian Calendar will begin their new year in a few days.)

The year-long cycle of feasts, fasts and holidays describes in detail the lives of central figures in the Church, along with significant events. According to Orthodox teaching, this is not a nostalgic memory of a distant past. Church leaders describe their liturgical year as “living” and a “work in progress” to serve the Church and the world. (Read more in an article from the Orthodox Church in America.) Each generation adds its own events, martyrs and witnesses to the calendar; the Church year dictates appropriate times to fast, to be joyous and to mourn.

Two types of feasts punctuate the Eastern Orthodox Liturgical Calendar: fixed feasts and moveable feasts. While fixed feasts remain on a set date each year, moveable feasts change in accordance with the date of Pascha (Easter). (Wikipedia has details.) Most Eastern Christians consider Pascha the “center” of the entire year, from which the rest flows.

Ancient roots brought the Orthodox calendar to start in September, with Constantine spearheading the movement in the fourth century. The Eastern practice of beginning on September 1 differs with the Western practice—followed in Catholic and Protestant churches—of declaring the beginning of Advent as the start of the Christian year. This year, for Western Christians, Advent and the liturgical year begins on Sunday, December 1.

WORLDWIDE CONCERN FOR COPTIC CHRISTIANS

As a new year begins for Eastern Christians, many will be thinking of the devastated Christian community in Egypt. Here is some recent coverage of these tragic events:

The New York Times has been reporting on the destruction of dozens of churches and widespread attacks on individuals. This August 21 report by Times correspondent Kareem Fahim provides a good overview.

The violence deeply concerns many Americans with close ties to these communities. The Columbus Dispatch’s JoAnne Viviano reported on  Egyptian Christians living in Ohio, concerned for loved ones in Egypt.

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