Nativity Fast: Orthodox Christians begin joyous fasting period for Jesus’s birth

Candles lit interior of Orthodox Christian church

Photo by Mr.TinDC, courtesy of Flickr

Nativity Orthodox iconWEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Even before the American Thanksgiving, millions of Orthodox Christians around the world are looking toward Jesus’s birth, which they refer to formally as the Nativity. Of course, in Western Christian culture, we know this as the period leading up to Christmas. For many centuries, Eastern Christians have prepared with a 40-day Nativity Fast.

By Western standards, this is a daunting spiritual and physical challenge. Traditional Orthodox fasting means giving up meat and dairy in addition to fish, wine and oil; fish, wine and oil are, however, permitted on specific days. (Learn more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.) Throughout the Nativity Fast, several other holidays take place, such as St. Andrew’s Day, St. Nicholas Day and recognition of those prophets regarded by Eastern Christians as having prepared the way for the Incarnation: Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths.

Two periods comprise the Nativity Fast: Nov. 15-Dec. 19, and Dec. 20-24. December 20 launches the Forefeast of the Nativity, with chanting of Nativity hymns each day through the Dec. 24 (Paramony). On Paramony, no solid food is consumed until the first star is observed in the evening sky, and afterward, the fast is joyously broken.

Orthodox teaching instructs that fasting be undertaken with gladness and in a sense of earnest anticipation—in the promise that these devout preparations will deepen reflections on the moment when God became human. (OCA.org has more.) Fasting for Orthodox Christians includes abstinence from foods, negative emotions and greed; prayer and almsgiving complement the fasting period.

Note: The Nativity Fast is observed November 15-December 24 in the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox follow other traditional calendars. For example, many Armenian Christians begin their fast later and focus on January 6 as the Feast of the Nativity.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

St. Francis of Assisi: Pet blessings, ecology and the patron saint of animals

“He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.”

Archbishop and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
(better known as Pope Francis)

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4: Coast to coast, a small but growing number of churches host autumn pet blessings, honoring St. Francis of Assisi whose official holiday falls on a Wednesday this year. If you are looking for Francis-themed services in your area, check local news sources or congregational websites in your area.

The United Methodist Church’s website offers resources for pet blessings with instructions similar to many mainline denominations—that is, to be used anytime or as close to the October 4 feast day as congregations may find practical.

St. Francis of Assisi certainly is one of the world’s most widely revered saints, especially since the current pope, when elected in 2013, publicly chose Francis’ name and promoted his spiritual example. Mainly associated with concern for animals and the environment, St. Francis of Assisi lived only into his mid 40s, but made a unique impression upon the world. St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order. He also is widely credited with creating the first crèche, or Christmas Nativity Scene. He constantly tried, however possible, to imitate what Jesus had said and done.

LIFE OF ST. FRANCIS

Man in brown robes in field with animals

Saint Francis with the Animals. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, St. Francis was born 1181/1182 CE in Assisi, Italy. Nicknamed “Francesco,” for “Frenchman,” Giovanni’s father desired for his son to share a love of the materials trade, silk and acquired wealth. Though sympathy for the poor was evident in his childhood, it wasn’t until he became a young man that Francis began to question his way of life.

Despite his father’s threats and beatings, Francis began preaching in the streets. Followers came to him, and the group known as “Lesser Brothers” claimed no material possessions. (Wikipedia has details.) In 1210, Francis’ Order was officially approved by Pope Innocent III. Later, Francis founded the Order of Poor Clares—an enclosed religious order for women—and the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance. In 1224, while praying during a 40-day fast for Michaelmas, Francis had a vision of the Exaltation of the Cross and received the stigmata. (Learn more from Catholic.org.)

St. Francis believed that nature was the mirror of God. In his Canticle of Creatures, St. Francis refers to “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon” and even “Sister Death.” The saint called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” with stories written of his preaching to the birds and convincing a wolf to stop attacking nearby villagers if they agreed to feed him.

Francis died of illness in 1226, and in July 1228—less than two years after his death—he was proclaimed a saint.

RESOURCES:

Many Christian groups offer online samples for pet blessings. The United Methodist website is linked above. Here’s a link to materials from the Episcopal Church. Another popular source is Let All Creation Praise, a website with eco-friendly Christian themes. The Humane Society of the United States also offers many free, online St. Francis-related stories and resources, including on this page within the HSUS website.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Michaelmas: Christians honor ‘warrior’ Archangel, hold fairs and festivals

Angel with wings, foot on demon

St. Michael the Archangel, depicted with his foot on a demon. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: Welcome the autumn season and term by roasting a goose today, or making blackberry crumble: It’s Michaelmas, the Christian feast for St. Michael the Archangel. Often depicted as a white-robed angel with his foot on a demon, St. Michael is seen as the warrior of God and, not surprisingly, has become the patron of soldiers, mariners and anyone going into battle. For the faithful, autumn ushers in the darker half of the year, and St. Michael is prayerfully invoked by the faithful for extra protection.

Did you know? Several divine appearances are credited to St. Michael, including one reported by St. Joan of Arc.

Beyond honoring St. Michael the Archangel, Michaelmas has taken on a seasonal association through the centuries, signaling the beginning of autumn: In the United Kingdom and Ireland, “Michaelmas” is the name of the first term of the academic year, while in Wales and England, “Michaelmas” is associated with one of four terms of the year in the courts.

ST. MICHAEL: AN ABRAHAMIC PERSPECTIVE

Christianity is split on how to regard “Archangels,” but generally seven are recognized in Christian tradition—and three of them are honored liturgically. Among these, St. Michael is the seen as the greatest of all the Archangels.

Did you know? In the 5th century, a basilica near Rome was built and dedicated to St. Michael on September 30, with celebrations starting the evening before; thus, September 29 became established as the feast day for the Archangel in the Western Christian Church.

Hebrew for “Who is like God,” Michael carried the victory over Lucifer in the war of heaven. Michael appears several times in the Hebrew scriptures and generally is seen as an advocate of Israel. Michael also is honored in Islam for his role in carrying out God’s plans.

The Golden Legend describes in great detail the battles of St. Michael, but none are to be as great as his final victory over the Antichrist. According to the Golden Legend, the Archangel Michael will slay the Antichrist on the Mount of Olivet.

Note: With the exception of Serbian Orthodox Christians, most Eastern Christians do not observe Michaelmas. The Greek Orthodox Church honors Archangels on November 8.

DAISIES, APPLES AND A BLACKBERRY LEGEND

As the Aster blooms around this time each year, it has slowly gained a new name: the Michaelmas Daisy. In every color from white to pink to purple, the Michaelmas Daisy is the original flower from which lovers pick petals and alternately chant, “S/he loves me, S/he loves me not.” Gardens in England and the United Kingdom still attract throngs of visitors around Michaelmas for their glorious displays of Michaelmas daisies.

With a date near the Equinox, Michaelmas soon became associated with livestock and hiring fairs, and many events in Scotland included processions and sports. Today, Michaelmas fairs continue in some parts of England, complete with music and dancing, art and delicious fare.

Geese were once plentiful on Michaelmas—as were autumn apples—and the most popular dish of Michaelmas has always been roast goose and apples. Side dishes and desserts vary by country, with the Irish making Michaelmas Pie and Scots baking St. Michael’s Bannock, a type of scone. (Get recipes and more from Catholic Culture and FishEaters.) As folklore suggests that blackberries may not be picked after Michaelmas—because Satan fell from heaven into/onto blackberry bushes—blackberry pies and crumbles remain a popular dish for Michaelmas.

Looking for more Michaelmas goose recipes? Try Food Network and AllRecipes.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Nativity of Mary, Theotokos: Eastern & Western Christians observe birthday

Mosaic of man and woman huddled over baby

A mosaic of Anna, Joachim and Mary, at Chora Church, in Istanbul. Photo by Nick Thompson, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8: Western and Eastern Christians celebrate Mary’s birth today, on the Nativity of Mary (or, as she is known in Orthodox Christianity, the Theotokos). Through many centuries, Christian churches have honored just three figures on both their birth and death anniversaries: Jesus, John the Baptist and Mary.

Known in both Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity as the Virgin Mary, Madonna is the only woman in Christian history to be given the honor of a holy birth. Eastern and Western Christians diverge in their understanding of Mary’s birth, however: for Catholics, Mary’s birth is connected with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, a dogma formally established by the Vatican in 1854; Eastern Christians believe that while Mary wasn’t without original sin, she was spared actual sin by God’s grace. It is agreed that Mary was born to Sts. Anne and Joachim in Jerusalem.

Ironically, the modern canon of scripture gives no mention of exact details concerning Mary’s birth, as the earliest known account is contained in an apocryphal text from the second century (for this reason, Protestants do not observe the holiday). Christian tradition tells that Mary’s life began piously in Galilee, Nazareth, as a baby born to elderly and previously barren parents. Though they remained faithful to God, Joachim and Anna were without children for many years—a characteristic regarded, at the time, as a punishment for sin. One fateful day, when Joachim had traveled to the temple to make an offering, he was chastised by the High Priest for being childless; his offering was turned away. The distraught husband and wife prayed to God, and the Archangel Gabriel appeared to them, promising a child whose name would be known throughout the world. In nine months, Anna bore a child.

MARY’S NATIVITY FEAST: AROUND THE WORLD

One of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Eastern Orthodox Church and a liturgical feast in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, the Nativity of Mary has been celebrated from the earliest centuries of Christianity: a feast for the Nativity of Mary began in the fifth century, and by the seventh century, it was recognized by Byzantine Christians to the East. In France, the grape harvest is at a peak, and winegrowers often refer to the Nativity of Mary as “Our Lady of the Grape Harvest.” Prime grapes are customarily brought to a local church to be blessed, and in some regions, bunches of grapes are attached to the hands of statues of Mary.

Note: For those following the Julian Calendar, this feast day falls on September 21 of the Gregorian Calendar.

In several regions of the world, Mary’s Nativity is marked with seasonal customs and the start of the Indian summer, or “after-summer.” Seeds for winter crop are blessed in many churches across Europe, and in the Alps, cattle and sheep are herded in grand procession from their summer pastures down to the valleys and stables, where they will reside for the cold season. In some areas of Austria, milk from these cattle and sheep is given to the poor, in honor of the Virgin Mary.

IN THE NEWS: MARY SPARED DURING HARVEY

A multitude of news publications is reporting the story of a family whose homes burned down during Hurricane Harvey, only to find that a lone statue of the Virgin Mary stands amidst the rubble. (Read more, and watch a news clip, here.) The two homes, which housed extended family members, burned while the owners had evacuated; upon return, the Blessed Mother statue was found unburied amid the destruction. The family reports that the Virgin Mary is a figure of great importance in their faith and life.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

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.)

Comments: (0)
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.

Comments: (0)
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.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian