September 2, 2014

The Church and Liturgical Time: The Kingdom of God on Earth

By Stylianos Gerasimos
(Theologian - Musician)

The Church is not subject to time. As the body of Christ it enters the world of the Kingdom of God. This synthesis of the world and the Kingdom of God creates the eschatological period of the Church, which is connected with liturgical time in the context of the Divine Eucharist. Within liturgical time the Church with its feasts, moveable and immoveable, sanctifies the daily life of man, because the center of liturgical time is the Divine Liturgy. Everything is included within it. This is because the feasts of the Church are not simply events, but an opportunity for communion with the Church. With annual feasts and the weekly festal cycle, the believer lives the Kingdom of God on earth.

Yet apart from the relationship between the feasts with the Divine Liturgy, we must clarify the distinctions of the feasts in liturgical time. The feasts of the Church are distinguished between movable and immovable.

Immovable feasts are associated with a specific date of the ecclesiastical year, which begins on September 1. These feasts are associated with specific historical events with a soteriological character, such as the Annunciation, Christmas, Theophany, the Transfiguration, the feasts of the Mother of God, the Archangels and the saints.

Moveable feasts, which have no fixed date, are related to Pascha (Easter), which affects liturgical time, because it determines all the Sundays of the ecclesiastical year. You could say that all the feasts of the liturgical year gather around Pascha, the feast of the transition from time to eternity.

However, the Church lives liturgical time on two levels - annual and daily feasts. Annual feasts are performed with moveable feasts that are centered around Pascha.

Ten weeks before Pascha the Triodion begins with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and ends with Cheesefare Sunday, which is dedicated to the exile of Adam and Eve from Paradise.

This is followed by the period of Great Lent. It lasts seven weeks and is a period of fasting, prayer and repentance by the faithful. The liturgical order of Great Lent creates the sense of salvation "in Christ".

The highlight of Great Lent is Great and Holy Week, where the faithful are invited to experience the Passion of Christ and in the end His Resurrection.

With the feast of the Resurrection begins a new period among the moveable feasts and this is the period of the Pentecostarion. It lasts eight weeks.

Forty days after Pascha the Holy Ascension of Christ is celebrated. With this feast the work of Divine Economy is completed.

Ten days after the Ascension, Pentecost is celebrated. Pentecost is the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the day the Church was established.

The cycle of the Pentecostarion concludes with the feast of All Saints. This feast aims to show that everything that took place with the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord took place for the sanctification of humanity. This feast embraces all the orders of saints.

But there are also immovable feasts that stress the relationship between time and eternity. These are the Annunciation, Christmas, Theophany and the feasts of the Mother of God.

The Annunciation inaugurates the revelation of the mystery of the Divine Incarnation.

Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation. The corruptible human body is renewed with the incarnation of God. God became man to deify man.

Concerning the feast of Theophany, it is more ancient than Christmas. It is related to the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Christ, Who is baptized by John, is testified to be the Son of God with the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

The Transfiguration also holds a special place in liturgical time, because the Transfiguration of Christ renews all of creation. In this event Christ's disciples saw the glory of the Godhead.

The weekly or daily cycle concerns the saints whose honor are repeated weekly. Monday is dedicated to the Archangels, Tuesday to the Honorable Forerunner, Wednesday to the Panagia, and Thursday to the Holy Apostles and Saint Nicholas. Friday and Saturday retain the character of Great and Holy Week.

Saturday has the liturgical character of being connected with the remembrance of the reposed. And during Great Lent when the celebration of the Divine Eucharist is prohibited, it is celebrated only on Saturday.

However, the unique festive day of the Church is the eighth day, Sunday, or the Day of the Lord. The Resurrection of the Lord is repeated every Sunday. Every Sunday Liturgy is a unique Resurrection. At every Sunday Divine Liturgy the present enters the past and the future.

Additionally, liturgical time is manifested in the Church with iconography. Historical persons are depicted in an eternal perspective, because they also relate to the festive cycle, and therefore the Divine Eucharist. These depicted historical figures, which include all the orders of saints, make up together with the faithful who attend church a divine-human society and a foreshadowing of the connection of the created with the uncreated, which exceeds space and time.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑ ΚΑΙ ΛΕΙΤΟΥΡΓΙΚΟΣ ΧΡΟΝΟΣ", September 2006. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.