August 1, 2019

The Month of August in the Orthodox Church

By John Sanidopoulos

August is the eighth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and the fifth of seven months to have a length of 31 days. It was originally named Sextilis in Latin because it was the sixth month in the original ten-month Roman calendar under Romulus in 753 BC, and March was the first month of the year. About 700 BC, it became the eighth month when January and February were added to the year before March by King Numa Pompilius, who also gave it 29 days. Julius Caesar added two days when he created the Julian calendar in 46 BC (708 AUC), giving it its modern length of 31 days. In 8 BC, it was renamed in honor of Augustus. According to a Senatus consultum quoted by Macrobius, he chose this month because it was the time of several of his great triumphs, including the conquest of Egypt.

The month of August in the Orthodox Church is also a time of great triumph. The liturgical cycle comes to an end this month, with us having been witnesses these many days and weeks and months of the great love of God for mankind. It began in September with feasts that prepared us for the Incarnation of our Lord in December, and from there we have followed every footstep of the Lord until His Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. This was followed with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the glorification of All Saints a week later. With the triumph of the Lord having been accomplished, we are now ready to wrap things up and begin the cycle again, ever reminding ourselves of God's mercy and philanthropy towards all of us.

Just as the liturgical year began with the Cross (Sept. 14) and the Mother of God (Sept. 8), it also ends with the Cross and the Mother of God. On August 1st we commemorate a procession that took place every year throughout every part of the city of Constantinople from August 1st to the 15th, and this procession was led with the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. It's primary purpose was to banish from the city every form of illness and disease, which was believed to increase in the heat of the summer month of August. Yet we also begin the month with a fifteen day fast from August 1st to the 15th in honor of the Mother of God, whose Dormition we celebrate on August 15th. The purpose of this fast is to transfigure ourselves, just as our Lord was transfigured on Mount Tabor on August 6th, which we celebrate in the middle of this fast, and also to imitate as much as possible the great asceticism and fasting of the Mother of God, which helped her to become worthy of bearing in her womb our Lord Jesus Christ. And from August 1st to the 14th we also daily chant the Supplication Services to the Theotokos, with the Great and Small versions chanted on alternate days, which concludes with the vigil for the Dormition on the 15th.

On August 6th we celebrate one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church, the Holy Transfiguration of the Savior. This feast is of great importance in the Orthodox Church, because it is the day on which the Lord revealed a glimpse of His divinity to His disciples, and it also shows us the aim of the Christian life, namely theosis or deification or glorification. Just as the Lord who is by nature covered with His uncreated light, so we also can be covered with the uncreated light of God by His grace and behold the Lord in His glory. It is not without significance that we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord on August 6th, but it is by design. Several reasons have been proposed, but two of these reasons stand out. First, our Lord instructed His disciples right after they witnessed His Transfiguration with the following words: "Do not tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Now that the liturgical cycle is coming to end, and we have witnessed the Resurrection of the Lord, we can openly proclaim His Transfiguration as well. Secondly, according to tradition, the Lord’s Transfiguration took place forty days before His Crucifixion; this is why the Transfiguration is celebrated forty days before the Exaltation of the Cross celebrated by the Church on September 14th. The Leave-taking of the feast of the Transfiguration takes place on August 13th. The Finding of the Icon Not Made By Hands in Kamouliana on August 9th, and the Holy Mandylion on August 16th, are both feasts of the uncreated light of the Lord burning His image onto physical objects.

The second Great Feast of the Church we celebrate in the month of August falls on August 15th, on which we commemorate the Dormition of the Theotokos. This is one of the biggest festivals of the entire liturgical year, which is why it has been called the "Summer Pascha." On this day the fasting that began on August 1st comes to an end, and the feasting begins. Just as we began the liturgical year with the Nativity of the Mother of God on September 8th, so we now end it with her Dormition on August 15th. Throughout the entire liturgical year, we have seen our salvation play out through her blessed eyes. But we not only honor the death of the Mother of God, which was attended by all the Apostles, but also her resurrection and translocation into heaven three days later. We celebrate the Mother of God's Dormition for nine days until the Leave-taking of the feast on August 23rd, which many Orthodox celebrate with as much festivity as on August 15th. On August 31st we also celebrate and close the liturgical year with the Placement of the Holy Zoni of the Theotokos in the Church of Blachernae, which is one of her miraculous relics through which her presence remains with us.

In August we also commemorate many great saints of the Church, among the most popular being: The Holy Maccabees (Aug. 1); Translation of the Relics of the Holy Protomartyr Stephen (Aug. 2); Holy Seven Youths of Ephesus (Aug. 4); St. Matthias the Apostle (Aug. 9); St. Laurence of Rome (Aug. 10); Translation of the Relics of St. Maximus the Confessor (Aug. 13); Holy Prophet Micah (Aug. 14); St. Gerasimos of Kefallonia (Aug. 16); Sts. Floros and Lauros (Aug. 18); St. Andrew the General (Aug. 19); Holy Prophet Samuel (Aug. 20); St. Thaddeus the Apostle (Aug. 21); St. Kosmas the Aitolos (Aug. 24); Translation of the Relics of St. Bartholomew the Apostle (Aug. 25); St. Titus the Apostle (Aug. 25); Sts. Adrian and Natalia (Aug. 26); Holy Abba Poemen (Aug. 27); St. Phanourios (Aug. 27); St. Moses the Ethiopian (Aug. 28); St. Theodora of Thessaloniki (Aug. 29).

The final strict fasting day of the liturgical calendar is dedicated to the greatest of all the Prophets, who prepared the way of the Lord, and who gave His life for this purpose - the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John. On August 29th we keep a strict fast because it is the day we commemorate his martyrdom by beheading. It is fitting that we end the liturgical year with this feast, since we began the liturgical year with the feast of his Conception on September 23rd. According to the Gospel of Luke, it is with John's conception that our salvation begins, and now it liturgically ends with his martyrdom.

August is the last month of the liturgical year, where the liturgical cycle comes to an end. Just as we began in September with the Nativity of the Mother of God on September 8th, we also end it with the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15th. In between those days and weeks and months we have witnessed and participated in the so-called "Year of Salvation." Everything that the Mother of God witnessed and participated in, we have mystically and wondrously witnessed and participated in. This is the great gift of the liturgical year, before which we stand in awe and can only glorify the Lord, who allows us to be witnesses and participants of heavenly worship while still on the earth. And the deeper we allow ourselves to enter into these heavenly mysteries, the greater our appreciation will be.