August 15, 2020

Celebrating Ecclesiastical Festivals in a Godly Way (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The troparia composed by the hymn writers of the Church for the Christians to celebrate the feasts, as well the feast of the Dormition of the Panagia today, are masterpieces, from the structure, the images and the cosmetic adjectives they use, as well as from their content, which answer the great existential problems of mankind, such as matters of life and death. When one reads these troparia carefully one is amazed by their wisdom and beauty.

The Canon we chanted today in the Service of Matins is included in this category and is the work of Saint Kosmas the Poet, who was the step-brother of Saint John of Damascus. This Canon has amazing troparia that analyze the content of the feast and show its importance. The acrostic of these troparia, that is, the initial letter of all the troparia, has the following phrase: "the godly-minded kept festival" (πανηγυριζέτωσαν οι θεόφρονες). I would like to make a small comment on this phrase.

First we have to look at the word "festival". The word festival in ecclesiastical language means a group celebration with the feasts referring to Christ, the Panagia and the Saints celebrated by each location. The ecclesiastical festival includes prayer, participation in the Divine Liturgy, and communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, after relevant preparation, ie repentance, confession, etc. Of course, people have associated the festival with entertainment and dancing. The Church does not exclude external joy, when the ecclesiastical feast precedes and when it takes place with the relevant conditions and in the appropriate ways. But when the entertainment is at the expense of worship and especially of the Divine Liturgy, and contrary to the tradition of the Church, then it does not benefit spiritually. If we study the way people used to keep festival, then we will see the difference with some modern ways of keeping festival.

However, the real festival is the Divine Liturgy and in general the worship of the Church. Man in the Divine Liturgy sings with the angels, prays with the Saints, communicates with the Panagia, is connected with Christ. As the Fathers of our Church say, the Divine Liturgy is a unity of angels and men, reposed and alive. Whoever truly senses the Divine Liturgy as a festival, sees the change in their life as well, and can behave in a better way to their fellow human beings.

The next word of the acrostic is "the godly-minded", that is, those should celebrate who think according to God. The Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians: "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:2). Ecclesiastical festivals are celebrated by those people who have the mind of God, who aim at experiencing the meaning of the festival. The Prophets in the Old Testament and the Holy Fathers in the Church fought for people to learn to celebrate according to God and not in a secular way.

This also applies to today's feast of the Dormition of our Panagia. The meaning of this feast is spiritual, since the Panagia experienced the resurrection of Christ in her existence and now she is in heaven and stands on our behalf. The Panagia synergized in the mystery of our salvation and that is why we must give her the due reverence. We must always keep festival as those who are godly-minded, that is, with fasting and repentance preceding communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, living an ecclesiastical way of life and striving to keep the will of her Son and her God in our lives.

I wish you all many years on today's great feast of the Mother of God.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.