Happy Byzantine Liturgical New Year!Sep 1st, 2011 | By Andrew Preslar | Category: Blog Posts
Our first article at Called to Communion called attention to the sanctification of time in the Reformed tradition; namely, the observance of the first day of the week, Sunday, as the Christian Sabbath. Although there are some differences between Catholics and Reformed Protestants concerning the meaning and observance of the Lord’s Day, there is general agreement that by God’s design, in the order of creation as carried forward in the way of redemption, in the Old Covenant as fulfilled in the New, there remains for God’s people a day of the week set aside for worship and rest. 
In light of this area of agreement among Catholic and Reformed Christians, I want to take the occasion of September 1st, which marks the beginning of the Church Year in the Byzantine Rite, to again raise the topic of the sanctification of time, this time with respect to the liturgical year. As we will see, there are some important variations in the development of the Church calendar, from Eastern to Western Christendom, although the focus and trajectory of both traditions is substantially the same; both are based upon the Incarnation and represent the life of Christ.
In the introduction article for this website, I noted that, in becoming Catholic, I had left some things behind and found other things, while some things remained the same. Among the things found is a different and in my estimation more thorough application of the principle that, through the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord, Christians have been brought out from under the tutelage of the Mosaic Law, not by way of the destruction of the Law but through its fulfillment in Christ. The corporate life of God’s people is no longer conformed to the pattern of the things revealed to Moses, but to the pattern of Christ, who is the reality (the “body” and the “true form”) to which those former things testified (Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 10:1-10).
Therefore, Christians no longer observe the “holy days” and “sabbaths” of the former Covenant, nor do we offer sacrifices “of bulls and of goats.” Yet, there “remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” and “we have an altar” from which we are mystically nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ. Likewise, we have been given an example, or pattern, for the sanctification of life as lived in the course of the natural year. We have annual holy days and seasons of festival and fasting, as a fulfillment of the religious feasts of Israel before Christ. This new pattern has been given to us in the Gospels, so that throughout the year the people of God journey together in the steps of our Lord, from his Advent to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. Pentecost then leads us back to Advent, not so much in a circle as a spiral, since Advent has a two-fold significance, corresponding to the Incarnation (the “first coming” of the Son of God) and the Eschaton (the “second coming” of Christ). The seeds of the liturgical year are therefore present in Scripture and develop over time through the life of the Church. This development, which includes the growing sanctoral cycle (or synaxarion), is a function of that liturgical spiral in which time is both infused with and moves towards the “fullness of time.”
Easter, or Pascha, is historically and theologically central to the liturgical year. This year, though one in its essential orientation (Pascha), pattern (the life of Christ) and purpose (the sanctification of time), has been variously developed in the Eastern Church, where the Byzantine Rite is predominant, and the Western Church, where the Roman Rite is predominant. In short, the traditional Western liturgical year has more of a bipolar aspect (of course I do not mean that in any pejorative sense), with a “Christmas cycle” inclusive of Advent and Epiphany, and an “Easter cycle” inclusive of Lent and Pentecost. In the East, Pascha stands out more clearly as “the Feast of feasts,” accompanied by twelve “great feasts” including Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity. Christmas is therefore not as prominent in the Eastern arrangement as in the Western.
In both ritual traditions, every Sunday is “Resurrection Day,” a “mini-Easter,” though this Paschal theme is more pronounced in the Byzantine Rite. Finally, both Roman and Byzantine rites follow our Lord’s intention that his disciples should fast (Matthew 9:15) by observing seasons of corporate fasting. Lent is, of course, the most notable among these. For Byzantines, Advent is also a season of corporate fasting (often referred to as the “Nativity fast,” or “St. Philip’s fast,” as it begins the day after the feast of St. Philip and lasts through Christmas Eve). In the West, Advent has the character of a “penitential season,” though not to the same degree as Lent. Christians of the Byzantine Rite also observe two additional (though relatively short) fasts. 
What follows is an outline of the liturgical year in the Roman Rite and the Byzantine Rite, respectively. You might notice that the linear development of the Byzantine calendar, similar to the prayers in the Divine Liturgy, is distinctively Marian. The first major feast is the Nativity of the Theotokos, and the twelfth great feast marks her Dormition. This, it seems to me, underscores both the temporal sequence and the soteriological effectiveness of our Lord’s life and mission; i.e., obviously, the Mother was born before the Son (according to his human nature), and she is, from her conception to dormition, the crowning achievement of her Son’s work of redemption.
Many Protestant Christians besides Anglicans have retained aspects of the Christian liturgical year, while many others have substantially departed from the tradition of sanctifying time in this way. I invite our separated brethren of the latter persuasion, which includes many Reformed and Presbyterian folks, to (re)consider the meaning and importance of following the liturgical year, which like the Christian Sabbath, fulfills rather than destroys the sacred feasts of the Old Covenant. The pattern for the Church calendar is revealed in the life of Christ. The first budding of its development in the life of the Church is seen in the observance of the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10), which is the ritual return to the original Easter. The unfolding observance of the liturgical year unites Christians around the world and through the ages, in an annual pilgrimage of faith–the kingdom of God en route to its eschatological fulfillment, itself a fulfillment and a better Covenant.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:22-29)
The Liturgical Year
WESTERN (begins with Advent)
The Christmas Cycle
Advent: Sunday nearest St. Andrew’s until the Vigil of Christmas Eve
Christmas: Vigil of Christmas Eve until the Feast of the Epiphany
Epiphany: Feast of Epiphany through the Baptism of Our Lord
Season following Epiphany: January 14th until Septuagesima
The Easter Cycle
(Pre-Lent: Septuagesima until Ash Wednesday)
EASTERN (begins on September 1st)
The Twelve Great Feasts
Nativity of the Theotokos (Sep 8)
Exaltation of the Cross (Sep 14)
Presentation of the Theotokos (Nov 21)
Nativity of Christ (Dec 25)
Theophany (Baptism of Christ) (Jan 6)
Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Feb 2)
Annunciation (Mar 25)
Palm Sunday (Sunday before Pascha)
The Feast of Feasts
Holy Pascha, the Resurrection of Our Lord
The Four Fasts
Nativity Fast: Day after St. Philip’s through Christmas Eve
Great Lent: Clean Monday until Paschal Vigil
Apostle’s Fast: Monday after All Saints until Sts. Peter and Paul
Dormition Fast: Two weeks before the Feast of the Dormition
 On his personal blog, Taylor Marshall recently wrote a post on this topic: Why is Sunday the Christian Sabbath? Taylor points to Blessed Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Dies Domini, as an authoritative source of Catholic teaching on the meaning of the Lord’s Day.
 For more information on the traditional Church Calendar, focusing on the Western Church (though not to the exclusion of the East), see Dom Guéranger’s 15 volume commentary, The Liturgical Year.