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The Feasts of the Lord
This book presents the basic theological events relating to Christ the Lord, and offers interpretative keys to enable us to understand the central Christological points of the Lord’s feasts. It is stressed that Christology has an important place in Orthodox teaching.
The book is divided into two basic sections. In the first are published presentations which were given at a Seminar of the Holy Archdiocese of Athens in the year 1994–1995, and refer to the feasts of the Lord which make up the ‘Twelve Feasts’, as the Church calls them. The second part includes Christological texts which were published in various periodicals and are connected with the Lord’s feasts.
The events relating to the Lord cannot be divided up, nor can they be evaluated. They are experienced in each Divine Liturgy and remind us of the condescension and self-emptying of Christ, Who became for us the Cause of salvation. However, the Church determined that these events should be celebrated separately, thus sanctifying the year and offering us the possibility of enjoying and experiencing the milestones of the divine Economy in our own personal lives.
Each Feast is examined individually, and the reader will observe that the analysis given is comprehensive, thorough, and based on the teaching of the holy Fathers.
We shall refer very briefly here to each feast:
The Annunciation of the Mother of God – This “exceedingly wonderful feast” is actually a feast both of the Lord and the Mother of God, and the beginning of all the feasts of the Lord. Through her obedience the Mother of God corrected the disobedience of Adam and Eve and brought about the salvation of the whole human race. We read about the spiritual conception and birth, and the forming of Christ within us which happens through spiritual labour pains.
The Nativity of Christ – This is the capital of the Lord’s feasts. It is the mystery of God’s love and care for humanity, and is beyond human comprehension. There is an analysis, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers, of the mystery of the hypostatic union of the two natures in the Person of Christ. When a person purifies his heart, and his nous is illumined, then Christ is conceived as an infant within him and is born through the virtues. Thus we comprehend how the grace of God works and what deification of human nature is.
The Circumcision of Christ – The reasons why Christ was circumcised are set out. He accepted the law, but transcended it without abolishing it. The circumcision of Christ is a sign to us of the circumcision of the heart, which is closely associated with the spiritual life. The holy Fathers speak of an inner and spiritual circumcision which is the purification of the heart and the transformation of the passions of the soul, so that man can attain to communion and union with God.
The Meeting of Christ – The event of the presentation of Christ in the Temple reminds us that the conception and birth of a human being is not a work of nature but of God’s energy. For that reason we offer the infant to God in a service on the fortieth day after the birth, and it belongs to God. In order for someone to meet and see God, he must first be cleansed and illuminated in his soul, like the righteous Symeon and the Prophetess Anna.
The Divine Theophany – Christ by His Baptism decreed the sacrament of Baptism, through which we are admitted to the Church. One of the purposes of the divine Incarnation, and also of the Baptism, was the manifestation of the Holy Trinity, through which we have the formal confession that the Son and Word of God is “One of the Trinity”. Each one of us is given the possibility of attaining the grace of adoption and theophany in our personal life.
The Wisdom of God – Although the feast of Mid-Pentecost is not listed as one of the so-called Twelve Feasts, and is unfamiliar to many people, it is still a feast of the Lord. Christ is the true Wisdom of God personified and His teaching, which is “words of eternal life” and “living water”, has divine energy which cures man.
The Transfiguration of Christ – Through His Transfiguration Christ showed the deification of human nature and the glory of those who will be united with Him. The essential purpose of the Church is to guide man to deification, which is the vision of the uncreated Light. The transfiguration of the Disciples, which included the whole of their being, body and soul, is also discussed. There is particular emphasis on the fact that God reveals Himself to whomever He wills, and this revelation is according to a person’s spiritual condition.
The Raising of Lazarus and the Entrance of Christ into Jerusalem – The raising of Lazarus is a prototype of Christ’s Resurrection on the third day, and of the general resurrection of all people. We are shown how the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human, acted “without change, without confusion, indivisibly”. We are presented with the allegorical interpretation of the events of the raising of Lazarus and Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, as set out in the writings of many of the Fathers. The Church prepares us to approach the feast in a suitable way, so that Christ may enter into the pure heart of man.
Christ’s Passion and Cross – All the historical events relating to the person of Christ at the time of the Passion and Crucifixion are interpreted theologically. The way in which Christ died on the Cross reveals His authority over death, because He died when He willed, and not when death came. Through His Passion Christ proved to be the true physician of men and the new founder of the human race, since He freed it from servitude to the devil and death. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and His Passion display God’s great love for mankind.
The Resurrection of Christ – This is the greatest event in history. We are told about the Passover of the law, the Easter of divine grace, and the Easter of the age to come (St Gregory the Theologian). Through the Resurrection of Christ both life and death acquire another meaning. There is an analysis of the reasons why Christ descended into Hell. The meaning of the Sabbath rest in the Orthodox Tradition is explained, and the fact is underlined that in order for someone to experience the Resurrection he must first enter the divine rest.
The Divine Ascension – This is the fullness and embellishment of all the feasts of the Lord. Through His Ascension into heaven Christ lifted up human nature and deified it. The value of the human body and its deification are emphasized. There is a detailed examination of the teaching of the holy Fathers, which includes an analysis of how a Christian can experience the Ascension of Christ in his personal life.
Pentecost – This is the last feast of the divine Economy. The main emphasis is on the Christological events of the feast, which are closely connected with the Holy Spirit, and on the fact that the purpose of the spiritual life is participation in the Holy Spirit, through Whom we become living members of the Church and have communion with the Triune God. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our heart is confirmed by inner prayer of the heart, through which we receive adoption as God’s children.
Through the analysis of each feast of the Lord it is made clear that we are not dealing with a typical historical event which took place at a certain time, and that a theoretical knowledge of the feasts is not enough. The senses of soul and body must be purified and suitable preparation is required, as the Fathers teach us, in order for a Christian to approach these events correctly and to celebrate them in a godly manner, experiencing all the ages of Christ and sharing personally in each feast of the Lord. Man’s purpose, but also the work of the Church at the deepest level, is that he should come “to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”, which is the deification of man.
In the second part of the book, which examines Christological issues, we can read the text on “The Exceedingly Wonderful Feast” which refers to the Annunciation of the Mother of God, and the pieces on “The Incarnation of the Word of God, according to St Athanasios the Great”, “The Divine Incarnation as Independent of the Fall”, and “The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life”, which contain a more comprehensive interpretation of the Christological aspects of the feast of the Nativity of Christ. In addition, the analysis in the text “The Lamb of God” looks in detail at the images and scenes from the Revelation of St John the Evangelist where Christ is presented as the “Lamb who was slain”.