Focus on the Faith
What is a Parish Feast Day?
All Orthodox churches are dedicated to the worship of God, of course, and when Christians first became able to build churches they built them on holy sites associated with events in scripture, the life of Christ, or over the tombs of the martyrs. And if there was no holy site at hand, nonetheless a church would be dedicated in the name of Christ, the Mother of God, a Saint, or an event marked on the church calendar. We continue this tradition to this day. It is interesting to reflect how our church calendar is a sort of memory system, keeping the rich and growing history of God’s self-revelation before our eyes.
In short, our churches always have their own special feast day. This is sometimes called the altar feast, or the parish feast day, or the patronal feast. Churches specifically dedicated to the Holy Trinity, for example, have their feast day at Pentecost. A church dedicated to St. Nicholas (like ours!) might celebrate its feast on December 6 – or, since this date falls in the Nativity Fast, on the ‘Spring Feast’ of St. Nicholas on May 9th. Churches dedicated to the Resurrection do not celebrate their parish feast at Pascha, but on September 13th, the commemoration of the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Some churches have double dedications. For example, the famous Russian Cathedral in London, the long-time home of the late Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), is dedicated to the Mother of God and has its altar feast on the Dormition, but it also has a further dedication to All Saints, and so, the Sunday of All Saints is also a special day for them. It is known as the Cathedral of the Dormition and All Saints.
The celebration of a parish feast ought to be something special, full of prayer and good fellowship. It is kind of like a birthday party. It is something that every parishioner should participate in, giving thanks to God for our place of worship, for His innumerable mercies to us, for the intercession and protection of our Patron and Father Among Saints, Nicholas the Wonder-worker, on our walk through life, for our parish family, and for our family and friends.
With Christ, Man’s Nature Ascends Also
Archpriest Georges Florovsky
“We who seemed unworthy of the earth, are now raised to heaven,” says Saint John Chrysostom. “We who were unworthy of earthly dominion have been raised to the Kingdom on high, have ascended higher than heaven, have came to occupy the King’s throne, and the same nature from which the angels guarded Paradise, stopped not until it ascended to the throne of the Lord.” By His Ascension the Lord not only opened to man the entrance to heaven, not only appeared before the face of God on our behalf and for our sake, but likewise “transferred man” to the high places. “He honored them He loved by putting them close to the Father.” God quickened and raised us together with Christ, as Saint Paul says, “and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephes. 2:6). Heaven received the inhabitants of the earth. “The First fruits of them that slept” sits now on high, and in Him all creation is summed up and bound together. “The earth rejoices in mystery, and the heavens are filled with joy.”
“The terrible ascent….” Terror-stricken and trembling stand the angelic hosts, contemplating the Ascension of Christ. And trembling they ask each other, “What is this vision? One who is man in appearance ascends in His body higher than the heavens, as God.”
Thus the Service for the Feast of the Ascension depicts the mystery in a poetical language. As on the day of Christ’s Nativity the earth was astonished on beholding God in the flesh, so now the Heavens do tremble and cry out. “The Lord of Hosts, Who reigns over all, Who is Himself the head of all, Who is preeminent in all things, Who has reinstated creation in its former order—He is the King of Glory.” And the heavenly doors are opened: “Open, Oh heavenly gates, and receive God in the flesh.” It is an open allusion to Psalms 24:7-10, now prophetically interpreted. “Lift up your heads, Oh ye gates, and be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty….” Saint Chrysostom says, “Now the angels have received that for which they have long waited, the archangels see that for which they have long thirsted. They have seen our nature shining on the King’s throne, glistening with glory and eternal beauty…. Therefore they descend in order to see the unusual and marvelous vision: Man appearing in heaven.”
Reading the Psalter over the Departed
In the Orthodox Church of Christ, there is a pious custom of reading the Psalter over the dead body of a monk or a layman (see Novaia Skrizhalj) continuously (except during the time when the funeral or a Panikhida [Memorial Service] is served at the coffin,). Even after the burial, the Psalter may be read for the dead according to a prescribed formula.
Reading the Psalms over the dead is one of those pious institutions of the Church of Christ, which derives from her maternal care for her children, carefully providing for their salvation, from birth to death, and not leaving them even after death. As a fundamental expression of her spirit and to address an essential need of the faithful, this reading of the Psalter over the dead has its beginning in the earliest days of the Church, serving as a prayer to the Lord for the deceased and at the same time giving consolation and edification for the living.
It is itself clear that the Psalms have to be read “with affection and warm compunction, reasonably, with attention, but not struggling like trying to understand the word with the mind”. Therefore it is necessary to be circumspect in the choice of persons with whom to charge the sacred reading. Of course, everyone who is capable of this and understands the sacredness of this ministry can participate in this reading. Especially welcome would be those of the major and minor clergy or monastics who are thoroughly accustomed to chanting the Holy Psalter.
The position of reading the Psalter over the departed is the position of prayer and therefore one needs to stand during this reading, if some special need or disability necessitates, it is possible to replace this position with sitting.
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