Focus on the Faith: Major Feasts of September
The Nativity of the Mother of God – September 8th
The first of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church, the Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos, celebrates the birth of her from Whom God took flesh and became incarnate – our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Mother of God has been described by saints and prophets in various ways. She is the Golden Censer and the Ark all covered with gold (Hebrews 9:7.) She is the Fleece upon which the Dew (which is Christ) was pleased to descend (Judges 6:37.) She is the Staff of Aaron from which Christ the Flower blossomed (Numbers 17:8.) She is the thickly wooded Mountain of Thaemon from which Christ came (Micah 3:12 – 4:1.) She is the Jar in which the eternal Manna was contained (Exodus 16:33.) Her praises and descriptions are truly very numerous and point to Her exalted role as the human being with a central role in the Incarnation of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
As it is the joy of Orthodox Christians to celebrate with splendor, the memory of the saints in church, we hymn the birth of the All-Holy Theotokos and also honor her parents, Ss. Joachim and Anna, who have their own feast day the day following. They are a great example and type of the Christian family.
We begin our participation in the new liturgical year, our participation in the Deifying Body of Jesus Christ through the Church and Her Mysteries by sharing the joy of Joachim and Anna, indeed the joy of humankind, in the birth of Her Who is the Mother of Joy, the Beacon of our Redemption and the Source of constant intercession before the Throne of Her Eternal Son. Through Her heavenly intercession, the Mother of God is with us and helps us still. As if to underline this, the Church honors a number of Her Miraculous Icons on this day as well, that is, Icons through which the Holy Spirit was pleased to bestow Divine Blessings on those who honour the Mother of God through them.
The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord – September 14
The Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross is celebrated each year on September 14. The Feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.
In the twentieth year of his reign (326), the Emperor Constantine sent his mother Saint Helen to Jerusalem to venerate the holy places and to find the site of the Holy Sepulchre and of the Cross. Relying upon the oral tradition of the faithful, Saint Helen found the precious Cross together with the crosses of the two thieves crucified with our Lord. However, Helen had no way of determining which was the Cross of Christ.
With the healing of a dying woman who touched one of the crosses, Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem identified the True Cross of Christ. Saint Helen and her court venerated the Precious and Life-Giving Cross along with many others who came to see this great instrument of Redemption. The Patriarch mounted the ambo (pulpit) and lifted the Cross with both hands so that all of the people gathered could see it. The crowd responded with “Lord have mercy”. This became the occasion of the institution in all of the Churches of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, not only in memory of the event of the finding of the Cross, but also to celebrate how an instrument of shame was used to overcome death and bring salvation and eternal life.
The Feast is an opportunity outside of the observances of Holy Week to celebrate the full significance of the victory of the Cross over the powers of the world, and the triumph of the wisdom of God through the Cross over the wisdom of this world. This Feast also gives the Church an opportunity to relish the full glory of the Cross as a source of light, hope and victory for Christ’s people. It is also a time to celebrate the universality of the work of redemption accomplished through the Cross: the entire universe is seen through the light of the Cross, the new Tree of Life which provides nourishment for those who have been redeemed in Christ.
From the Fathers
ON THE NATIVITY OF THE VIRGIN
“The present feastday is for us the beginning of feastdays. Serving as boundary limit to the law and to foretypes, it at the same time serves as a doorway to grace and truth. “For Christ is the end of the law” (Rom 10:4), Who, having freed us from the writing, doth raise us to spirit. Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, hath changed the writing in spirit and doth head everything within Himself (Eph 1:10), hath taken the law under its dominion, and the law is become subjected to grace, such that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only suchlike, that the servile and subservient (in the law) by Divine power be transmuted into the light and free (in grace), “so that we—sayeth the Apostle—be not enslaved to the elements of the world” (Gal 4:3) and be not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the writing of the law. Here is the summit of Christ’s beneficence towards us! Here are the mysteries of revelation! Here is the theosis [divinisation] assumed upon humankind—the fruition worked out by the God-man.
The radiant and bright coming-down of God for people ought to possess a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation. Suchlike also is the present feastday, having as its basis the Nativity of the Mother of God, and as its purposeful end—the uniting of the Word with flesh, this most glorious of all miracles, unceasingly proclaimed, immeasurable and incomprehensible.” (Excerpt from St. Andrew of Crete, “Discourse on the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God”)
ON THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
Let us venerate the Cross of the Lord, offering our tender affection as the cypress, the sweet fragrance of our faith as the cedar, and our sincere love as the pine; and let us glorify our Deliverer who was nailed upon it.* (Wednesday Matins of the Fourth Week of Lent, Ode 7, Lenten Triodion)
* A reference to the three kinds of wood from which the Cross was made; cf. Isa. 60:13 (LXX). “And the glory of Mount Lebanon shall come to thee, with the cypress, and pine, and cedar together, to glorify my holy place.”
Orthopraxis: Preparing Ourselves for Holy Communion
Every Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and special feast days, we gather to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Christ offers Himself to us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, His very Body and Blood, for the remission of sins and life eternal. How does one prepare for Holy Communion? Such a great and sacred mystery, of course, requires certain attitudes and conditions for those who approach to partake of the Body and Blood of the Savior.
The following should be observed:
- A strict examination of conscience, St. Paul writes: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that Bread and drink of that Cup.” (1 Cor. 11:28)
- Participate in the Holy Mystery of Confession regularly, at least once a month. If our examination of conscience reveals sins to us, then run to the priest and confess your sins and receive the forgiveness of God. Before receiving Holy Communion, we need to be first reconciled to God and our fellow man. (Matt. 5:23-26) Only then may we take courage to eat the Mystical Food. NONE of us is without sin. Private confession to ourselves is only lip-service to God, and the Church has known this from the beginning. But God is merciful and bestows peace and forgiveness on all who receive absolution from the Church. “Be not afraid” say the prayers.
- Practice the fast of the tongue–refraining from foul language, avoiding gossip, abstaining from rude or angry speech, etc.
- Do charitable works as stewards for those in need and for His Church. Offer your pledge!
- Study the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers for inspiration and spiritual profit.
- Prayer, repentance, confession, and fasting go hand in hand. a) Fast on Wednesday (in commemoration of the betrayal of Christ) and on Fridays (in commemoration of the Crucifixion of Christ).
- As part of our total spiritual preparation, we also fast during the prescribed fasting periods ordained by the Church leading up to the great feasts of the Church Year. For those who largely ignore the fasting days and seasons, a special period of strict fasting may be require before they are admitted to Holy Communion.
- The evening before should be set aside more specifically for one’s preparation, spiritually, mentally, and physically. Attend Vigil or Vespers the evening before, read the Pre-Communion prayers prescribed in the Prayer Book,* and retire early. Fast completely from food and drink**, and abstain from all things, entertainments, smoking, married couples abstain from conjugal relations, etc.), from midnight the evening before, until receiving Holy Communion.
- Before going to church, ask for mutual forgiveness from members of your family. Following the reception of Holy Communion, stand quietly and recite the prayers of Thanksgiving from your Prayer Book or Divine Liturgy book.
- Approach Holy Communion with the deepest sense of humility. Approach the chalice reverently, walking forward quietly and slowly.
Proper reception of Holy Communion presupposes full participation in the Liturgy. We should come to the Divine Liturgy on time, especially when preparing to receive Holy Communion. One should not approach for Holy Communion if he/she has come late. What’s late? Any time after the Liturgy has begun, but at least no later than the singing of “Holy God,” which is very late indeed.***
*Rule of Prayer According to the Practice of the Russian Orthodox Church, including the Canon and the Ten Prayers.
**If a medical reason precludes this discipline, consult with your priest.
Upcoming events this month (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info)