Twelve Days of Christmas

We all know the story of Christmas, and joys of this  wonderful time of year to be with family and friends.  But think beyond our modern customs . . .  reflect on  “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

In the Christian tradition of both east and west, the twelve days of Christmas refer to the period from Christmas Day to Theophany. The days leading up to Christmas were for preparation; a practice affirmed in the Orthodox tradition by the Christmas fast that runs from November 15 to Christmas day. The celebration of Christmas did not begin until the first of the twelve days.

The birth of Christ and His baptism ought never to be divorced. Both events define the Christmas season. It imparts to the Christian the knowledge that Christ’s coming into the world and Christ’s sanctification of the waters makes our new life possible — a sonship by adoption accomplished through baptism.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are a festive period linking together two Great Feasts of the Lord: Nativity and Theophany.

Days 1-3: The Nativity of Christ is a three day celebration: the formal title of the first day is “The Nativity According to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ”, and celebrates not only the Nativity of Jesus, but also the Adoration of the Shepherds of Bethlehem and the arrival of the Maji; the second day is referred to as the “Synaxis of the Theotokos”, and commemorates the role of the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation; the third day is known as the “Third Day of the Nativity”, and is also the feast day of the Protodeacon and Protomartyr Saint Stephen.

Day 5:  29 December is the Orthodox Feast of the Holy Innocents.

Days 6-7:  The Afterfeast of the Nativity continues until 31 December (that day is known as the Apodosis or “leave-taking” of the Nativity).

The Saturday following the Nativity is commemorated by special readings from the Epistle (1 Tim 6:11-16) and Gospel (Matt 12:15-21) during the Divine Liturgy. The Sunday after Nativity has its own liturgical commemoration in honour of “The Righteous Ones: Joseph the Betrothed, David the King and James the Brother of the Lord”.

Day 8:  1 January, at the center of the festal period, is another feast of the Lord (though not ranked as a Great Feast): the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. On this same day is the feast day of Saint Basil the Great, and so the service celebrated on that day is the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil.

Day 9:  2 January begins the Forefeast of the Theophany.

Day 12: The Eve of the Theophany (5 January) is a day of strict fasting, follows the same general outline as Christmas Eve. That morning is the celebration of the Royal Hours and then the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil combined with Vespers, at the conclusion of which is celebrated the Great Blessing of Waters, in commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.  According to Orthodox theology, the steps that Jesus took into the Jordan River were the first steps on the way to the Cross. That night the All-Night Vigil is served for the Feast of the Theophany.

From PASCHA to Pentecost

After the 40-day Fast, Holy Week and the Glorious Resurrection, we look forward to celebrating the Paschal season of our Lord’s Triumph over death.  No longer bound by sin, all mankind has the promise of Life Eternal.  It is now up to each of us to grow in Faith.  And looking to the wonderful legacy give us by the Holy Church, we turn to celebrating the ‘Fifty Days of Sundays’, that is the time from now to Pentecost.  It was at the Council of Nicaea, the Church formally determined that Pascha should always be observed on a Sunday, that determination necessarily affected the final day of Pentecost. Thus, beginning and ending on a Sunday, the whole fifty days of Pentecost began to take on some of characteristics associated with Sunday, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection.

This adjustment involved two disciplines in particular: the fast days and the posture of prayer. First, because the entire fifty days of the Paschal season was a celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, Christians began to observe that interval as a non-fasting period. That is to say, from the fourth century on, Christians started to omit the traditional observance of Wednesdays and Fridays as fast days; all fifty days were fast-free. St. Ambrose, in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, explained:

“During these fifty days the Church knows no fasting, just as on Sunday, because all these days are like Sundays.”

Second, Christians of the late fourth century began to stand to pray, all through the fifty days of the Paschal season, exactly as on Sundays. St. Basil had made the point earlier, in his treatise On the Holy Spirit:

“We pray standing on the first day of the week, but not all of us know the reason. On the day of the Resurrection we remind ourselves of the grace given to us by standing at prayer, not only because we are risen with Christ and are bound to seek those things which are above, but also because that day seems to us to be, in some way, an icon of the age which we look for.”

Join Us for Holy Week & PASCHA (Easter)

The Resurrected Christ, raising up Adam and Eve

We welcome all to come and celebrate the work of Salvation that culminates in the Resurrection of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.  In the Orthodox Church the last week of Christ’s life is officially called Passion Week. In popular terminology, it is called Holy Week. Each day is designated in the service books as “Great and Holy”, with special services every day of the week for the faithful as they “go up with the Lord to Jerusalem” (Matins of Great and Holy Monday).  His institution of the Last Supper, His Passion in the Garden, the Betrayal, Scourging, the end of His Earthly Life on the Cross, His Burial and the Lamentations become the focus of our worship, prayer and contemplation during the Divine Services offered in anticipation of the Rising of Christ.  All turns to joy, as we begin the Midnight Office in the dark, then candlight procession follows as we visit His Empty Tomb and a world illuminated by the Uncreated Light of His Life-giving Resurrection – the Holy and Glorious PASCHA of our Lord!! Follow this link to read a short summary of the meaning of each of the services, with a schedule so you can plan your week and hopefully attend as many as possible.

St. John of Kronstadt:

Firmly purpose in your soul to hate every sin of thought, word, and deed, and when you are tempted to sin . . .

Icon of St. John of Kronstadt“Firmly purpose in your soul to hate every sin of thought, word, and deed, and when you are tempted to sin resist it valiantly and with a feeling of hatred for it; only beware lest your hatred should turn against the person of your brother who gave occasion for the sin.  Hate the sin with all your heart, but pity your brother; instruct him, and pray for him to the Almighty, Who sees all of us and tries our hearts and innermost parts. ‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.’ (Hebrews 12:4)  It is impossible not to often fall into sin unless you have a hatred of it implanted in your heart.  Self-love must be eradicated.  Every sin comes from the love of self.  Sin always appears, or feigns to be, to wish us well, promising us plenteousness and ease.  ‘The tree was good for food, and it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise.’ (Genesis 3:6)  This is how sin always appears to us.”

+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

St. Theophan the Recluse:

. . . if we undertake to cure ourselves, then we will be able to do something about it.

“If [the disease of sin] is natural, then it cannot be cured. Thus it would remain always, no matter how hard you worked to rid yourself of it. If you accept this thought, you will lose heart, and say to yourself: this is how it is. For this is that woeful despair, which, once it has been introduced into people, they have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness (Ephesians 4: 19). “I shall repeat again: Maintain the conviction that our disorderliness is not natural to us, and do not listen to those who say, ‘It is no use talking about it, because that is just how we are made, and you cannot do anything about it.’ That is not how we are made, and if we undertake to cure ourselves, then we will be able to do something about it.”

St. Barsanuphius of Optina:

Prayer in church is important. The best thoughts and feelings come in church, yes, and the enemy attacks more violently . . .

St. Barsanuphius of Optina“Prayer in church is important. The best thoughts and feelings come in church, yes, and the enemy attacks more violently in church, but with the sign of the Cross and the Jesus Prayer, you drive him away. It is good to stand in some dark corner in church and to pray to God. “Let us lift up our hearts!” the priest exclaims, but our mind often creeps along the ground, thinking about indecent things. Fight against this.”

+ St. Barsanuphius of Optina,