The Liturgical Calendar FAQ
How do we celebrate our Christian year?
From time immemorial, Christians have marked the important events of salvation history by special holy days or feasts. Arranged throughout the year, they make up the Christian calendar or liturgical year.
Is the Christian calendar identical in all churches?
No. Different traditions developed in different areas of the ancient Christian world. The Universal Church attempted to standardize the great feast days of the year, especially the date of the Christian Passover- Easter, the first of all feasts.
What elements are involved in the Christian Calendar?
The ancient Christian Church used a combination of two calendars, the Roman calendar and the Jewish calendar. The two calendars do not coincide, as the Roman Calendar was solar while the Jewish Calendar was lunar. A combination of these two calendars is still used in most of the major Christian Churches: the solar calendar is used for fixed feast days, while the lunar calendar continues to regulate the date of the Christian Passover (Easter) and all feasts connected to it.
Does Christian Pascha still correspond with the Jewish Passover?
Jesus Christ rose gloriously from the dead on the day after the Sabbath of the Jewish Passover, which is celebrated on the first full moon of the spring equinox. At first, Christians continued to celebrate the Resurrection the day after Passover. Later, to distinguish it from the Jewish feast, Christians began to celebrate Easter at a later date. Since about 500 a.d., Easter is celebrated on Sunday after the first full moon of the Vernal Equinox.
How does this relate to our church calendar?
The Byzantine Churches use Roman and Jewish calendars simultaneously. The Roman Calendar has 12 solar months, January to December. Fixed Holy days are celebrated on calendar days: Christmas (December 25), Theophany (January 6), Annunciation (March 25), Dormition (August 15) etc. These days are said to be fixed because, to this day, civil society still uses the Roman calendar. We sometimes refer to this cycle of feasts as the Christmas cycle.
The Easter Cycle follows Passover’s lunar calendar, whose days are not fixed in relation to our solar calendar days. This is the reason why Easter and it’s cycle fall on different days each year. The Easter Cycle includes: Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and all Sundays of the year.
How does the Easter Cycle work?
The Easter Cycle centers around the celebration of the Christian Passover-of-the-Resurrection (Easter), which always falls on the Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox. From Easter, we count-back 40 days to the beginning of Lent and count 40 Days ahead to Ascension Thursday; 50 days ahead to Pentecost. Following Pentecost, the Easter Cycle continues on Sundays. This is why our Church counts Sundays after Pentecost.
How does the Christmas Cycle work?
The Christmas Cycle follows the Roman Calendar, which is our civil calendar. Roman New Year was celebrated on January 1st, but in the Byzantine Empire, it occurred on September 1st, which remains the beginning of our Church Year. This day is called the Indicta or Inception.
What is the difference between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars?
An older Roman calendar was not in-line with the seasons, and so it was corrected in the reign of Julius Caesar; this calendar is known as the Julian Calendar. The Julian Calendar was in use throughout the Roman and Christian worlds until it was further corrected in the reign of Pope Gregory XIII. This new calendar is called the Gregorian Calendar.
Does the Gregorian Calendar go against our Eastern traditions?
No. The Gregorian is actually the very same Julian Calendar. In order to correct it, the Pope had to cancel 10 days, bringing the calendar in-line with the astronomical year. In Pope Gregory XIII’s time, the Christian world was already divided into Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic and Protestant; not everyone accepted the correction of the Julian Calendar. In October 1582, Catholic countries immediately skipped-ahead 10 days, but Orthodox and Protestant countries did not. England only accepted the Gregorian correction in 1752. Russia, in 1917, and Greece, in 1924, China in 1929 were among the last countries to adopt the correction as their civil calendars.
Who still uses the Julian Calendar?
The Julian Calendar is still used in some Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, but exclusively for religious purposes. The Ukrainian Catholic Church uses the Julian Calendar in Ukraine and mainly the Gregorian Calendar in the lands of immigration. Permission to use the Gregorian Calendar was granted to our Church in 1936. Saint Nicholas was the first Winnipeg parish to accept it, in 1941.