This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!
The liturgical year is what the Orthodox Church calls the annual cycle of events in the life of the Church. Although it begins on September 1, the Church year is actually built around Pascha, the culmination of the fasting and feasting throughout the year. Throughout the Church year, Orthodox Christians experience the life of Christ through worship, scriptures, fasting, and feasts. The Church year is much more than just a calendar. In his book, “The Year of Grace of the Lord”, a monk of the Eastern Church writes the following about it : “Each liturgical feast renews and in some sense actualises the event of which it is the symbol; it takes this event out to the past and makes it immediate… and we experience this efficacy to the extent that we bring to it a corresponding inclination of our soul… The liturgical year is, for us, a special means of union with Christ… The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man.” (pp. 1-2)
At the Church year’s very beginning on September 1, we ask God to bless the year. We gather on that day for a Divine Liturgy that includes readings from the scriptures filled with prophecy, warnings, wisdom, reminders of the resurrection, encouragement to pray for each other, all culminating in the gospel reading from Luke 4: 16-22 in which Jesus read in the synagogue, then sat down and told those in His hearing, ‘This day is this scriptures fulfilled in your ears.’ The aforementioned monk writes of this, “Would that on this first day of the year my eyes might turn away from the defilements in which they take pleasure and fasten themselves on Christ — and remain fixed on him… if I have the courage to keep my eyes on Jesus alone, if I do not turn them aside, I shall no longer fall. Lord Jesus, I look at thee. I have listened to thy promises. Let me now hear…the assurance: ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in thy ears.’” (pp. 5-6) And so it is that we enter into another cycle, another opportunity to live the life of Christ with —and in— Him.
The Gospel readings for the first Sundays of the Church year offer us a sampling of what Christ taught and did in the lives of others. During these Sundays, we read about the Vineyard and the Husbandmen; the Wedding Feast; the Great Commandment; the Talents; the Canaanite Woman; the Miraculous Catch of Fish; Loving One’s Enemies; the Widow of Nain; the Sower; the Rich Man and Lazarus; and the Gadarene Swine. From the very start of the year, we encounter Christ’s power and compassion through these Gospel readings.
During these initial weeks of the Church year, we also observe the first two Great Feasts of the year. We celebrate the beginning of our salvation through the Nativity of the Theotokos, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Both Feasts celebrate earthly vessels essential to our salvation: the Theotokos, who fully offered herself to God as should we (also through her, Christ took on our humanity, which is essential to our salvation) and the cross on which Christ offered Himself for us and for our salvation.
The beginning of the Church year sets the tone for the year itself. Let us attend and be mindful from the very start of the year. Let us also help our Sunday Church School students to learn about it, so they can grow alongside us from the very start of the new Church year.
O Creator of the Universe,
You appointed times by Your own power;
bless the crown of this year with Your goodness, O Lord.
Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities:
and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us.
(Troparion for the Indiction)
Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.
Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the liturgical year, as well as others about the start of the Church year.
“Orthodox worship proclaims the centrality of Christ. The liturgical year celebrates the presence of the mystery of Christ in the life of the Church and seeks to make the living Christ a renewing life-source for every Orthodox Christian.”
Read more about the liturgical year in this excerpt from the Preface to “A year of the Lord. Liturgical Bible Studies, v. 1.,” July 1981, by Theodore Stylianopoulos, here:
Find a downloadable wheel that each student can personalize and use throughout the church year here: http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2013/08/printable-church-calendar-wheel.html
Together with your students, create a classroom wall display that will help everyone keep track of the liturgical year: http://makinghomenaturally.blogspot.com/2012/06/keeping-track-of-liturgical-year-with.html
Your students can create a journal about the liturgical year if you purchase this package: http://www.saintkassianipress.com/LiturgicalYear.html
Find music for the liturgical year here: http://antiochian.org/music/liturgical-music-children
This blog post offers ideas of ways to start the Church year off right: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/ways-start-church-new-year-off-right/
Need ideas for beginning the Church year with your students? https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/the-ecclesiastical-new-year/
Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/on-the-feast-of-the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-sept-8-or-21/
Find our blog post featuring the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/on-the-feast-of-the-elevation-of-the-holy-cross-sept-14-or-27/
“Throughout the whole liturgical year, these major feasts, these major components of Christ’s life, they now become part of my calendar. My calendar meshes now with the life of Christ. So throughout the year, I am almost making present again those salvific acts in Christ’s life: they now become part of my story… Sanctification of time… because time is an enemy: it leads us closer and closer to death. And here, in the Church, in this liturgical life, it’s our friend: it leads us to salvation.” Hear these quotes and find a great discussion starter in this GOARCH interview about the Church year (great for use with teen or adult classes): https://www.goarch.org/-/the-orthodox-liturgical-year