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 time of Easter and Pentecost is a season of great rejoicing in the Orthodox Christian Church. In this part of the liturgical year, we celebrate Our Lord’s glorious resurrection, His ascension, and preparing our hearts for His sending of the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost. Each of these events has a feast of its own in our liturgical year, because of their great importance.
Easter (as it is called by the monk who wrote “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” though many of us refer to this feast as Pascha) is a feast in its own category: it is the Feast of Feasts, and is too important to be included with the other 12 feasts of the liturgical year. And rightly so, for it celebrates a victory like no other! “Easter is… the centre, the heart of the Christian year. It is on its date that the whole liturgical cycle depends, because this determines the moveable feasts of the calendar.” (1, pp. 176-177). “The celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church…is not a dramatic representation of the ‘first Easter morning.’ There is no ‘sunrise service’ since the Easter matins and the Divine liturgy are celebrated together in the first dark hours of the first day of the week in order to give men the experience of the ‘new creation’ of the world, and to allow them to enter mystically into the New Jerusalem which shines eternally with the glorious light of Christ, overcoming the perpetual night of evil and destroying the darkness of this mortal and sinful world…” (2, p. 105) “The day of the Resurrection has always been a day of profound joy and the festival of festivals.” (3)
To help us recall the importance of this feast, during the week immediately following Pascha, the doors on the iconostasis stay open and we don’t prostrate ourselves or fast. “Easter week, in Greek, has a very beautiful name: ‘the Week of Renewal.’ …The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that we can be changed.” (1, p. 181) The troparion of the Resurrection is frequently sung during the time of Easter, which continues through the Ascension and on to the eve of Pentecost. (1)
The Feast of the Ascension falls 40 days after Pascha. This “is the day when, in liturgical terminology, we ‘take leave’ of the Easter feast. We commemorate the last day of the physical presence of the risen Christ amongst his disciples; and to honour this presence, to honour the Resurrection once more, the Church on this Wednesday repeats the service for Easter Sunday in its entirety.” (1, p. 198) The ascension of Our Lord is important in part because, in ascending, He took His fleshly body into heaven. He did not discard His physical body, but rather restored humanity completely by taking it with Him! “The ascension of Christ is his final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of his mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is his glorious return to the Father who had sent hin into the world to accomplish the work that he had given him to do.” (2, p. 111)
The time of Easter leads right up to the eve of Pentecost, a week and a half after Ascension. The scriptures read in the liturgy on the eve of Pentecost remind us that, “As long as we live, there is still time to make the essential decision and obey the word which tells us, as it told Simon Peter, not to be concerned with what others do, but to concentrate ourselves wholly on the only true essential: ‘Follow thou me.’” (1, p. 204) The blessing of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives (thanks to Pentecost) makes that possible, but we are getting ahead of ourselves: we will discuss Pentecost in our next blog post!
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.
May we learn more about the feasts of Pascha and the Ascension, so that we can celebrate them more joyously, and better teach our students about these important feasts of the liturgical year!
1. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.
- Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.
3. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the time of Easter (Pascha) and Pentecost:
The book featured in this blog post offers a plethora of information about each of the feasts, and can help you to prepare to teach your students about Pascha and the Ascension! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-heaven-meets-earth-celebrating-pascha-and-the-twelve-feasts-by-john-skinas/
Find ideas for teaching your students about Pascha in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/celebrating-the-feast-of-feasts-great-and-holy-pascha/
This blog post offers resources Sunday Church School teachers may want to use when teaching their students about Pascha: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/pascha-celebration-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/
Teachers with younger students may want to share this picture book with their class, and follow up with a discussion and activities: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/gleanings-from-a-book-catherines-pascha-by-charlotte-riggle/
Find a large variety of Pascha-related resources and ideas at this educational website: https://charlotteriggle.com/catherines-pascha/
Teachers of middle-years students may want to consider discussing this book (which happens during Lent and finishes around the time of Pascha) with their students: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/
Help your students learn what goes into their family’s Pascha basket (and why it is there!) with this educational resource: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2014/04/pascha-basket.html
You may want to send this printable home with them after your discussion: http://www.holy12.org/holy12/files/PaschaBasket.pdf
Together as a class, discuss Paschal traditions in the parish and in your students’ homes. Read pages 23-24 of the article “How Orthodox People Celebrate the Feasts” in the Little Falcons Orthodox Children’s magazine Issue #31, available here: http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf
Find some ideas for teaching your class about the Feast of the Ascension here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-the-ascension/
Find additional suggestions for teaching about the Ascension here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/on-the-feast-of-the-ascension/
Help your students to make these (free!) printable centerpieces for their prayer table or dinner table, for each feast: http://www.antiochian.org/1127698508