We Orthodox Christians live slightly different lives from the rest of the “herd” in the US. Yes, we go to work, our children go to school, we go to Church, like many others. Unlike the others, however, Orthodox Christians consult a special Church Calendar daily to see which Saints are commemorated and whether it is a fasting day. If it is a fasting day, we check to see which kind – strict fast, wine and oil, or fish, wine and oil. Strict fast mean no meat, no dairy, no fish, no wine and no oil. Vegetables, grains, and legumes are permitted. This is a vegan kind of diet. Shellfish are permitted, also, but many people don’t bother, as shellfish are expensive. There are approximately 150 strict fast days each year. Hey! That’s almost 1/2 of the year!! The wine and oil days add wine and olive oil to the mix. There are approximately 25 wine and oil days each year. Finally, there are the fish, wine and oil days – often just called “fish days.” Fish is added to the mix on those days.
The 6 weeks prior to the Nativity of our Lord is a fasting season in preparation for the feast. If there is a big feast, there is a fast preceding it. There are 4 major fasts a year. The St. Philip’s Fast for the 6 weeks preceding Nativity, Great Lent for the 6 weeks plus 1 week prior to Pascha (Easter), the Apostles Fast for a variable number of days / weeks prior to the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Dormition Fast is the 2 weeks prior to the feast of the Dormition (falling asleep in the Lord) of the Theotokos (Birth-giver of God; Mother of god).
When all the fasting days are added up, the total is approximately 186 days of the year. A few days more than 1/2 of the year!
Our lives follow a rhythm of fasting and feasting. And, believe me, it is easier to fast than to feast!
To further complicate matters, Orthodox follow a variety of calendars. There are the traditional, Old Calendar followers. I am among them. We follow the old Julian Calendar which is 13 days “off” from the civil calendar. Visualize a standard calendar, and then superimpose another calendar over it that begins 13 days after the standard calendar. That’s the calendar we live by. So, the Nativity Fast begins on November 15th, but November 15th on the Julian Calendar falls on November 28th of the civil calendar. December 25th on the Julian Calendar falls on January 7th of the civil calendar.
Those who follow the “new calendar,” which is an adaptation of the civil calendar, follow the same feasts and fasts and rhythms as those who follow the “old calendar” but the fixed feasts are on different dates on the civil and Julian calendars.
Pascha is the exception. It is a movable feast, and the Sunday it falls on depends on when the first full moon following the Spring Equinox (defined as March 21, Julian) and following Passover occurs. This can be anywhere between March 22, Julian (March 11, civil) and April 25 (April 12, civil). Both the old and new calendars celebrate Pascha on the same Sunday – which is usually between 1 and 5 weeks later than non-Orthodox (Heterodox) Christians. Every 4 – 8 years, the Sundays will coincide. For more information than you ever wanted to know about the “dating” of Pascha, see the Calculation of the Ecclesiastical Calendar website.
As the date of the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul is fixed (on a specific date on the calendar), and no fasting season may begin during the Paschalion (the weeks between Pascha and Pentecost), the fast will begin on the day after Pentecost Sunday and end on June 30 (Sts Peter and Paul). So, if Pascha is early, there is a longer fast, and if Pascha is late, there is a shorter fast. It can be as long as 6 weeks, or as short as 7 days. For those on the civil calendar, the may not be a Sts Peter and Paul fast at all when Pascha is late!
Yes, there is some conflict between the “old calendarists” and the “new calendarists.” But most of the conflict is confined to snide remarks and bursts of activity on one of the many Orthodox listservs. Each side believes it is “right,” and “never the twain shall meet!”
Today is the feast of one of the Wonderworking Icons of the Mother of God: The Shuisk-Smolensk Wonderworking Icon of the Mother of God.
The Shuisk-Smolensk Wonderworking Icon of the Mother of God was written in the years 1654-1655 in the Resurrection parish of the city of Shui, where at the time raged an unrelenting pestilence. Hoping on the mercy of God and the intercession of the Mother of God, the parishioners of the Resurrection [Voskresensk] church commissioned a certain pious monk to write the image of the Smolensk Mother of God, – from of old being a rescuer of the Russian people from enemies and misfortune. The whole week while the image was being written was spent by the parishioners in prayer and fasting. When the icon was finished, the priest and the people took it to the church and set it in a specially built place. From that time the pestilence began to ease, at first in the locale of the Voskresensk parish, and then also in all the city.
From the Icon of the mother of God set up in the church were done many miracles of healing, especially of eye diseases. Celebration of the icon is done also on 28 July.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos
Most Holy Theotokos, pray for us!