"Development of a Liturgical Tradition is the Hallmark of a Living Church..." -Fr. Vasyl Rudeiko

Friday, 20 September 2013, 16:14
September 14th according to the Julian Calendar marks a new liturgical year in Churches of the Byzantine Tradition. The date of Indiction, on which the liturgical year begins was set during the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 AD – and it has remained this way ever since.
When we look at our church calendar, we see holy days, important liturgical dates, fasts, and feasts laid out, most of which are difficult to understand for most of us. Below is a conversation with Fr. Vasyl Rudeiko, deputy director of the Patriarchal Liturgical Commission of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and a priest of the Hieromartyr Clement Sheptytsky Church in Lviv, who explains the structure of the liturgical year, its history, and Liturgical Tradition.
 
Fr. Vasyl, the beginning of the new Church year is referred to by a term unknown of by most: Indiction. Why is this the title we give the new Church year?
The term we use for the beginning of the church year comes from the Greek word “Ινδικτιώνος” (indiktion). Despite much discussion between scholars as to the meaning of the word, its origins are unknown. The most likely theory indicates that this word comes from the Latin “indictio,” which directly translates to proclamation.
In the pre-Christian Roman Empire, an indiction was the occasional tax-collection of grain and wheat for the needs of the population which took place roughly every fifteen years. By the third century, this type of tax collection had become an annual occurrence under the Emperor Diocletian, and finally under the reign of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century the harvest tax collection date became the marker to begin the liturgical calendar. It is most likely that the indiction began every September, the same time as Constantine’s major military victories, conversion to Christianity, and the Empire’s official acceptance of Christianity. The Church accepted September as the beginning of the Church year at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It is for this reason that we celebrate the first major holiday of the year, the Nativity of the Mother of God on September 21st, and the last major holiday of the year, her Dormition, on August 28th.
 
It is interesting that the Eastern Churches begin their liturgical year on September 14th while the Western Church marks it as the beginning of Advent. Why the differences?
Not every Church begins her liturgical year on September 14th. Most orthodox Churches have already accepted the so-called Revised Julian Calendar meaning that they begin their liturgical year on September 1st. If I am not mistaken, only the Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian orthodox Churches, including most of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, have held onto the old Julian Calendar which has a thirteen day difference. For the Roman Catholic Church, one of the most important holidays is the Nativity of our Lord, and as such, Advent, a period of preparation toward it, is important for them. This is why they begin counting their year from its beginning.
What is the structure of our Church calendar, apart from being simply a collection of many holidays, fasts, and feasts?
When it comes to talking about the Church calendar, it’s worthwhile to look at it from two perspectives. Notably in our calendar, unlike in the civil calendar, each holiday has its own individual day. There are immovable holidays, which have their own set dates and are normally based around the date of the Nativity of Our Lord. There are also movable holidays which are based on that specific year’s date of Pascha, which is why they have changing dates. These two calendar cycles, movable and immovable, are due to the fact that they are both dependent on two celestial cycles – those of the sun and the moon which influence the date of Pascha. The Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox is the calculation of Pascha (according to the Julian Calendar); this is the same way Jews calculate their celebration of Passover.
 
As you’ve already mentioned, most other holidays base themselves on the date of the Resurrection of Our Lord: feasts of Our Lord, feasts of the Mother of God, saints’ days…
The Calendar of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (as well as most other traditional Churches: the Roman Catholic Church, most Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches) is built on feasts which are based on the date of the Resurrection of Our Lord. This feast, Pascha, is central to the liturgical year and every other holiday stems from it.
As you’ve already noted, there are feasts of Our Lord which, in some way or another, illustrate the life of Jesus Christ. For example, the feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, is a feast of the Holy Trinity. There are also feasts of a cycle dedicated to the Mother of God which coincidentally include feasts such as the Resurrection because the Mother of God, as wrote the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, “is inseparable from the act of her Son’s salvation.” The feasts commemorating important saints, prophets, martyrs, likewise are not a celebration of one person, rather a celebration of those people’s holiness and experience of Christ, who in turn act as examples for the Church of the Resurrection, victorious over death, time, and everything which we, as people, fear.
 
Every Church has her own local saints and martyrs, just as in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.For example, Prince Volodymyr and Princess Olha, Borys and Hlib, many new martyrs, which have their own feasts on the calendar. Surely, these feasts feature their own special hymns…
Absolutely. Every Church is called to look at examples of holiness in her life. History has dictated that Churches of the Eastern Tradition have been rather conservative in the elevation of their saints. If Pope John Paul II had not elevated the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church’s new martyrs, then there would be far less of them known today. The elevation of saints and the development of their local veneration is a brilliant example of how a Church develops, and is a testament to how Christ works palpably within people today in one Church or another. Of course, every Church which reserves the right to elevate her own saints or establishes her own days for veneration, for example our Church celebrates wonder-working icons, contributes to the richness of the Universal Church. Hence, these are not merely Ukrainian saints, these are representatives of the entire Church.
 
We have already spoken to the fact that the Resurrection of Our Lord is the central Holy Day on our calendar upon which all other holidays base themselves. How was this date determined?
This is a very complex question since the Church has always had different approaches in this area. Before the Council of Nicaea, there were two fundamental approaches to establishing the date of the Resurrection. One of them is based on an immovable day, 14th of Nisan (Nisan is the first month of the year in the Hebrew calendar). Then there were those who believed that the date of Pascha should not simply reflect one day of a month, whenever it should fall, rather it should fall on a Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection. In accordance with the Gospel’s account, we celebrate Pascha after the first full moon corresponding with the Jewish Passover.
Respectfully, the First Council of Nicaea officially set in place this complicated rule of the celebration of Pascha – that the date of Pascha falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon of the lunar calendar and spring equinox. By the logic of the Fathers of the First Nicaean Council, the feast of the Resurrection would always fall at the same time as the Jewish Passover, or would, at the very least, fall the week after. This is the system currently used by Churches which follow the Julian calendar to determine the date of Pascha. The difference in the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in the 16th century by Pope Gregory XIII, lies in the fact that it does not take into account the date of the Jewish Passover. Therefore, the Gregorian Calendar Pascha may fall in line with the Jewish Passover but more often than not falls beforehand. It is for this reason that most orthodox Churches did not agree to accept the Gregorian calendar despite recognizing for long-while the errors present within the Julian calendar.
 
When we look at our calendar, we see that there are four major fasts which culminate in major feasts…
In our Tradition exist four extended fasts which are separate from individual fast days, such as the one day of fasting commemorating the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The four fasts include the one movable: before Pascha, and three immovable: leading up to the Nativity of Our Lord, the Dormition of the Mother of God, and the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The logic behind these four fasts lies in that they denote four sections of the liturgical year and prepare people for them. Of course, the most developed and major of these fasts is the Great Fast, Lent, preparing us to the feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Somewhat less significant is the Nativity Fast two weeks prior to the Nativity of Our Lord. The other two fasts do not include any specific liturgical texts of prayers expected of the faithful. In my opinion, these are major omissions to our Tradition, since such prayers would be a sign of our Church’s vitality.
 
In the Church calendar, there are also feast days. What do they mean?
Feasts, in a certain sense, are opposite of fasts. Let’s say that if it is expected of us to abstain from certain foods and amusements during a period of fasting, then feasts are times we don’t observe any sort of fasting. Even Wednesdays and Fridays during periods of feasting are omitted from the rules of fasting. These are times for the faithful to celebrate a certain important holiday. The longest period of feasting is the season between Pascha and Pentecost when the Church encourages the faithful to celebrate and rejoice in Christ’s Resurrection by refraining from any sort of penitential acts. However, we are to celebrate in moderation during times of feasting, to demonstrate that we are celebrating something deeper than superficial or man-made.
Interview by Ruslana Tkachenko
Translated by Julian Hayda
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