The Russian Orthodox Church is one of many self-governing, Orthodox Churches. These churches observe the same major holidays and sacraments. The Russian Orthodox Church's holidays are the same as the general Orthodox holidays; however, Orthodox holidays are different than Catholic and Protestant holidays. Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar while other Christian churches use the more modern Gregorian calendar. Orthodox holidays come about two weeks after their counterparts.
Pascha is the Orthodox Easter. The name is derived from a Greek word referring to the Jewish Passover. Pascha marks the day when Jesus Christ was resurrected, and is considered the "Feast of Feasts," the greatest of all the Orthodox festivals. Pascha falls on a Sunday in early spring, usually one to two weeks after the Catholic and Protestant Easter. Pascha consists of a vigil the night before, a procession, and a morning service of hymns.
Great Lent is the 40-day fast that leads up to Pascha. Orthodox Christians are not allowed to eat dairy or meat during this time. Like Catholic Lent, Orthodox Great Lent is considered a time when people re-assert their faith through gestures of renunciation, renewed devotion and charity, both through personal habits and behavior.
The Russian Orthodox Christmas usually comes during the first or early second week of January because it uses an early version of the Julian calendar. Other Eastern Orthodox churches may use a revised Julian calendar and celebrate Christmas on December 25. Christmas marks the day of Jesus Christ's birth. Like Pascha, Orthodox Christians often fast for 40 days leading up to Christmas, abstaining from meat, eggs, dairy, alcohol or all four.
Ascension represents the day when Jesus Christ, after resurrection, returned to heaven. It represents the end of Christ's time on Earth, but it is not seen as a sad occasion. Instead, Orthodox Christians are encouraged to see the Ascension as the day when Christ left to prepare heaven for his followers. Ascension usually occurs in late spring or early summer.
Pentecost comes 50 days after Pascha and 10 days after Ascension. It commemorates the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles for the first time. This holiday is marked by a special service involving kneeling prayers, as well as a Great Vespers the night before the Pentecost.
The other major Orthodox feasts are Epiphany, the Presentation of Christ, the Annunciation, the Transfiguration, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, the Birth of the Virgin Mary, the Exaltation of the Cross, and the Entrance into the Temple. They all mark important events in the Orthodox belief system.
- Orthodox Church of America: Sermons on the 12 Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church
- The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America: The History of the Church: An Introduction
- Infoplease.com: Orthodox Holidays, 2001–2015
- Orthodox Church of America: Great Lent
- Slate.com: Merry (Russian Orthodox) Christmas!
- Orthodox Church of America: Ascension
- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: Feast of Holy Pentecost
- Feast of Feasts.org: Easter Sunday: The Holy Pascha
- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: The Calendar of the Orthodox Church
- The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America: Fasting and Great Lent
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