This is the article published in the March Torch, the monthly newsletter for St. George Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
It probably seems that the Christian Faith and our calendars don't really have a great connection. This observation becomes more apparent to me as a parish priest with each year that passes, but there is a profound connection between the two. To grasp this we can ask some elementary questions about calendars and Christianity. We’ll take calendars first.
What is a calendar? Yes, of course it’s the little paper product we hang up on our kitchen wall. We keep our appointments on it and we organize our lives with their aid. But calendars are a far more interesting than a mere organization tool. Calendars are really about time. They mark time and cycles of time. Why would man have even created such a thing? Why make a big deal about the passage of time at all? After all, day will always follow day in time’s continuous march.
We know that primitive man (and I tend to think that he was only primitive in a certain technological sense) created incredible monuments to mark time. Stonehenge in the Salisbury plains of England comes to mind. Apart from other things, we know that it marks the winter and summer solstice perfectly. I am a modern man and I honestly have to say that I can’t empirically tell you what day is the longest or shortest through the year. I know that days get longer and shorter, but it would never occur to me to try to calculate when those occur. Then to find a way to mark that using large stones is beyond me. “Primitive man” did it.
The movement of a single year was incredibly important because it marked planting and harvest seasons. The cycle of the year pointed to our nourishment and our full (or empty) bellies. So calendars began to be marked with seasonal changes, and these changes carried with them related festivals and celebrations.
There have been many different higher developments of calendars. The Jews developed one that is based upon lunar cycles. The ancient Greeks and Romans developed one that is based on the solar cycle. Months were created and the Romans, being ever so pragmatically logical, developed a fixed cycle of dates and months which we still use to this day. For the Romans the calculation of the ides (remember the old warning, “beware the ides of March,” which is March 15th?) was very important because it marked festival days as well as market days. Commerce and religion were intimately conjoined.
It was in this world that the Church started her life. She too began very quickly creating a calendar. The first day to mark the Christian calendar was Pascha (Easter). The paschal cycle is still the primary cycle of the Church’s year. Soon other festivals and commemorations filled the Christian calendar, along with their attendant seasons of fasting and preparation. Living according to the Church’s calendar also constantly enriches us and keeps us growing in the essentials of the Faith. We learn about the great heros of the Church, their heroic stands, their teaching, often their martyrdom. We experience the saving work of Christ over and over in the principle feasts and fasts of the Church. Christianity is made real through the Church’s calendar.
At the heart of this is the fundamental necessity of making our Faith organic in our daily lives. Our life will always be lived with a rhythm and cadence because we live in time. Man will always mark his life with events and celebrations that are truly important to him. You can tell a man’s true religion by looking at his calendar. What does he mark it with? What is truly important to him? Let me repeat, we mark our calendars with those things that we truly value and to which we commit ourselves.
So, let us look at our own calendars. Are they Christian? Do they look very different from our contemporaries who are not in the Orthodox Church? I would suspect that they look far too similar to our neighbors. The attendance at the Lenten services, while fair, certainly is not overwhelming or what I would consider ‘acceptable.’ Most folks haven’t darkened the doors of the church once for the evening Lenten services. What takes precedence in our lives will be the focus of our calendars and our actions.
Very soon we will reach the greatest feast of the Church’s entire year. It is the Feast of the Church, the Feast of feasts, the Queen of feasts—Pascha. But there is a conflict this year isn’t there? Spring break will come for many of us that weekend. Our values will be tested pretty hard. What will we do with our calendars? Will we be Christians first, or pleasure lovers? Is Christ’s glorious Resurrection from the dead really important to us, or have we placed our family and entertainment above him? Our Lord speaks painfully direct to this, “If any man comes to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
Christians will go through the profound and deep Holy Week. Christians will celebrate the Feast of Pascha. Christians will find this to be the greatest focus of their entire year and of their life. I hope and pray that we have a parish full of Christians.