Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Feasts of the Christian Year

March 1973

I would like to attract your attention to two features of the Feasts. The Feasts are not impersonal events: God acts in every Feast in a personal way, but so, also, does man. Every Feast is connected with one or several persons who stand at the every centre of this divine act. The Incarnation is possible because the Mother of God is there. The Feast of Epiphany, the baptism of Christ, is centred on the witness of St. John the Baptist. The Feast of the Transfiguration happens in the presence of three Disciples. Pentecost is an event that seizes the whole group of the Disciples of Christ, among them the Twelfth. When we are concentrating on the Feast itself we have eyes, we have a heart capable of taking in only what God is doing on that tremendous day. We cannot detach our eyes from the Son of God who has become the babe of Bethlehem: we cannot remember anything except the Lamb of God who comes in order to enter into his final ministry on the Feast of the Epiphany. We can remember nothing but the tremendous revelation of the Holy Trinity on the day of Pentecost. Neither intellectually nor in our hearts, nor in our total human perception can we take in more than one essential feature which is the event; but once the event has occurred, once we are faced with what has happened we turn our eyes to the persons, either human or divine, who played a decisive, eschatological role in the event itself.

After the Feast of the Nativity, when we could not detach our attention from the Son of God who now has revealed Himself as the Son of Man, the next day in the evening service and in the morning service, we turn our attention to the Mother of God. After the Epiphany, on the evening of that day, and the next morning, it is St. John the Baptist who will stand at the very heart of our spiritual Vision, at the very core of our thoughts. After the event of Pentecost, having received the Spirit, having acquired of Him a new unprecedented knowledge of communion, we stand in awe and amazement before this Divine Person who has wrought the miracle, accomplished the event, and so on the next day after Pentecost we keep the feast of the Holy Spirit. I am not at present attempting to give all the Feasts and all the names connected with them. In lesser Feasts, after the nativity of St. John the Baptist, we remember his parents; after the nativity of the Mother of God we remember her parents — so that no one who played a determining role in preparing or in accomplishing an event is left out and is forgotten through our lack of gratitude. The gratitude of the Church calls upon us to remember those without whom the events would not have occurred.

The Feasts have also got other consequences which I have already indicated. On the one hand the Feasts of the Lord are the economy of salvation, the Feasts of the Lord are those events which either effect the salvation of the world or reveal its depth to us in one way or another. The Crucifixion and the Resurrection effect salvation as does the Nativity, but the Transfiguration and the Ascension reveal to us the incredible depth of what man and what the created world are in their relation to God. But it is not only in the events which touch the Lord Jesus Christ Himself or the Mother of God that we get this vision of the fruits borne by the work of salvation fulfilled by Christ — it happens also through saints. The work of salvation always has this eschatological quality of an irruption of God, or eternity, into time and history, or the immensity of God irrupting into the limits of the created world. But within the limits of the created world, within the limits of our historical time, men and women and children receive the message, are transformed by the event, are touched by divine grace and become, in their turn, means of other unprecedented, dynamic events of life. A saint is not simply someone who has found the path of his own salvation: a saint is an event in human history because through him and in him and eschatological reality lives and acts in the world of time, of history and of space. And when we speak of the sanctification of time while we keep the Feasts of the saints, or when we speak of hallowing time by remembering, liturgically, at the third hour the gift of the Spirit, at the sixth hour the Crucifixion of Christ, at the ninth hour the death of the Son of Man on the Cross, we do more than simply bless a situation we are confronted with eschatological events that have become incarnate and personal. St. Seraphim, St. Sergius, St. Alban, all the saints known and unknown, are eschatological presences in the flow of time, and by keeping their memory, by entering through their teaching, through devotion, through discipleship to them into their history, we also partake of this divine, dynamic, eschatological action of God in the world in which we live.

So although we may derive great joy by keeping the memory of a saint, we do more, and indeed we must do more than simply remember him: we must enter into a relationship with him for we are related to him in a most realistic sense if we accept the Communion of Saints and the discipleship which should be ours. This gives to the Feasts we keep a dimension which is all embracing; they embrace history and man in it, they embrace the whole cosmic reality. They are acts of God, but apart from this, because they happen to us, and to all those who have lived before us (particularly the saints), these rich, complex, infinitely numerous events signify dynamic eschatological events which involve us in terms of ultimate responsibility. Hence the necessity of being aware of what we call by this difficult name ‘the Communion of Saints’. It signifies that the whole of mankind is a stream of life, unique and powerful, that the interwovenness between all of us is complete, that we are called not only to be carried but also to carry, not only to be dwelt among but dynamically to act and to be. If we only thought of the history of the Church, of the history of mankind in those terms, then every single event of the calendar would acquire for us a real significance; we would prepare for them and expect them, they would be a transforming power within our lives; and unless we realise this unless we learn so to experience, so to live, so to proclaim them, we are passing by something which is of paramount importance in the experience and life of the Church.

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