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Liturgical Calendar of the Syriac Orthodox Church

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Malankara - 2014

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Liturgical calendars guide the faithful in the practice of spiritual life in the Church all through the year. The calendar of the church sets apart days for the commemoration of events in the salvation history of man, assigning pre-eminence to the events associated with the Lord Jesus Christ; days commemorating those events are called `eedé moronoyé, 'feasts of the Lord,' and include Sundays, and feasts of the Lord commemorating His birth, circumcision, baptism, entrance into the Temple, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension among others.

The Syriac Orthodox calendar begins with the Consecration of the Church (qoodosh `idto) which falls on the last Sunday of October if it happens to be the 30th or 31st of the month, or else the first Sunday of November. The next Sunday is the Dedication of the Church (hudoth `idto). The Sundays that follow until Christmas fall in the advent period that commemorates the chief events preceding the incarnation of the Word, starting with the commemoration of the annunciation to Zachariah, followed by annunciation to Virgin Mary, the visitation of Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, birth of John the Baptist, and revelation to Joseph. After these Sundays falls the Sunday before Christmas leading to the moronoyo feast of the birth of our Lord (yaldo) which is celebrated today on December 25th (except in the Holy Land where it is celebrated on January 6th). The fast of the Nativity begins on December 1st although it is now obligatory only from December 15th. The infants of Bethlehem killed by Herod are remembered on the 27th of December. The circumcision of our Lord (gzoorto) is celebrated on January 1st. Epiphany (denho) commemorating the baptism (ma`modeetho) of our Lord is commemorated on January 6th. The presentation of our Lord at the Temple of Jerusalem (ma`alto) is commemorated on February 2nd.

The date of commemorations that follow are determined by the moronoyo feast of Ressurection (qyomto). The date of this feast is determined according to the rule laid down by the Synod of Nicaea (AD 325). According to the Synod, Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox, though never on the day of the full moon itself. Since the date of Easter is tied to a lunar calendar, its date is not fixed on the Julian or Gregorian calendars.1 The great fast of our Lord precedes the feast of Ressurection commencing on the Monday seven weeks prior. The three day fast of the Ninevites (sawmo d-ninwoyé) begins on the Monday three weeks prior to the commencement of the Great Lent. The first Sunday following the fast of the Ninevites commemorates all departed clergy of the Church (kohné) and the Sunday following commemorates all faithful departed (`aneedé ). The Sunday that marks the beginning of the Great Lent commemorates the Wedding Feast of Cana (qotné da-gleeylo) which marked the beginning of the public ministry of our Lord. On subsequent Sundays, events from our Lord's healing ministry are remembered—the healing of the Leper (garbono) on the second Sunday of the Great Fast, the Paralytic (msharyo) on the third, the Canaanite woman (kna`nayto) on the fourth, the Good Samaritan (shamryoto) or the hunch-back woman (kfifto) on the fifth,2 the blind man (samyo) on the sixth, leading to Palm Sunday (oosha`né) and the week of Passion (hasho). The Wednesday of the fourth week of the fast marks the middle of the Lent (phelgo d-sawmo) and the Feast of the Holy Cross. The Annunciation to the Mother of God (sooboro) falls on the 25th of March and is of such significance that the liturgy of the Eucharist is required to be offered even if it falls on the Friday of Passion. The fortieth day of Lent falls on the Friday before the Passion Week. The raising of Lazarus (noohomeh d-lo`ozor) is commemorated the following day on Saturday. The Passion week (hasho) begins with the Sunday of Hosanna (oosha`né). The order of entrance into heaven, commemorating the parable of the ten virgins (naheeré) is celebrated in the evening of Palm Sunday. The Thursday of Mysteries (hamsho d-rozé) or Passover (phesaho) is commemorated on the Thursday of Passion Week. On Thursday evening is the commemoration of the washing of the feet of the disciples by our Lord. Friday of Passion Week is the Great Friday of Crucifixion (`rubto rabto dazqeephootho). The Saturday is the Saturday of Good Tidings when our Lord descended into Sheol to preach the Good News to the departed. On Sunday, the resurrection of our Saviour (qyomto phorooqoyto) is celebrated. The following Sunday is called New Sunday or Whit Sunday (had b-shabo hadto) and days in between are called the heworé (White [days]). The ascension of our Lord to heaven (suloqo) is commemorated on the sixth Thursday after the resurrection. The Pentecost (phentiqostee) falls on the Sunday, ten days after the feast of ascension.


From Joseph, Thomas and Simon Skaria. "Automating the Liturgical Calendar of the Syrian Orthodox Church," Paper presented at the IVth Syriac Computing Forum, Princeton Theological Seminary, on Jul 11, 2003.

The fast of the Apostles begins on the 26th of June and ends on the 29th of June, the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul (formerly, this was a thirteen day fast beginning on the 16th). The Transfiguration of our Lord (mtalé) is commemorated on August 6th. The fast of the Mother of God (sawmo d-yoldath aloho) begins on the 10th of August and ends on the 15th (formerly observed from August 1st), the feast of the assumption of the Mother of God (shunoyo d-yoldath aloho). The feast of the Holy Cross (sleebo) is celebrated on the 14th of September, commemorating the discovery of the Holy Cross by Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine.

In the past, the Syriac Orthodox calendar was based entirely on the Julian calendar. Even though, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Ni`matallah (d. c. 1587), a learned mathematician and astronomer, was a member of Pope Gregory XIII's commission on the reform of the calendar (after his forced abdication by Islamic extremists and escape to Rome), the Gregorian calendar was not adopted in the Syriac Orthodox Church until the 20th century. In 1955, the immovable feasts came to be celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar (with the exception of the Holy Land where the Syriac Orthodox rights to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem for Christmas services were traditionally restricted to January 6th). The Julian calendar continues to determine the observation of the Great Lent and Week of Passion. The Church in Malankara switched entirely to the Gregorian calendar in 1953, following Encyclical No. 620 from Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem I, dt. December 1952.

Many days are set apart in the calendar for the commemoration of the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The glorification of the Virgin falls on the day after Christmas. The 15th of January is dedicated to the intercession of the Mother of God for the seeds and 15th of May for the blessing of crops. The birth of Virgin Mary is celebrated on September 8th and annunciation to Virgin Mary on March 25th as well as on the fifth Sunday before Christmas.

The apostles, saints and fathers of the Church are commemorated all through the year, typically on the day of their departure from this world and in most cases on fixed days on the Gregorian calendar.

In the past, before the use of printed liturgical calendars, each diocese, and sometimes each church, might have its own calendar of saints whom it commemorated, and this accounts for the variety of different calendars from the Middle Ages that came down to us in manuscripts. A few of these were used quite widely, but over a period of time new names came to be added and some old ones got dropped. Furthermore, some calendars had just a few saints each month, while others provided one or sometimes more for each day. Often different calendars provided different days for the same saint. The fullest surviving calendar of saint's days happens to have been compiled by (d. c. 1340). In modern times, as a result of the widespread diffusion (thanks to printing) of particular calendars, there is a common core of saints who appear in the printed liturgical calendars each year, leaving the possibility of further commemorations to local usage and choice.

Over the ages, liturgical calendars were published in two forms—as tables of Easter and related movable feasts as well as a calendar of saints celebrated on fixed dates on the calendar.3 The two have separate origins. The former were a matter of controversy in the ancient Church; several different Easter cycles were in use, but eventually a single one of 532 years (Taqlab in Syriac sources) was adopted as the norm. The variable was the way in which the date of the Jewish passover was fixed. Within Judaism, it was not fixed astronomically until quite late in the 1st millenium.4 Within Christianity, the date was used for fixing the date of Easter. Early on, the two did not necessarily coincide. From a small number of ancient Syriac examples, it appears that periodically tables for Easter and related movable feasts were issued. The earliest known example is a 6th century text—the underwriting of Sinai New Finds Syriac ms. 46; another example is in a ms. of 882.5 The calendar of saint's days were separately published. The oldest dates to 411 and is transcribed in a fanqitho in the Church of St. Moses, Damascus. By the end of the 6th cent., the Monastery of Qenneshrin had a special calendar of feast days of saints which was in use for a long time. The fullest surviving calendar is from Rabban Sleebo bar Khayrun (d. c. 1340) of Hah who added the names of many bishops and ascetics of Tur `Abdin, particularly of the monks of the monastery of Qartmin.6 A large selection of others have been published by F. Nau.7 Due to local commemorations, there is considerable difference among these, some claiming origins to Mor Ya`qub of Edessa. The predominant selection today in printed calendars is based on Patriarch Aphrem Barsoum's shorter list.8

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1 The Julian calendar instituted by Julius Caeser (in 45 BC) and the Gregorian calendar by Pope Gregory XIII (in AD 1582) are solar calendars. The dependence of the date of Easter on the day of full moon after the vernal equinox (on March 21, Gregorian calendar), as established in the Synod of Nicaea, subjects Easter to the ancient conundrum of correlating the phases of the moon with the orbit of the earth and a 354-day lunar year with the roughly 365 ¼ day solar year.

2 The fifth Sunday commemorates the Good Samaritan in the calendar of the Church in the Middle East. However, in the past, variations between liturgical calendars were not uncommon, especially between that of the Western and Eastern traditions within the Syriac Orthodox Church. The Church in Malankara appears to have been influenced by the liturgical traditions of the Eastern tradition; the liturgical calendars in Malankara dedicate the fifth Sunday to the healing of the hunchback woman.

3 Calendars listing both fixed and movable feasts for a calendar year are relatively recent innovations, most likely in the 20th century, when printing came to be widely adopted. It is quite likely that they were influenced by Western Church calendars.

4 Stern, Sacha. Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar, 2nd Century BCE to 10th Century CE. Oxford University Press, 2001.

5 Reconstructed in Brock, Sebastian. Catalog of the New Finds.

6 Barsoum, Patr. Aphrem I, Book of Unstrung Pearls, 1965.

7 Nau, F. Patrologia Orientalis, vol. 10.

8 The discussion in this paragraph (except the citations from Patr. Aphrem I) is based on personal correspondence with Prof. Sebastian Brock of Oxford University in July 2003, who is gratefully acknowledged here. Useful references related to this topic include Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems of Chronology in the Bible. Hendrickson Publishers, 1998 and Grumel, V. La chronologie, Paris, 1958.

References

Joseph, T. and Simon, S. "Automating the Liturgical Calendar of the Syrian Orthodox Church," IVth Syriac Computing Forum, Princeton (July 2003).

 
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