Saturday, June 21, 2014

Liturgical Year and Christian Life

Our very first "Extra" post! This began as part of the Byzantine post for this Sunday, but kind of took on a life of its own. Here you go!

You probably know that the Byzantine liturgical year begins on September 1. However, unlike the Roman Rite's new year (1st Sunday of Advent), Byzantine new year isn't really tied to the cycle of readings. Our cycle is more tied to the readings for Pascha (look in the Apostol: that's the very first reading given).

You probably also know about the Church Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant, but just to make sure we're clear, I'll outline them. First, there's the Church Militant. That's us, living on earth. Then there's the Church Suffering, which is those undergoing purification before being admitted to heaven. Finally, there's the Church Triumphant, which is the Church in heaven. I propose that the Byzantine cycle of readings corresponds to this division.

So, the Christian generally passes through life as a member of the Church Militant, dies, is purified as a member of the Church Suffering, and then is admitted to heaven, becoming a member of the Church Triumphant.

So, what do we do as members of the Church Militant? We are to heed the Lord's call, follow Him, and be fishers of men. Moreover, we are to follow His law. This is the subject of the readings for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost. For roughly the next 30-odd weeks (give or take some feasts like the Sundays of the Forefathers and Ancestors, etc) we'll hear the Lord's teachings and doings, as well as readings from St. Paul. After this comes the season of the Triodion, which begins several Sundays before Great Lent.

During the season of the Triodion and Great Lent, we are called to purify ourselves, to really "set aside all earthly cares" (Cherubikon, Divine Liturgy). This is what happens to us as members of the Church Suffering. So, there is the link of a common theme of purification between Great Lent and the "Final Theosis" (what the West calls Purgatory). And then, once we have been purified?

That's right: Church Triumphant. And what, pray tell, are Pascha and the season of the Pentecostarion about? The victory of Christ in which we share! The Pentecostarion even draws to a close with the Sunday of All Saints (MCI, "The Pentecostarion"), that is, the members of the Church Triumphant.

So we have the cycle of readings and the trajectory of the Christian life. The cycle provides, in a way, a roadmap and a mirror, showing us where we are, where we're going, and how to get there. So, now, as we begin again this trek to the time of the Triodion and, ultimately, to the Pentecostarion, we would do well to consider whether we really are going on the journey from call, to Cross, to Resurrection and beyond.

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