The pre-Christmas Cycle has six Sundays, which all focus on the unfolding
revelation of the Birth of the Messiah. This is done in the context of the
immediate family of Jesus, centering on Mary and Joseph (Matthew 1, 2; Luke 1,
2). This is certainly in line with the Antiochene emphasis on the humanity of
Jesus and its appreciation of the historical aspect of Scripture. The greatest
Announcement, of course, is that of the angels on Christmas.
There are one or two Sundays after Christmas (depending upon the day of the week that Christmas occurs), one of which is always celebrated: the Finding in the Temple. On 1 January the liturgical commemoration is Feast of the Circumcision (Naming) of the Child Jesus, with a second commemoration of the common Eastern observance of Saint Basil.
The Sundays of this Season are:
Announcement to Zechariah
Announcement to the Virgin Mary
Visitation to Elizabeth
Birth of John the Baptizer
Revelation to Joseph
The Finding in the Temple
In celebrating the Finding in the Temple (Sunday after Christmas) the Orthodox Church uses the 3rd Infancy Narrative of Luke (chapter 2) to parallel closely the Gospel development of Jesus' own growth. He is seen in the Temple, recognizing his true "Father" (his divine Origin) and preparing himself for his Baptism and public life. In addition, Joseph disappears from all the Gospel narratives: Joseph's earthly fathering is done, and Jesus will now proclaim the heavenly Father. The Twelve Days of Christmas take us to the Feast of the Epiphany (Theophany).
Season of Epiphany (in Syriac this feast is called Denho)
Taking the Baptism of Jesus (6 January) as the model, the Orthodox Church celebrates our new life of Baptism and Chrismation in this Season. In Syriac it is called denho. For some Syriac Churches, this season is the traditional time of reception of catechumens into the Church. But for all Syriac Christians, denho is a time to reflect on our baptism. During the first three days following the third Sunday before the Great Lent (Monday-Wednesday) [ Sixth Week of Epiphany in case of the Maronite Church] observes "Nineveh Days" or 3-Day Lent. These three days are penitential and serve to anticipate the Season of Great Lent. In one form or another, these days are observed by all the Syriac Churches, East and West.
(Adapted from R. Dom Bartholomew Leon, OSB, Saint Rafka Mission, Greenville, SC)
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