Easter, the most important of all feast days, is in a class by itself. The determination of the date of Easter was definitively regulated by the decision of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea (325 A.D.). Next in importance to Easter are the “twelve great feasts,” of which three are movable. Eight of these feasts are devoted to Christ and four to the Virgin Mary. There are also a number of feast days of varying importance, most of which commemorate the more popular saints.
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Just as there are times for feasting, there are also times set aside for fasting. During these periods, the Orthodox Church offers a rule to which we strive: no meat (including poultry), dairy products, fish, olive oil, and wine, listed in order of frequency of prohibition. (Wine and olive oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays.) Fruits, vegetables, grains, and shellfish are permitted throughout the year. The Church recognizes that not everyone can fast to the same degree; the degree to which we adhere to the rule comes with spiritual growth and practice, but it can begin when children are young. Of course, the Church does not reduce the practice of fasting to a legalistic observance of dietary rules. Fasting should be accompanied by intensified prayer, acts of charity, and watching what we say and do.
The following are fasting days and seasons:
- All Wednesdays and Fridays, except for those noted below
- The day before the Feast of Theophany (January 5)
- Cheesefare Week (the last week before the Great Lent, during which meat and fish are prohibited, but dairy products are permitted even on Wednesday and Friday)
- Great Lent (from Clean Monday through the Friday before Lazarus Saturday, olive oil and wine are permitted on weekends);
- Great and Holy Week (note that Great and Holy Saturday is a day of strict fasting, during which the faithful abstain from olive oil and wine)
- Holy Apostles’ Fast (from the Monday after All Saints’ Day through June 28, inclusive)
- Fast for the Dormition of the Mother of God (August 1-14, excluding August 6, on which fish, wine and olive oil are permitted)
- Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29)
- Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14)
- Nativity Lent (November 15-December 24, although fish, wine, and olive oil are permitted, except on Wednesdays and Fridays, until December 17)
The following are fasting days on which fish, wine, and olive oil are permitted:
- The Feast of the Annunciation (March 25, unless it falls outside the Great Lent, in which case all foods are permitted)
- Palm Sunday
- The Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6)
- The Feast of the Entry into the Temple of the Mother of God (November 21)
On the following days, all foods are permitted:
- The first week of the Triodion, from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee through the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, including Wednesday and Friday;
- Renewal (or Bright) Week, following the Sunday of Pascha
- The week following Pentecost
- From the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord (December 25) through January 4
When Sacraments May Not Be Held
Baptisms are forbidden on the following days:
- From Christmas Day (December 25) through the feast of Theophany (January 6)
- During Holy Week
- On any of the great feast days of the Lord
It is also preferable that families abstain from baptisms during major fasting periods, so as to avoid festal celebrations following the sacrament that directly conflict with the solemn nature of the liturgical period in which the Church finds itself (e.g., Great Lent and the intensified fasting period December 12-24 preceding Christmas). In order to hold baptisms on any of the aforementioned days, a legitimate reason must be given and permission from the Metropolitan must be granted.
Weddings are forbidden on the following days:
- Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14)
- Intensified Nativity Fast and Christmas (December 13-24 and 25)
- Forefeast and feast of Epiphany (January 5-6)
- Great Lent and Holy Week
- Pascha (Easter)
- Dormition Fast and feast of Dormition (August 1-14 and 15)
- Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29)
Only in special circumstances granted by the Metropolitan may marriages be allowed on the above days.
When Funerals and Memorial Services May Not Be Held
Funerals may not be performed on (1) any Sunday out of the year or (2) Holy Friday, unless special permission is granted by the Metropolitan.
Memorial Services may not be held on:
- All holy days of the Lord, such as Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Presentation of Christ, and Transfiguration
- All holy days of the Theotokos, such as the Nativity of the Theotokos, the Entrance into the Temple, the Annunciation, and the Dormition
- From the Saturday of Lazarus up to and including the Sunday of St. Thomas
- The Sunday of Pentecost