Augustine Sokolovski

This year 2023, according to the Julian calendar, the Feast of the Annunciation will be celebrated on the Friday before Palm Sunday. So it happens, as if this last of the holy forty days of fasting mysteriously took on a new breath and gave way to the celebration of the great mystery of salvation.

It is important to understand that the liturgical life of the Church throughout the year is based on the combination of two calendars. This is the Easter calendar, the events of which shift in time depending on the date of Easter, and the calendar of liturgical feasts that take place on a specific day from year to year. Unlike some commemorations in honor of saints, in the Orthodox Church the holidays of this calendar are never postponed.

According to the canons of the Old Church, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring after the vernal equinox. The Russian, Serbian, Georgian, Polish and Jerusalem Orthodox Churches follow the Julian calendar. The Greek Churches, the Patriarchate of Antioch, and the Romanian, Bulgarian, Czech and Slovak Churches follow the Gregorian calendar. Currently, the difference between them is 13 days. At the same time, all churches celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar.

This means that the vernal equinox in the Julian calendar does not correspond to its astronomical date and falls on April 2nd. Therefore, the first possible date for celebrating Easter in the Orthodox Church is April 4, and the last, at the latest, May 8. It is very interesting that in the spring of 1945 Easter fell on May 6, i.e., on the day of St. George. "Late" Easter like this doesn't happen often. However, it is precisely this discrepancy of 13 days that means that Easter in the Orthodox Church is usually celebrated later than the "Latin" celebration of the Resurrection.

This obligatory combination of two calendars is the actual "Year of the Lord", as the Russian writer Ivan Schmelev (1873-1950) called his masterpiece.

This union of the two calendars forms a particular diachrony in the liturgical life of the Church, like the lungs in the human body creating the life-giving breath of two times. Both are important, neither is complete without the other.

Depending on the date of the Easter celebration, this liturgical diachrony takes on particular combinations, sometimes paradoxical and seemingly irreconcilable.

The Annunciation takes on a special place here. This feast belongs to the cycle of fixed feasts throughout the year and, in the Churches following the Julian calendar, always falls on April 7th.

In the case of an early Easter, the Annunciation may fall on the days of Holy Week, moreover, be celebrated simultaneously with Great Thursday or Great Friday. It can also coincide with Easter itself, or - the latest of the existing combinations in the Churches of the Julian calendar - fall on Wednesday of the Easter Week. Note that by an amazing coincidence, the Orthodox celebration of the Annunciation this year coincides with Good Friday. Note that by an amazing coincidence in timing, the Orthodox celebration of the Annunciation this year coincides with Good Friday in Catholicism and Protestantism.

At such a coincidence, the Church, as a community of faithful, needs a special sacramental empathy and an autonomous gift of inspired interpretation of the "signs of the times" (cf. Mt 16:3), to understand such a combination of celebrations in the Holy Spirit.

The church is a community of interpreters. In the absence of an interpretation, the combination of Annunciation and Easter in a single service may seem superfluous, or - as in the case of the coincidence of Annunciation and Good Friday - too sad or even tragic. The correct interpretation turns the coincidence of the Annunciation and Good Friday out of incomprehensible confusion into a kind of unique chronological sacrament in the liturgy. In the Middle Ages it was believed that time stood still during the Eucharistic celebration. The Church is convinced that the Eucharist and service to God makes time sacramental for a moment. In Christ, time is not accidental; it becomes the topos of the sacrament.

Theological subjects have an everyday, non-theological tectonics. And vice versa. It also happens that things that originally had a mythological, historical, or other component, after a very long time, acquire theological tectonics, become carriers of a special philosophical or theological component.

In the legendary account of the Battle of Marathon, a Greek warrior ran forty-two kilometers and, before falling dead, announced to his compatriots: "Rejoice, Athenians, we have won!" Undoubtedly, knowing about this image, the Apostle Paul compares life in Christ with overcoming a distance: “But this I do for the Gospel, that I may be a partner in it. Don't you know that those who run all run, but one gets the reward? So run that you may receive” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Great Lent consists of two parts: Holy Lent and Holy Week. The forty days are a time of prayer and repentance. They end on Friday of the sixth week of Great Lent. This year, on this very day, the Church celebrates the Annunciation. This coincidence creates amazing semantics.

Forty days of penitential time on the path of self-restraint is a tenth of the whole year. That's biblical logic. “Thou shalt not steal,” says Scripture. This commandment applies especially to time. In the light of the ascetic logic of fasting, a tenth of the time, like a biblical tithe, is offered to God. At the same time, it becomes an aspiration on the path to freedom. Freedom is revealed as the ability to limit oneself for the sake of one's neighbor and God.

So, every day becomes a struggle with yourself. Moreover, the biblical fast is not a diet of selective attitude to nutrition, but a complete absence of food and drink before sunset.

However, this also reveals the paradoxical Christian perception of any ascetic effort. With each day of this forty-day journey, like kilometers of a marathon, a fasting person realizes that where the rules of fasting are observed, pride comes instead of eating, and instead of drinking, condemnation of those who do not know fasting. “So, the commandment for life served me unto death,” writes Paul (Rom. 7:10). As a result, fasting turns into a consciousness of the inability to observe it as it should.

Thus, the path of fasting, and this is the disclosure of the essence of this spiritual marathon, as the path of dying in the consciousness of one's own inability, and spiritual bankruptcy, leads to a natural outcome. “You bear the name as if you were alive, but you are dead,” the Lord addresses the Churches in the Apocalypse (Rev. 3:1). It turns out that, unlike the marathon legend, in which a dying warrior proclaims the joy of victory, none of the people who believe and fast here on earth are simply able to survive this good news.

If the earthly life of the Lord Jesus ended with death on the Cross, it would be the greatest triumph of the forces of evil in history. "But God raised up His Son" (Acts 3:26). If Great Lent ended with the end of self-restriction in food and drink on the fortieth day and simply turned into a celebration, this would be evidence of the enslavement of the man of time and physiology. This is what St. Augustine (354-430) and the Great Reformers so rejected, calling "justification by works."

It is important that according to the biblical ideas of the people of God, especially during the earthly life of Jesus Christ, the conviction prevailed that the Righteous One, that is, the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of Man, had to die on the day of His Conception. According to the Fathers of the Church, this was connected with the mysterious biblical prohibition to interfere with “the flesh of a kid with mother’s milk” (cf. Ex. 23:9), as well as the curse with which Job, the biblical righteous man, cursed the day of his conception. “After this Job opened his mouth and cursed his day,” says the book (Job 3:1).

“Now is the beginning of our salvation,” says the troparion of the Annunciation. The simultaneity of the end of the forty days of fasting and the celebration of the Annunciation this year contains an important sign. So, God Himself, the Lord of the times, teaches the Church and the world to “always remember the Lord Jesus, risen from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). For in Him alone in these Last Times, and always, is deliverance and salvation.

So, the Holy Forty Day gives way to Passion Week. This year it happens on the Day of the Annunciation. Thus, in the liturgy and life of the Church, the Image of that One, the Conqueror of hell and death, is revealed. He not only conveyed to people the news of victory and liberation - as biblical and extra-biblical prophets could do - but took away death itself from people.

In the incomprehensible sacramental consequence of the Annunciation, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus granted people to be born of the Father and God (John 1:13), and bestowed the "Kingdom, Power and Glory" to proclaim the Good News.