Great feasts in the Eastern Orthodox Church

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus, called Pascha (Easter), is the greatest of all holy days and as such it is called the "feast of feasts". Immediately below it in importance, there is a group of Twelve Great Feasts (Greek: Δωδεκάορτον). Together with Pascha, these are the most significant dates on the Orthodox liturgical calendar. Eight of the great feasts are in honor of Jesus Christ, while the other four are dedicated to the Virgin Mary — the Theotokos.[1]

The Twelve Great Feasts are as follows (note that the liturgical year begins with the month of September):

  1. The Nativity of the Theotokos, 8 September  [O.S. 21 September ]
  2. The Exaltation of the Cross, 14 September [O.S. 27 September]
  3. The Presentation of the Theotokos, 21 November [O.S. 4 December]
  4. The Nativity of Christ (Christmas), 25 December [O.S. 7 January]
  5. The Baptism of Christ (Theophany, also called Epiphany), 6 January [O.S. 19 January]
  6. The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Candlemas), 2 February [O.S. 15 February]
  7. The Annunciation, 25 March [O.S. 7 April]
  8. The Entry into Jerusalem (Flowery/Willow/Palm Sunday), the Sunday before Easter
  9. The Ascension of Christ, forty Days after Easter
  10. Pentecost, fifty Days after Easter
  11. The Transfiguration of Jesus, 6 August [O.S. 19 August]
  12. The Dormition of the Theotokos, 15 August [O.S. 28 August]

Besides the Twelve Great Feasts, the Orthodox Church knows five other feasts that rank as great feasts, yet without being numbered among the twelve. They are: the Circumcision of Christ (1 January [O.S. 14 January]), the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June [O.S. 7 July]), the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June [O.S. 12 July]), the Beheading of St John the Baptist (29 August [O.S. 11 September]), and the Intercession of the Theotokos (1 October [O.S. 14 October]).[2]

Wing from a Byzantine micromosaic diptych of the 12 Great Feasts, c. 1310. From top left: Annunciation, Nativity, Presentation, Baptism, Transfiguration, Raising of Lazarus.

In Byzantine art a slightly different group were often depicted as a set, omitting the first three in the list above, and adding the Raising of Lazarus, Crucifixion of Jesus, and Harrowing of Hell.[3]