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Orthodox Holidays

Orthodox holidays, also known as Eastern Orthodox holidays, are religious festivals observed by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.

Coptic Christian priests praying in a rock-hewn church in Lalibela, Ethiopia.


What Are Orthodox Holidays?

Orthodox holidays are the religious feasts observed in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The predominant religion in countries like Russia and many Eastern European countries, Eastern Orthodoxy is one of the largest Christian denominations in the world.

Some Major Orthodox holidays:

  • Easter (Pascha): Easter is the most important and joyous festival in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The date of Easter varies each year, as it is determined based on a combination of the lunar and solar calendars. Orthodox Easter typically falls later than Western Christian Easter.
  • Christmas (Nativity of Christ): Celebrated on December 25 in some Orthodox traditions and on January 7 (which equals December 25 in the Julian calendar) in others, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ.
  • Epiphany (Theophany): Celebrated on January 6 (Gregorian calendar) or January 19 for those following the Julian calendar, Epiphany commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. It is marked by the blessing of water and the Great Blessing of the Waters, in which priests sprinkle holy water on congregants and their homes.
  • Feast of the Dormition (Assumption of the Virgin Mary): Celebrated on August 15 (Gregorian calendar) or August 28 (Julian calendar), this holiday commemorates the death and assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven.

These are just a few examples of many Orthodox holidays and feast days. The specific observances and traditions can vary among different Orthodox communities and cultures.

At timeanddate.com, we add Orthodox holidays to a country’s calendar if there is a significant Orthodox community in the country or if the holiday is a public holiday.

Why Are Orthodox Holiday Dates Different?

When we talk about Orthodox holidays, we mean holidays and feast days celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. This denomination of Christianity is different in several key ways:

  1. Julian vs. Gregorian calendar: Most communities within the Eastern Orthodox Church traditionally follow the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used by most Western Christian denominations. As a result, Orthodox holidays typically fall on different dates compared to their Western counterparts.
  2. Easter date: The calculation of Easter, the most important Christian holiday, is done differently in Eastern and Western Christianity, leading to variations in the timing of several holidays that are based on the Easter date.
  3. Saints and icons: The Orthodox Church strongly emphasizes the veneration of saints and icons, which can be more pronounced in their holiday celebrations.
  4. Fasting practices: The fasting periods leading up to major holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, are often stricter in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the types of foods allowed or forbidden during these periods may differ.

It’s important to note that despite these differences, the core theological principles and beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Church align with those of other Christian denominations.

Why Does the Orthodox Christmas Fall on January 7?

Among the many Christian holidays with different dates in the Orthodox calendar is Christmas.

While Catholic and Protestant denominations celebrate Christmas on December 25, Orthodox traditions celebrate it on or around January 7. This is because December 25 in the Julian calendar falls on January 7 in the Gregorian calendar.

When Does the Orthodox Year Begin?

The Orthodox liturgical calendar begins on September 1. This is in contrast to the beginning of the Catholic liturgical calendar, which starts on the first Sunday of Advent or the first Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew, which falls annually on November 30 in the Gregorian calendar.

Feasting and Fasting

The Orthodox ecclesiastical or Church calendar has several feasts and fasts. Pascha, or Easter, is the most important feast and the center of the Orthodox liturgical year. It is often called the “feast of feasts.”

In addition, faithfuls have 12 other feasts during the year, some moveable and others that fall on fixed dates. The dates of moveable feasts depend on the date of Pascha, and they are: Palm Sunday, Ascension, and Pentecost.

The Eastern Orthodox Church and its many offshoots also observe four major fasting periods during the year. These are:

  • Christmas Fast: In the Julian calendar, it begins on November 15 and ends on Christmas Eve, December 24. This corresponds to November 28 to January 6 in the Gregorian calendar.
  • Lent Fast: The dates for this fast period, which is also known as the “Great Fast,” change yearly. It lasts for 40 days and starts on Clean Monday, seven weeks before Pascha, and ends on the Saturday before Orthodox Easter Sunday.
  • Fast of the Holy Apostles: Also often called the Apostle’s Fast or the Fast of Peter and Paul, this fast period begins the day after All Saint’s Sunday and ends on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29 in the Julian calendar (July 12 in the Gregorian calendar). In some Orthodox traditions, the fast begins the day after Pentecost.
  • Fast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary: In the Julian calendar, this fasting period runs from August 14 to August 28, which corresponds to August 1 to August 15 in the Gregorian calendar.

In addition, observing Orthodox Christians are obligated to fast every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year.

Coptic Holidays

The Coptic Church, also known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, is a denomination of the Eastern Orthodox Church with roots in parts of Africa and the Middle East. The Church uses the Coptic calendar to set the dates of its holidays and feasts.

Because the Coptic Calendar is tied to the Julian calendar, the Coptic Church also celebrates Christmas on January 7, just like its other Orthodox counterparts.