The Tradition of Feast Days

Submitted by FatherAthanasios on Wed, 11/03/2021 - 09:11
Interior view of the Church of St George in Lydda Palestine

It is a common tradition in the Church, but many do not know the origins of celebrating “Name Days” also known as Feast Days. For example, today is several saints are commemorated on the Calendar, including, Acepsimas the Bishop, Joseph the Presbyter, and Aeithalas the Deacon. Today is also the commemoration of the Dedication of the Temple of St George the Great Martyr. What does all this have to do with our tradition today of celebrating ‘our’ name day?

In general terms, the tradition of Feast Days developed like this. Since today is the commemoration of the Temple of St George, it lends itself to a perfect ‘teaching moment’ on the subject. In the ancient Church, when someone the people considered saintly died, the faithful would gather at their tomb on the annual remembrance of their death, in the case of St George (and thousands more) it was his martyrdom. They would gather for Divine Liturgy, which is the ultimate expression of thanksgiving in the Church, using the saints actual tomb as the Altar for the Liturgy.

Eventually, so many would gather, and even begin to make pilgrimages to the tomb during the year, a Church was constructed on the Holy Site. Sometimes this was the site of the martyrdom as in the case of St Stephen the Protomartyr, but mostly above or around the tomb. In the case of St George, a Church was constructed especially for his tomb in Lydda in Palestine. This is what is celebrated today on the Church calendar, and the Church remains standing to this day. The ‘original’ Church of St George is a place of pilgrimage for faithful Christians from throughout the world.

As the fame of certain Saints spread throughout the world, additional Churches would be constructed to honor them. Though the new churches did not house the tombs of these saints, it became common for bones of saints (sometimes the named saint) to be sealed in the Holy Altar as part of the Consecration Service (Dedication) remembering the original tradition of using the tombs as Holy Altars for the Divine Liturgy.

As the tradition has been handed down, today Churches in honor of St George (keeping our example, although this is the case with any church) are built in honor of the original Church of St George’s tomb. This is where the tradition of Feast Days comes into play. Each year on the Feast of St George, the faithful gather, either in the original Church or other Churches named for St George to celebrate Divine Liturgy and thank God in honor of St George.

I want to be clear. We are not celebrating Divine Liturgy because your cousin is George, but to honor SAINT George. While it isn’t bad to go to church in honor of your cousin, we should do our best to remember we are honoring the SAINT. Therefore, if a Church of St George is in the area, many times other Churches will ‘close’ that day so all the faithful can gather at the Church of St George for Divine Liturgy, remembering the ancient tradition.

You can create a family tradition for various saints. Plan for your family to travel to various Church for a pilgrimage in honor of particular saints on the Feast of those Saints. You will be keeping a pious tradition that dates back to the original Church, and teaching your children that the Saints are worthy of honor for the great faith example they provide for us.

At a minimum sit with your family often and read about the Saints on their Feast Days. It can help inspire you to Live A New Life In Christ.

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