What Day Is It?

In the Byzantine liturgical tradition, the day begins at sunset. But in order to celebrate the services properly for a given day, it is necesary to determine which day it is, on both the movable calendar (based on the date of Pascha or Easter) and the fixed calendar of saints' days.

Step 1: Find the day of the week

This is easy to determne from any calendar, and identifies which of the weekly commemorations will be celebrated.

Step 2: Locate the day within the Paschal cycle

Much of the church calendar is based on the date of Pascha, the feast of the Lord's resurrection, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the first day of Spring). From Pascha until the start of the Great Fast, the days are reckoned from the previous Pascha; during Great Lent, they are calculated based on the coming Pascha.

The Paschal season

The services for Pascha and the eight weeks that follow it are found in the Pentecostarion, and so this period is called the time of the Pentecostarion.

There are nine Sundays in the Pentecostarion:

The weekdays after Pascha are named from the preceding Sunday: they are the days of Bright Week, Thomas Week, the Week of the Myrrhbearing Women, and so on. The weekdays from Pentecost to the Sunday of All Saints make up Pentecost Week.

Two weekday feasts are contained in the Pentecostarion: the feast of Mid-Pentecost (twenty-five days after Pascha, which puts it on a Wednesday), and the feast of the Ascension of the Lord (forty days after Pascha), which always falls on a Thursday. The weekdays following these feasts are sometimes referred named after the feasts as well (Week of Mid-Pentecost, Week of Ascension).

During the Paschal season, we read from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, and all the changeable hymns (such as troparia and stichera) are taken from the Pentecostarion.

The time after Pentecost

The time of the Pentecostarion ends with the Sunday of All Saints, which is followed by the Second Week after Pentecost. (The first week after Pentecost, of course, was Pentecost Week.) The second week ends with the Second Sunday after Pentecost.

From now until the start of the Great Fast, we number from weeks from Pentecost, and each week has the same number as the following Sunday. So for example, Monday through Saturday of the Third Week after Pentecost are followed by the Third Sunday after Pentecost.

The preparation for Pascha

Eleven weeks before Pascha, we begin the preparatory period for the feast of the Resurrection, using hymns from the Triodion. So this time is sometimes called the time of the Triodion.

The Sundays of the Triodion are:

The weekdays of the pre-Lenten period are named after the following Sunday, so for example, the week before Cheesefare Sunday is Cheesefare Week; and the first week of the Great Fast ends with the First Sunday of the Fast.

The Great Fast ends on a Friday, and is immediately followed by two transitional days – Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday – and then we enter Great and Holy Week, consisting of Great and Holy Monday, Great and Holy Tuesday and so on. The evening of Great and Holy Saturday is the start of Pascha, and the cycle of movable feasts begins again,

So every day of the church year has a name based on its place in the movable cycle based on Pascha.

Step 3: Locate the day in the cycle of eight tones

From the Monday after the Sunday of All Saints until the last day of the Great Fast, each week is assigned one of the eight tones, in order, and we used hymns from the liturgical book called the Octoechos, or Book of the Eight Tones.

The Sunday after All Saints – that is, the second Sunday after Pentecost – begins the cycle with Tone 1, and we continue with the tones 1 through 8 in order, with tone 8 followed by Tone 1, through the end of the Great Fast. (Working backwards, the week after the Sunday of All Saints is in Tone 8.)

Since the tone changes on Sunday (more precisely, with Vespers on Saturday evening), you can find the tone for a given weekday by looking up the previous Sunday's tone in the Annual Typikon or church calendar.

Step 4: Locate the day in the fixed cycle of feasts and saints' days

Along with the cycle of days based on Pascha, we also have a cycle of feasts and saints based on the calendar date (for example, January 5th or July 31st). Each day of the year has one or more saints assigned to it, who are celebrated on that day; some feasts of the Lord and Mother of God are also on this fixed calendar. Some of these days are well-known; for example, December 6 is the feast of Saint Nicholas, and December 25 is the feast of the Nativity (birth) of Christ. Others are more obscure, such as the feast of the holy martyr Charitina on October 5.

The saint(s) for a particular day can be found on the Calendar of Saints, which is included in the back of the priest's Liturgikon, as well as in the Annual Typikon.

The calendar of saints provides two additional pieces of information: the rank of the saint (telling how many special hymns are sung for that saint, based on their important in church teaching and tradition), and the class of saint (martyr, bishop, and so on). These are used to detemine the particular hymns to be sung that feastday.

Some feasts are important enough to have pre-festive days (which prepare for the feast) and post-festive days (which continue the celebration of a major feast). These, too, are noted on the calendar of saints. The last day of a post-festive period is called the otdanije or leave-taking of the feast.

Finally, a small number of Saturdays and Sundays have particular hymns and readings based on their position in the fixed calendar: for example, the Sundays before and after Christmas and Theophany, as well as the Saturdays and Sundays before and after the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). The hymns and readings for these days are found in the liturgical books, but they are not found on the Calendar of Saints, since their dates change from year to year. They can always be found in the annual typicon or church calendar.

Putting it all together

While it is possible to figure out all this information from scratch, most priests and cantors use the Annual Typikon, or the simpler church calendar prepared for our parishes by the Byzantine Seminary Press. Using either reference, you can find the complete description of a particular day, such as the following:

August 20, 2017 is the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, a post-festive day of the Dormition of the Mother of God (August 15), and the feast of the holy prophet Samuel. (It is also the feast of Saint Stephen, King of Hungary, and so would be the patronal day for any parish named after him.) The tone of the week is Tone 2.

This is the information needed to plan the liturgical services for the day, using the rules embodied in the Typikon.

Remember, for each day you can find:

Don't be alarmed by the complexity here; the purpose of the church year is to provide us with a tapestry of prayer, teaching, and example as we learn to follow Christ. Each year, if you pay attention to the liturgical calendar, you will make new discoveries, and better understand the patterns that make up the liturgical year.