August

August is the twelfth and final month of the liturgical year in the Byzantine Rite. This article covers the most important liturgical aspects of the monther of August. See the online menaion for a descriptions the saints and events commemorated on each day, together with the appointed liturgical hymns. For the readings for each day, see the Lectionary.

The procession of the Cross

In these month-by-month accounts of the calendar according to the Byzantine Rite, we have mostly focused on feast days (that is, days of polyelelos rank and above; see here for an explanation). But it is also worthwhile to take a look at one of the more interesting of the lesser days, such as August 1.

The menaion entry for August 1 has the following explanatory heading:

Great Doxology feastThe procession of the Wood of the venerable and life-creating Cross. This feast was established in the reign of the Greek Emperor Manuel, as a memorial of Greek victory over the Saracens. The procession with the relic of the Precious Cross was made from the imperial palace to the church of Hagia Sophia; there the relic remained for fourteen days, and was then carried back in procession to the church in the palace grounds.

The holy seven Maccabees, their mother Solomonia, and the elder Eleazar at Antioch in Syria, under Antiochus Epiphanes the king. For the sake of keeping the law of the Lord with unconquered faith, they were cruelly handed over to death with their mother. She suffered with her sons as they were martyred, one by one, and was crowned with them, as it is written in the second book of the Maccabees [2 Mac. 7]. Likewise is commemorated St. Eleazar, one of the first scribes, a man of advanced age. In that same persecution, refusing to eat forbidden meat on account of his love for the Torah of the Lord, he achieved a most glorious death rather than a shameful life; he voluntarily went to his punishment, leaving an excellent example of virtue.

The small sign Great Doxology feast indicates a feast of Great Doxology rank: Vespers and Matins for the day use the "ordinary", non-festal order, but the Great Doxology is sung at Matins. This is one of the rarer kind of days in our calendar. The day has two different commemorations, one for a historical event (a procession with the Cross, as part of a victory celebration) and one for a group of Old Testament martyrs. If you look back to July 31, you will even see that the Procession of the Cross has a pre-festive day! A note at the end of the menaion entry indicates that water is blessed on this day; at one time, this was done monthly in the Byzantine tradition, but today only the blessing on August 1 remains. (On what other day is water blessed?)

Now turn to the menaion entry itself and take a look at the hymns appointed for the Divine Liturgy. They consist of the common hymns in honor of the Cross of Christ (found on pages 360-361 of our Divine Liturgies book), except for the prokeimenon

Prokeimenon, Tone 6 (Ps. 27:9,1). Save your people, O Lord, and bless your inheritance.
V. To you, O Lord, I cry out: My God, be not silent to me.

which is taken from the Sunday of the Veneration from the Cross, during the Great Fast. For the Maccabees, a special prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn are added, as well as a second epistle and Gospel reading.

So even more "ordinary" days have their points of interest in our tradition,

The Dormition Fast

The liturgical year started in September with a feast of the Mother of God (celebrating her birth) and a feast of the Lord (the Exaltation of the Cross). We end the liturgical year in August with another feast of the Mother of God (celebrating her death) and a feast of the Lord (commemorating his Transfiguration, or appearance in glory, before his apostles on Mount Tabor).

The feast of the Dormition on August 15 is one of the oldest and greatest feasts of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and it is preceded by a fourteen day fast, from August 1 to August 14. By tradition, this is a strict fast (no meat, fish, animal products, wine or oil) on the days of the fast, with wine and oil allowed on Saturday and Sunday, and on the feast of the Transfiguration on August 6. So the fasting on these days essentially resembles that of the Great Fast.

Unlike the Great Fast, however, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy is allowed on weekdays, except for the days of Alleluia on August 3 and 4. (See the article on June for an explanation.) Also, during these preparatory days for the feast of the Dormition, it is customary to celebrate the service of the Supplicatory Canon to the Mother of God, also called the Paraklesis.

A pre-festive day

August 5 is a pre-festive day - a day which prepares us for an upcoming feast. These days usually have a speciial "pre-festive" troparion and kontakion at the Divine Liturgy, which are combined with the ordinary Sunday or weekday hymns.

The pre-festive hymns for the Transfiguration of the Lord can be found on page 345 in our Divine Liturgies book. If you take a look at them, you can see that they combine a call to the faithful to celebrate the feast with the sense that the feast is already present ("Today...."). This is a common feature of pre-festive hymns in the Byzantine tradition.

A feast of the Lord: The Transfiguration

Before entering Jerusalem to suffer his Passion, our Lord Jesus Christ took three of his disciples and ascended Mount Tabor in Galilee. Here is the account from the Gospel according Luke (9:28-36):

Jesus took Peter, John, and James, and went up onto the mountain to pray. While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothes became dazzlingly white. Suddenly two men were with him – Moses and Elijah. They appeared in glory and spoke of his passage (i.e. Passover, or Pascha), which has was about to fulfull in Jerusalem. Peter and those with him had fallen into a deep sleep; but awakening, they saw his glory and likewise saw the two men who were standing with him. When these were leaving, Peter said to Jesus: “Master, how good it is for us to be here. Let us set up three booths, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (He did not really know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and the disciples grew fearful as the others entered it. Then from the cloud came a voice which said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” When the voice fell silent, Jesus was there alone. The disciples kept quiet, telling nothing of what they had seen at that time to anyone.

It would be natural to commemorate this event during the Great Fast, just before Holy Week, but that time is taken up with other concerns. So the Church established a feast on August 6 to commemorate the Transfiguration, which became a celebration of the divinity of Christ, and of the uncreated "light of Tabor" described in Byzantine theology and spiritual practice The hymns of this feast also give a reason for the Transfiguration itself; namely, to strengthen the faith of the apostles in Jesus as he went to suffer crucification and death in Jerusalem.

This is a great feast (Great feast) "of the Lord", and so the hymns for the Divine Liturgy (found on pages 346-350 of our Divine Liturgies book) include special antiphons as well as the usual hymns of a great feast:

This is a particularly joyful feast, honoring the Incarnation of Christ, and full of references to divinity and light. These readings and texts of the feast are an important element of he Byzantine spiritual doctrine of theosis, or the divinizaiton (share in the divine) that God intends for all human beings.

Because of the references to booths (associated in Jewish tradition with a harvest festival at the end of summer) and the date of the feast itself, it also became a feast of thanksgiving for the fruits of field, vineyard, and orchard. By tradition, fruit is blessed on this day, which the faithful often bring to church and share after the Divine Liturgy.

Post-festive days of the Exaltation of the Cross

From August 7 through August 13, we continue to sing the hymns of the feast, combined with the Sunday or weekday hymns. The situation with the antiiphons is a little more complicated: we sing the first and second antiphons of the feast, but for the third antiphon and entrance hymn we sing the "ordinary" weekday or Sunday antiphon and entrance hymn, but with a different refrain:

Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us acclaim God our Savior. O Son of God, transfigured on the mount, save us who sing to you: Alleluia!

Come, let us worship and bow before Christ. O Son of God, transfigured on the mount, save us who sing to you: Alleluia!

Music for these post-festive hymns can be found on oages 350-351 of our Divine Liturgies book.

Another pre-festive day

August 14 is another pre-festive day, this time for Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15. The pre-festive troparion and kontakion for this day can be found on pages 351-352 of our Divine Liturgies book:

Troparion, Tone 4. O peoples, clap your hands in anticipation * and dance with faith and joy. * Gather together today in eagerness and jubliation, * and let us all exult with godly glee, * for the Theotokos, whom we always glorify in hymns, * is about to be taken up in glory * from earth to heaven.

Kontakion, Tone 4. Celebrating your glorious memory today, * the world mystically dances for joy, * and cries out to you, O Theotokos: * Rejoice, Virgin, Boast of Christians.

August 14 is also a polyeleos feast day, celebrating the translation of the relics of our venerable father Theodosius of the Monastery of the Caves (we also encounted him in May). Because a polyeleos day is considered a significant feast, a Divine Liturgy on August 14 should if possible include the hymns for both the pre-feast and the feast of Saint Theodosius, as found in the MCI Menaion for August. But no single service book (such as our Divine Liturgies book) can povide text and music for ALL feast days, and if the Menaion is not available, then the cantor can combine the pre-festive hymns of the Theotokos with the ordinary Sunday or weekday hymns that would otherwise be used. (The common hymns for a venerable father are on DL 376-377.)

A feast of the Mother of God: The Dormition of the Theotokos

On August 15, we celebrate the final major feast of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary: her Dormition (falling-asleep, or death). According to tradition, when her life was coming to an end, the apostles were gathered together for her funeral; only Thomas was absent. When he arrived, he asked to see her once more, her grave was found to be empty (according to some versions of the story, full of flowers). This was understood to mean that she had been taken, body and soul, to heaven to be with her Son - a prefiguring of the Resurrection that is the hope for all Christians.

This is a great feast (Great feast) "of the Theotokos", and is counted as one of the Twelve Great Feasts.

The hymns of the Divine Liturgy for this feast can be found on pages 352-355 of our Divine Liturgies book:

If you listen to the troparion and kontakion, you will hear that they are very specific to this feast. In contrast, the prokeimenon, Alleuia, and Communion Hymn are used on quite a few feasts of the Mother of God; the same prokeimenon and Alleluia are also sung on Bright Tuesday.

The singing of the magnification and irmos (from Matins) at the Divine Liturgy in place of the ordinary hymn to the Theotokos ("It is truly proper to glorify you") is the mark of a major feast. The magnification for this feast has a special text and melody:

Magnification of the Entrance

We saw this melody in November (on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, with a very similar text) and in March (on the feast of the Annunciation).

From the appearance of flowers in the story of the Dormition, we have the custom of blessing flowers on this day after the Divine Liturgy. At one time, medicinal herbs (gathered at this time of year) were also blessed; this is why the prayer of blessing includes a request that the plants being blessed may be "a defense against all sickness."

Post-festive days of the Dormition of the Theotokos

The celebration of the feast continues for four more days, ending on August 23. For each of these days, post-festive hymns are sung at Vespers and Matins, and at the Divine Liturgy, the hymns of the saint of the feast are combined with those of the saint of the day. If it is Sunday, the Sunday hymns in the Tone of the Week are sung first, followed by the hymns of the feast.

The Beheading of the Forerunner

In month of June, we celebrated the birth of "the holy prophet, forerunner, and baptist John." At the end of August, we celebrate his martyrdom, occasioned by a rash promise made by King Herod. The feast emphasizes not only the role of the Baptist in preparing the way for the Messiah, but also the importance of acting justly (even at the cost of breaking a promise), and the fleeting nature of this life.

The hymns of the Divine Liturgy for this feast can be found on pages 355-357 of our Divine Liturgies book:

With the exception of the kontakion, these are the "common hymns" for the Forerunner, also found on pages 363-365, and sung on his feasts throughout the year.

This is a great feast (Great feast), but not counted among the Twelve Great Feasts of the Byzantine year. This feast has accumulated a wide variety of folk customers, such as a prohibition on eating anything round (shaped like a head) or eating from a plate.

Other feast days in August

In addition to those listed above, there are two more polyeleos feasts (Polyeleos feast) in the month of August:

On August 9, we commemorate the holy apostle Matthias.

On August 31, we celebrate the deposition of the cincture (belt) of the Theotokos in the Calcoprateia Church in Constantinople, in the year 942. (Recall that on July 2 we celebrated the placing of her robe in the church at Blachernae.)

For a complete list of saints' days as celebrated in our church, together with texts and links to music, see the online Menaion.

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