November

November is the third month of the liturgical year in the Byzantine Rite. This article covers the most important liturgical aspects of the month of November. See the online menaion and the Lectionary for the hymns and readings of each day.

The feast of holy archangel Michael and all the angelic powers

On November 8, we celebrate the synaxis of the holy archangel Michael and all the angelic powers (sometimes called the "bodiless powers"). Synaxis means "assembly", and can refer to one of two kinds of gatherings:

On this day, both meanings are present. The faithful gather together to recognize that God created the angels in advance of human beings, and that they have their own place in the divine plan. The serve a God's messengers; help to protect us from evil; and intercede before God.

Like the feast of Saint Demetrius (September 26) and Saint Nicholas (December 6) this is a vigil-rank feast (Vigil feast), so Vespers with Litija, Matins, and Divine Liturgy should be celebrated if possible. For this feast, the hymns of the Divine Liturgy can be found on pages 265-266 of our Divine Liturgies book:

The hymns for the Divine Liturgy on this day can be sung every Monday, since on that day we commemorate the holy angels, and they are also used as the common hymns for feasts of angels. For example, if a church were dedicated to the Archangel Rafael (who appears in the biblical Book of Tobit), these would be used as the Divine Liturgy hymns for the parish feast-day.

The feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple

On November 21, we celebrate the feast of the Entry of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary into the Temple. Tradition holds that, while she was still a child, the Virgin Mary was taken by her aged parents Joachim and Anna to be raised in the Temple in Jerusalem. The accounts of this event, which are not recorded in the canonical Scriptures, are taken from certain non-Scriptural books. But the theological message of the feast is clear: God prepared Mary from the beginning to be the Mother of His Son, and it was within the Temple that the living Tabernacle of God would live.

Like the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, the feast of the Entrance has a one-day pre-festive period, with its own troparion and kontakion. Here is the kontakion for November 21, found on page 267 in the Divine Liturgies book:

Filled with joy today by the auspicious feast of the Theotokos,
the whole world cries out: This is the Heavenly Ark.

The kontakion of the feast itself expands on this theme:

The most pure Temple of the Savior,
the most pure Bridal Chamber and Virgin,
the Treasury of the glory of God,
is led today into the house of the Lord, bringing grace in the Spirit of God.
God's angels praise her in song: she is the Heavenly Ark.

This is a great feast (Great feast), one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church year. (Can you name the others?) Ideally, Vespers with Litija should be celebrated on the eve of the feast; oil is blessed, and the faithful are anointed with it either at Matins (during the singing of the canon) or at the end of the Divine Liturgy. The hymns of the Divine Liturgy can be found on pages 268-271:

As might be expected, the troparion and kontakion are particular to the feast, while the prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn are the same ones used at other feasts of the Mother of God which we have encountered in the course of the liturgical year. Also, remember that a magnification and irmos at the Divine Liturgy are the sign of a particularly great feast, while the absence of special antiphons marks this as a feast of the Mother of God (or some other important saint) rather than a feast of oue Lord Jesus Christ.

The magnification for this feast has a special text and melody:

Magnification of the Entrance

We will see this melody again in March (on the feast of the Annunciation) and in August (on the feast of the Dormition).

The celebration of the feast continues for four more days, ending on November 25. 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.

Other feast days

Along with the feast of the Archangel Michael and all the "bodiless powers" (as our tradition calls the holy angels), there are two feasts of vigil rank (Vigil feast) in the month of November:

You may recall that Saint John Chrysostom is not only the compiler (according to tradition) of the prayers of the Divine Liturgy which we use throughout the year, but he is also the author of the Paschal Homily which is often read at Matins on Easter Sunday.

In November, we celebrate the feast days of three of the Apostles. All of these are polyeleos feasts (Polyeleos feast):

If a saint's feast of polyeleos rank or above falls on Sunday, the feast day hymns are always added to those of the Sunday Divine Liturgy. In this way, the Church reminds even those who only occasionally come to Church of the witness and teaching of our most important saints and witnesses to Christ.

On the Thursday that falls between November 22 and 28, inclusive, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the United States. Although this is not a traditional Orthodox or Eastern Catholic feast, a special office has been composed for it in modern times, and the hymns for the Divine Liturgy can be found on pages 271-273 of the Divine Liturgies book.

Note: If Thanksgiving Day falls on or before November 25, we are still within the post-feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos, and so her hymns would be sung also. That is why the MCI has prepared two sets of Divine Liturgy propers: one for use during the post-festive period, and one for use outside the post-festive period. Check the Liturgical Calendar for the proper one to use this year.

The Pre-Nativity Fast, or Fast of Saint Philip

The Christmas Fast, in preparation for the feast of the Nativity on December 25, is one of the minor fasts of the Church. This fast of forty days was introduced in the 12th century. Counting back 40 days from the feast of the Nativity, the fast begins on the evening of November 14 - the feast of the holy apostle Philip. As a result, it is traditionally called Philip's Fast or the Philipian Fast (in Slavonic, Filipovka).

This fast is not penitential, but is rather a fast of preparation, like the pre-Communion fast. By abstaining from certain foods, we are opening up a "space" in our lives through asceticism and obedience, into which God may enter.

Traditional rules of fasting

Customs vary, but in general the traditional Christmas fast calls for the faithful to observe strict abstinence (no meat, fish, dairy or other animal product, wine or oil) on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, and a lesser abstinence (no meat, fish, dairy or animal products) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fish is allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, but no other animal products.

Several popular feasts fall during the first three weeks of the Christmas Fast: the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple on November 21, the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6, and the Maternity of Holy Anna (Conception of the Theotokos) on December 8 or 9. As a result, in many places the Christmas Fast either does not begin until December 10, or becomes stricter at that point.

In the Byzantine Catholic Church, this fast may be observed voluntarily, partially or in its entirety.

Liturgical preparation for the Nativity

Beginning on November 21, the feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, the Canon of the Nativity is sung at Matins as katavasia (that is, the irmosy or theme song of the Nativity is sung at the end of each ode of the canon). This is the first liturgical announcement of the Nativity: "Christ is born! Glorify Him!"

On the feast of the holy apostle Andrew (November 30), at Vespers, we hear the first pre-festive stichera:

Isaiah, dance for joy: receive the word of God! Prophesy to the Virgin Mary that the bush burning with fire shall not be consumed by the radiance of our God. Let Bethlehem be prepared! Let the gates of  Eden be opened! Let the Magi come forth to see, wrapped in  swaddling  clothes, in a manger of beasts, the salvation which the star has pointed out from above the cave: the life-giving Lord, who saves us all!

As is common in the Byzantine Rite, our hymns look ahead, well in advance, to upcoming feast-days, so that we are ready for them when they arrive.

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