Christian Holidays

Celebration of Sunday
The Christian Observance of Lent
Christian Celebration of Holy Week in the Holy Land
Feast of the Transfiguration
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
Feasts of the Lord
Feasts of Mary
The Feasts of the Saints
Feasts of the Church of Jerusalem

Whereas the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, the Christians follow a solar calendar. The calendar known throughout much of the Christian world today has its roots in ancient Rome. In the year 45 before the birth of Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor, instituted the calendar we now are familiar with, divided into twelve months that run their course from January to December. Over the centuries, because of the development of the natural sciences, various reforms were introduced, the last being the reforms of Pope Gregory XIII in the sixteenth century. These reforms were only adopted in the Christian West. Thus, the Christian world does not share the same calendar, because the Eastern Churches follow the Julian calendar (without the reforms of the sixteenth century) whilst the Western Churches follow the Gregorian calendar. At present thirteen days separate the two calendars. For example, the first of December in the Julian calendar (used by the Eastern and Orthodox Churches) is the fourteenth of December in the Gregorian calendar (used by the Western Catholic and Protestant Churches).

To complicate matters further, some of the smaller Churches have their own calendars, inherited from the ancient civilizations that they came into contact with. Thus, for example, the Coptic Church has a calendar that follows the ancient Egyptian months. This complicated situation leads to differences in when different Churches celebrate the same event or feast. Furthermore, it might be added that the Ethiopian Christians, an ancient community also found in the Holy Land, have a liturgical calendar that repeats many of the important feasts on a monthly rather as well as on a yearly basis. For example, the 7th of every Ethiopian month is a celebration of the Trinity, the 27th a celebration of the Passion of Christ and the 29th a celebration of the Nativity of Christ.
Whereas Jews traditionally count the years from the creation of the world, Christians, since the sixth century, count the years from the birth of Jesus Christ. This means that for Christians history is divided into two great blocks, before the birth of Christ and after the birth of Christ (termed by Christians, the Year of the Lord, abbreviated in Latin as AD, anno Domini). It is interesting to note though that the Copts, for example, count the years from the time of the great martyrdom of early Christians in Egypt. The year 2005 corresponds to year 5765 in the Jewish calendar and the year 1721 in the Coptic calendar.
Different Christian traditions celebrate the beginning of the year at different times. January 1, the Roman calendar’s New Year does not in fact coincide with the beginning of the Christian liturgical calendar. Whereas Western Christians begin their liturgical year at the beginning of the four weeks leading up to Christmas, Eastern and Orthodox Christians begin their new year at the beginning of September (thus paralleling the beginning of the Jewish year at Rosh HaShana).
However Christians did not abandon all elements of the liturgical calendar of ancientIsrael. Although most Christians consider that a new day begins at midnight, the Christian liturgical day begins at sunset like the biblical day. Thus, Saturday evening is already part of the Sunday celebration and the eve that precedes a feast day is part of the feast day itself. The calendar of biblical Israel emerges in the weekly and annual celebrations that characterize the Christian communities. The early Christians added additional layers and diverse elements to the biblical calendar they inherited from ancient Israel. The Christian week revolved around Sunday rather than Saturday but retains the fact that Sunday is “the first day of the week”. Christians also added a new level of meaning to the three pilgrimage feasts, connected to the life of Jesus and the early Church.
Most human communities organize their time. They distinguish between ordinary time and special hours, days, months and years. The rhythm created by this organization of time tells us many things about the community that lives according to this rhythm. How do Christians organize and mark time? The answer to this question is an important element in understanding who Christians are, what is important in their lives and where they come from. The Christian year is full of times of commemoration and times of celebration.
There is a great diversity among Christians (Eastern, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestantbeing the four major groupings). In the Holy Land, most Christians follow the Byzantinetradition (Greek Orthodox or Greek Catholic). Another large group are the Roman Catholics (or Latins). There are also groups of Eastern rite Christians, including Armenians (Orthodox and Catholic), Syrians (Orthodox and Catholic), Copts and Ethiopians. The Maronites are all Catholics but follow their own rite and calendar. In addition there are communities of Anglicans (Episcopalians) and other Protestant and Reform Churches (including Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc) as well as Evangelical Churches (Pentacostalists,  Assemblies of God, etc).
Each Christian group has its own traditions and understanding, which influence how it marks the important times of the year. There are Christian calendars that are full of celebrations and commemorations and those that are much more sober, saving the definition of a “holy day” for only the most sacred occasions. However, the two major feasts (Easter and Christmas) are at the center of the calendar for all Christians even if each group has its specific way of commemorating the events remembered.
The roots of the Christian feasts and liturgical celebrations are undoubtedly Jewish (as is much else in Christian faith and practice). Jesus of Nazareth and the early Church followed the calendar of the Old Testament, celebrating the hours, times and seasons outlined in many important Old Testament texts (cf. Exodus 23:10-17, Leviticus 23:1-44, Numbers 28:1-40, Deuteronomy 16:1-17). The most important aspects of the Jewish calendar at the time of Jesus were the following:
- The weekly celebration of the Sabbath – recalling the seventh day of God’s rest after the completion of Creation. The human person is called to rest too, signifying that he or she is born to be free and not a slave (thus linking the Sabbath with the Exodus from Egypt). In recent years, many Christians are rediscovering the importance of the Sabbath.
- The yearly celebration of three pilgrimage festivals, when all the people made their way to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, mark the agricultural cycles and remember God’s acts in history. The first of these was the Passover – recalling God’s saving the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, bringing them out of slavery into freedom. This feast fell in the spring and reminded the people of new life after winter. The second festival was the Feast of Weeks, seven weeks after Passover – recalling the first fruits. Later Rabbinic tradition would link this feast with the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The third feast was the Feast of Tabernacles – celebrating the last ingathering of the harvest and recalling the period of forty years that Israel spent living in booths in the Wilderness after having come out of Egypt and before entering the Promised Land.
- The yearly commemoration of a solemn day of sacrifice for sin accompanied byfasting and repentance known as the Day of Atonement. The elaborate rituals for this day are described in Leviticus 16 and include the ceremony of the scapegoat, sent into the Wilderness, bearing the sins of the people.
In the Gospels that tell of the life of Jesus there are numerous accounts of Jesus’observance of these sacred times. Jesus went to the synagogues on Sabbath (cf. Mark 1:21, 3:1, Luke 4:16, 6:6, 13:10) and made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the yearly feast days (cf. Luke 2:41, 14:12). The Gospel of St John is particularly insistent on Jesus’ celebration of the Jewish feasts; he went to Jerusalem on Passover (2:13, 6:4, 13:1), Tabernacles (7:2), the feast of the Dedication (Hannukah) (10:22), etc. This respect for the Jewish calendar continued in the earliest Christian communities (cf. Acts 13:14, 18:4) before the clear separation between Judaism and Christianity and the development of a characteristically Christian calendar.
Celebration of Sunday

For Christians, the first day of the week, Sunday, took on enormous significance as a special day of celebration and commemoration. An ancient text from the Syriac Office of Antioch (VI. 193B) sums up Sunday in the following terms:
When we ponder, O Christ, the marvels accomplished on this day, the Sunday of your holy resurrection, we say: “Blessed is Sunday, for on it began creation… the world’s salvation … the renewal of the human race… On Sunday, heaven and earth rejoiced and the whole universe was filled with light. Blessed is Sunday, for on it were opened the gates of paradise so that Adam and all the exiles might enter it without fear.
Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the first day of the week and therefore, in the Christian week, Sunday was the day of celebration par excellence. From the perspective of ancient Christianity, Sunday was not a day of rest (like the JewishSabbath) but a day of celebration. However, it was the newly Christianized Roman Empire, in the 4th century, that proclaimed Sunday “the day of rest”.
Although in the course of Christian history some conceptual confusion resulted in the merging of the Old Testament Saturday (Sabbath) with the New Testament Sunday, it is clear that these two days communicate different realities. The Old Testament Sabbath (Saturday) commemorates rest. “On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done and he rested on the seventh day” (Genesis 2:2). This became the basis for the commandment that the human person should imitate God’s rest on the seventh day. “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord” (Exodus 31:15). Although the Sabbath has lost some of its importance for most Christians, the rest of the Sabbath day is linked to the rest of Jesus in the tomb at least during the Holy Week that precedes Easter. Crucified on a Friday and rising from the dead on Sunday, the Saturday is a day of no activity as Jesus remains in the tomb. The great fifth century theologian of the Latin tradition, StAugustine, ends his magnificent spiritual autobiography with a meditation of the Sabbath:
But the seventh day is without evening and the sun shall not set upon it, for you have sanctified it and willed that it shall last forever. Although your eternal repose was unbroken by the act of creation, nevertheless, after all your works were done and you had seen that they were very good, you rested on the seventh day. And in your Book we read this as a presage that when our work in this world is done, we too shall rest in you in the Sabbath of eternal life, though our works are very good only because you have given us the grace to perform them (Confessions, Book XIII, ch. 36). 
Sunday then is not simply the Christian Sabbath but rather the first day of the week as is underlined in all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection:
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, cf. Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1, John 20:1). 
Sunday is the day that a new creation begins as death is conquered through Jesus’ rising from the dead. On this day, activity to restore the world to creation harmony is initiated. Christians also commemorate this day as the eighth day, following the Sabbath, beginning a new creation, ushered in by Christ’s resurrection. The Christians called the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day. This is already present in the New Testament (cf. Revelation 1:10). Sunday became a day of gathering, prayer and celebration in the earliest Christian communities. St Justin Martyr (originally from Nablus – Shechem) writes in the second century of Sunday:
We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day (after the Jewish Sabbath, but also the first day) when God separated matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead (Apology I:67). 
The ceremonious commemoration of Sunday was a change from the Jewish commemoration of the Sabbath. St Ignatius of Antioch formulates it thus:
Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath but the Lord’s Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death (To the Magnesian 9:1). 
In the period of the early Church Fathers, Christians began to underline the differences between their young faith and the Jewish faith from which it had emerged. The tone of debate should not, however, hide the common heritage shared by Christianity andJudaism, rooted in the Old Testament.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public and regular worship “as a sign of his universal beneficence to all” (St. Thomas Aquinas). Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up the rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people” (n. 2176). Over time, the theology of the Sabbath was superimposed on the Christian celebration of Sunday, giving it more and more the aspect of a “day of rest”. In some of the Churches born out of the Reform in the 16th century, strict lawssimilar to the Old Testament laws of the Sabbath were applied to Sunday observance. At least one Christian sect, the Seventh Day Adventists, have reformulated the need for a commemoration of the Old Testament Sabbath as separate from the Sunday commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
In Christian communities, Sunday is the principal weekly occasion to celebrate the Lord’s meal, known by many Christian traditions as the Eucharist (derived from the Greek for “giving thanks”) or the Mass. Most Christian communities preserve some form of the Eucharistic meal although interpretations of what is being celebrated differ fromdenomination to denomination. Rooted in the Gospels and other texts of the New Testament, the Eucharist is linked to the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples. Some of the Gospel writers understood this meal to have originally been a JewishPassover celebration (cf. Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7), celebrated by Jesus and the disciples on the day before his death. The celebration of a similar meal, following a command by Jesus to do so, is recorded in St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in memory of me.” In the same way he took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:23-26) 
Some Christian communities do not celebrate this rite every Sunday but only once a month or even less regularly. However, the traditional churches – Orthodox, Roman Catholic and some of the Reform Churches – have priests whose main function is the celebration of the Eucharist.
Sunday is thus the day when most Christians give a formal expression to their Christian identity, going to Church and making it a day of celebration and rest from their various works. For most Christians there is no obligation to rest though and in the Holy Land where Christians live among Jews or Muslims Sunday is often a regular work day. Thus, the celebration of the Sunday liturgy is changed to Saturday evening in many communities.

Although many believe that Christmas is the Christian feast par excellence, Christmas is in fact second to Easter in its importance. Christmas is the joyful commemoration of the birth of Jesus, which, according to the traditions preserved in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2) occurred in Bethlehem. In much of the Christian world, Christmas is celebrated on December 25. The Orthodox Church in the Holy Land also celebrates Christmas on December 25 but according to the Julian calendar (and thus Christmas falls on January 7 due to the thirteen days that separate the Julian from the Gregorian calendars). In fact, no one knows exactly when Jesus was born. The date of December 25 was fixed in the fourth century, at the time that the Roman Empire was being Christianized. The date chosen represents the transformation of a pagan feast that celebrated the victory of the sun at the height of winter. The victory of light over darkness in the midst of winter is commemorated in many traditions. In the Jewishtradition this is the period of Hannukah. For Christians, Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 7:12) and thus this period is particularly appropriate to give thanks for his birth. The fixing of the birth of Jesus at this time of the year led to the establishment of a number of other feasts around the same period, all connected to the appearance of Jesus in the world.
In many Christian communities, the period before Christmas is a time of preparation that focuses on the waiting for the birth of the Savior. This period is longer in the Eastern traditions whereas in the Catholic Church it begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and lasts four weeks. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the liturgical year has concluded the week before with the Feast of Christ the King, commemorating Jesus as king of the world. Advent then is the beginning of the new liturgical year. In the Orthodox Churches the liturgical year begins in September and already then preparations begin for the coming feast of Christmas. Christians, particularly in the Eastern Churches will practice certain forms of fasting at this time, abstaining from particular foods as they do also during Lent. The focus is on preparing oneself in order to be ready to welcome Jesus when he appears. Many of the Biblical readings that Christians hear in this period underline the fact that they are waiting for Jesus to come again – a second coming that will bring about the fullness of salvation. Reading the Book of Isaiah is an important part of the preparations for Christmas at this time.
Many popular traditions are associated with the period including the setting up and decoration of a Christmas tree (a tradition that spread from Northern Europe) and the slow assembly of a scene called a “crèche” that represents the different characters participating in the Christmas tale: Mary, Joseph, the baby, the shepherds and the kings, all mentioned in the Gospel accounts. The crèche tradition originated with St Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century. The period of four weeks is marked with the lighting of a candle for each week.

In many Christian Churches, the central celebration of Christmas is a late night (often midnight) celebration of the Eucharist on December 24. The eyes of many Christians throughout the world turn to Bethlehem at this time and the celebrations in the Church of the Nativity are broadcast widely throughout the world. In many Churches, Christmas is celebrated for twelve days. The prayers of joyful celebration for the birth of Jesus are repeated throughout this period.
In Bethlehem, Christmas is celebrated at three different times. The Roman CatholicChurch (as well as the Eastern Catholic Churches) celebrates Christmas on December 25. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates on December 25 too but this date according to the Julian calendar is thirteen days later, corresponding to January 7 in the Gregorian calendar. The Armenians celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem only on January 19, after the Greek Orthodox have finished their celebration of the twelve days of Christmas. The Armenians, never having adopted the Roman decision to fix Christmas on December 25, retain January 6 as the date for the Feast of the Nativity (which according to the Julian calendar falls on January 19) and celebrate together the Nativity, the Epiphany (the manifestation to the three kings) and the Theophany (the Baptism of Jesus).
Many folk traditions from popular culture accompany the celebration of Christmas including the decoration of a Christmas tree. Another tradition is the singing of special songs that herald a time of peace for the world with the birth of the Messianic King. Christmas traditionally is associated also with the giving of presents especially to children. The well known figure of Santa Claus has little to do with Christmas as a religious feast but is the folk commemoration of Saint Nicholas of Smyrna (his feast day is on December 6), renowned for his love of children.
The new year of the calendar adopted by Christianity was marked on January 1. The Church gave a religious meaning to this otherwise non-religious holiday. This day was commemorated as the day of the circumcision of Jesus, eight days after his birth (as recounted in the Gospel, cf. Luke 2:21). Roman Catholics overlaid the commemoration of the Circumcision with a celebration of the motherhood of the Virgin Mary and in more recent times, the Roman Catholic Popes have transformed this day, at the beginning of the year, into a day of prayer for peace in the world. The popular revelry that accompanies the eve of December 31 has no real religious significance and religious Christians prefer to consecrate the final hours of the year to prayer. The name “Sylvester” given to December 31 refers to Saint Sylvester, an early Pope in Rome, whose feast is celebrated on that day.

In some Churches Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord (Theophany) are celebrated together as they both have as their principal theme Jesus’ manifestation to the world. Whereas Christmas has as its principal theme the celebration of the birth of the child Jesus, the Epiphany/Theophany have as their theme the manifestation of the Divine Word of God incarnate in the Christ. The Feast of the Epiphany refers to the visit of the three wise men (known as kings in some traditions) to the child Jesus shortly after his birth (cf. Matthew 2:1-12). These wise men represent the nations who come to adore the new born king of Israel and the savior of the world, according to the Old Testament prophecies (cf. Isaiah 60:1-6). The Baptism of the Lord refers to the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist at the Jordan River. It is at this time that God explicitly reveals that Jesus is the Son of God (Theophany – manifestation of God) and John, traditionally seen as the last of a long line of Old Testament prophets awaiting the Messiah, recognizes Jesus (cf. Matthew 3:1-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:1-22, John 1:19-34). The Roman Catholic Church has formally separated these two commemorations; Epiphany is on January 6, and the Baptism on the Sunday after Epiphany. The commemoration of these two events closes the Christmas period and inaugurates what many Christiansknow as “ordinary time” – a time characterized by regular worship and that stretches from the first part of January until Lent, when the preparation for Easter begins. TheOrthodox celebrations of the Epiphany/Theophany at the traditional site of the baptismof Jesus in the Jordan River east of Jericho are attended by thousands of local faithful and pilgrims from the Orthodox world.
The Christian Observance of Lent

Although the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated once a week, on Sunday, the principal yearly feast of Christians is also the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection, celebrated on the day that is known as Easter Sunday. The Christian year is divided into a number of different liturgical periods. Most of the year is known as “ordinary time” which is separated from two main festive periods. The most important festive period is the one that reaches its peak with Easter (the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead) and a second period is the one that reaches its peak withChristmas (the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s birth).
Unlike Christmas, Easter does not fall on a set date in the yearly calendar. It is clear from all the Gospel accounts that Jesus was crucified at the time of the JewishPassover. However, the link between Easter and Passover is not only a question of dates but also of content. The Jewish Passover is the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, land of slavery. This celebration is fixed in the spring season, when the world witnesses new birth after the winter months. These very same themes are central to the Christian celebration of Easter too. The feast of Jesus’ resurrection celebrates the liberation from the slavery of sin and death and the birth into new life with Jesus, new life that is eternal.
In fact, the earliest Christians (and many Messianic Jews today) celebrated Easter not according to the Roman but according to the Jewish calendar: on the 14 Nissan, the eve of the Jewish Passover, or the Sunday after it. It was only in the fourth century that the Church detached Easter from the Jewish Passover, and fixed astronomical methods for deciding when Easter should be celebrated. Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls after the spring equinox. Further controversy as well as the Gregorian reforms in the sixteenth century led to a complex situation where Western and Eastern Churches often celebrate Easter on different dates even though they accept the same basic astronomical principle. In fact, Easter might indeed fall on the same Sunday for all Churches but there might also be one week, four weeks or even five weeks difference between the Western and Eastern Churches. What are the reasons for this discrepancy? Firstly, whereas the Western Church defined March 21 as the Spring Equinox and has a tabulated list of dates to decide when there is a full moon, the Orthodox Church continued to rely on the observation of both Equinox and full moon over Jerusalem. Furthermore, whereas Western Easter is completely independent of the Jewish Passover (and might even fall long before it), Orthodox Easter never falls before Jewish Passover. The longest differences between Eastern and Western Easter are the result of the Jewish leap year (when an entire month is added to the calendar just before the Jewish month of Nissan, a second month of Adar). The date of Easter is one of the important issues in dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. In Jordan and in some towns and villages in the Holy Land, Christians, following Eastern and Western traditions, have reached agreement to celebrate the major feasts together. The agreement generally is that Christmas is celebrated according to the date fixed by the Western Church whilst Easter is celebrated according to the date fixed by the Eastern Church.
Easter is preceded by a long period of preparation that is called the Fast of Forty Days. Fasting is a practice well known in the Bible, connected with intense prayer andrepentance. Why a fast of forty days? Clearly the symbolic number of forty refers to the forty years of Israel in the Wilderness, the forty days Moses fasted as intercession for the sins of Israel as well as the forty days Jesus spent, tempted by the Devil in the Wilderness and yet remaining ever faithful to the will of God.
In Western Churches, the Fast begins with a sober celebration on a Wednesday, known as Ash Wednesday, during the course of which the priest marks the believer with ashes (sprinkled on the head or marked on the forehead) as a sign of repentance and remorse for sin. Ashes are well known in this connection in the Old Testament too (cf. Jonah 3:6). As the priest applies the ashes to the head of the faithful, he says: 
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel (or alternatively: Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return).
The day before Ash Wednesday, popularly known as “Mardi Gras” (Fat Tuesday), a day of carnival is celebrated in some places, before the somber period of fasting begins.
In the Orthodox Church and the Eastern Churches (Coptic, Syrian, Chaldean), there are periods of preparatory fasting even before the great fast begins. In the Byzantine tradition, there is a special focus in this preparatory period on Jesus’ parables about penitence. In the Eastern Churches, the preparatory fasting recalls the fasting of the Ninevites in the Old Testament Book of Jonah.
All Christians are called to live a period of self-sacrifice and abnegation as they prepare to accompany Jesus during his last days of suffering before his death and resurrection. In many Churches, there are strict laws of fasting and the believers do not eat meat or animal products (except on feast days that might fall during the fast). The strict fasting laws were reformed in the Catholic Church in the 1960s (and generally apply only to Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent) but Catholics are called upon to discipline themselves and initiate personal practices that prepare them in the spirit of the period for the solemn commemoration of the sufferings of Jesus. Many Churches also do not hold joyous celebrations like weddings at this time.
Each Sunday of the Fast in the Eastern and Orthodox Churches commemorates a person or event that deepens the penitential process undertaken by the believer. In the Byzantine tradition, for example, the Sundays of Lent commemorate (in order): theveneration of the icons, the veneration of the holy relics, the veneration of the Cross, the commemoration of John Climacus (the author of the “Ladder of Virtues” that calls the reader to a Christian life) and the commemoration of Mary the Egyptian (a repentant prostitute turned desert ascetic). In the Syriac tradition, the Sundays of Lent commemorate the miracles of Jesus. In the Roman Catholic Church too particular readings on Sundays and weekdays recall the need to repent and purify oneself.
The Saturday before the beginning of Holy Week, the Churches recall the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This event (cf. John 11:1-44) holds out the promise of the Resurrection. In the Byzantine tradition, the Troparion of this day proclaims:
O Christ Go, when you raised Lazarus from the dead, before the time of yourpassion, you confirmed the future resurrection of all. We too, like the children of old, carry before you the symbols of your triumph and victory and cry out to you, the Conqueror of Death, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.
Christian Celebration of Holy Week in the Holy Land

The last week before Easter Sunday has particular pathos and the intensity of the liturgical celebrations increases. The Week begins with “Palm Sunday”, whenChristians remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, before his arrest by the authorities (cf. Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-38, John 12:12-19). Inchurch, the believers participate in a procession during which they wave branches and celebrate Jesus’ kingship. It is a day of joy preceding the tragic events that lead to Jesus’ death. However, during this Sunday liturgy, the entire account of the Passion of Jesus is read from one of the Gospels in order to prepare for what is to come. Jesus has come to the Holy City of Jerusalem as a king but his throne shall be the cross and his crown a crown of thorns.
In Jerusalem, there is an annual Palm Sunday procession during both Western and Eastern Holy Week, which makes its way from Bethphage on the slopes of the Mount of Olives into the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Palm Sunday procession attracts many foreign pilgrims and is led by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land and many other bishops and church leaders. It is a joyful celebration as the thousands of participants make their way waving palm and olive branches and singing religious songs. The Eastern Palm Sunday procession is likewise a time of rejoicing and the many pilgrims from Greece and Cyprus and other Eastern and Orthodox communities all around the world fill the streets of Jerusalem in eager anticipation of the Great Feast of Easter.
The following days of Holy Week are a final opportunity to be ready for the greatest commemoration of the Christian liturgical year. The three days before Easter Sunday are the peak of the Christian liturgical calendar:
On Holy Thursday, Christians commemorate Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. According to one tradition preserved in the Gospels, this was a Jewish Passover meal. It is during this meal that Jesus took bread and wine, blessed them and gave them to his disciples as his body and blood. This is the foundation of the Eucharist. In many Western Churches the Eucharist is celebrated in a different way on this day, recalling more intimately the meal Jesus shared with his disciples. Most Churches include a special rite in their commemoration of the Last Supper, a washing of the feet, imitating Jesus’ own washing of his disciples’ feet (cf. John 13:1-20). The priest will take off his priestly vestments, take up water and a towel, and wash the feet of some of those in the assembly, often twelve people who represent the twelve disciples of Jesus.  In the Orthodox Churches, the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet, is celebrated with great pageantry, the Greek Orthodox in the Parvis of the Basilica of the Resurrection, the Armenians in their Cathedral of St. James, and the Copts, Syrians and Ethiopians in their respective respective shrines.
At the end of the communal prayer, many Christians spend the rest of Thursday (well into the night) in prayer. They remember Jesus’ going to Gethsemane, his prayer to the Father as he is about to enter into his sufferings and the disciples who accompanied him falling asleep. There is a wide spread tradition to try and visit a number of churches on this night (often seven) in an attempt to remain in prayer with Jesus unlike his sleeping disciples. In Jerusalem, the evening vigil begins at the Basilica of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives and during the course of the evening many Christians retrace the footsteps of Jesus under arrest as he was taken to the site of the house of the high priest, identified today with the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, on the slopes of Mount Zion.
On Great Friday (also known in the West as Good Friday), Christians commemorate the actual sufferings and death of Jesus after he was arrested by the Roman authorities and brought to trial. The Passion is retold in all the Gospels (cf. Matthew 26:1-27:66, Mark 14:1-15:47, Luke 22:1-23:56, John 18:1-19:42). Processions in churches and outside follow the “Via Dolorosa” – the Way of Suffering as told in the Gospels and memorialized in Christian tradition. In Western Churches there is a reading of the Passion once again and a veneration of the Cross with the words: “We worship you Lord, We venerate your cross, Through the cross you brought joy to the world.”
In the Byzantine tradition, the afternoon of Great Friday witnesses an elaborate ceremony of burial. The long hymns sung during the burial give a sense of the importance of what is happening with regard to Christian faith:
O my Christ and my life, you were placed in a tomb: all the armies of angels were dazzled and glorified at your divine burial.
How can you die, o my life, how can you lie in a tomb? By your death, you destroyed the power of death and raised the dead from the tombs.
(Dirges of the Burial, Byzantine Celebration of the Funeral of Christ).
This day is spent in intense prayer and sorrow. Some of the Eastern Churches have liturgies that last the whole day and practice total fasting that recalls the Jewish Day of Atonement. The understanding that Jesus is a lamb that is sacrificed for the sins of the world bring together Old Testament sacrificial ideas that are connected both to the Jewish feast of Passover and to the fast of the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16).
Holy Saturday is, in a manner of speaking, the real “Sabbath” of the Christian calendar. Jesus is in the tomb. Luke comments, after the long narrative of the passion, death and burial: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). Luke is referring to the women who, after witnessing the burial, had prepared everything in order to go out after the Sabbath to anoint his body. However, this is also a Sabbath for Jesus in some senses; he is resting before the resurrection. Holy Saturday is a time of quiet meditation. In some Christian traditions, this day is reduced to a few hours as believers often find it difficult to wait for the time of resurrection.
Over time, Holy Saturday came to be known as the Sabbath of Light, as sometime during this day, it was believed, light conquered darkness, life conquered death, so that Jesus could emerge victorious from the tomb. In the Orthodox and Eastern traditions, this day is a particularly dramatic one in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Church is packed with local Christians and pilgrims, who spill out into the courtyard and the streets of the Old City, waiting for the emergence of the Holy Fire. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch, accompanied by an Armenian bishop, enters the tomb after midday and, according to common belief, the taper he carries is miraculously lit by the light that symbolizes the resurrection. As he emerges, the Holy Fire is spread from candle to candle throughout the Church and into the streets as people rush to take the fire into their homes. Representatives of Orthodox and Eastern Churches present might even take the fire long distances, to foreign countries, so that this fire is the one that lights up churches as the resurrection is celebrated on Easter night. Some pilgrims will keep the flame lit in order to carry it from Jerusalem to their communities as a testimony of the resurrection.

Holy Saturday is, in a manner of speaking, the real “Sabbath” of the Christian calendar. Jesus is in the tomb. Luke comments, after the long narrative of the passion, death and burial: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). Luke is referring to the women who, after witnessing the burial, had prepared everything in order to go out after the Sabbath to anoint his body. However, this is also a Sabbath for Jesus in some senses; he is resting before the resurrection. Holy Saturday is a time of quiet meditation. In some Christian traditions, this day is reduced to a few hours asbelievers often find it difficult to wait for the time of resurrection.
Over time, Holy Saturday came to be known as the Sabbath of Light, as sometime during this day, it was believed, light conquered darkness, life conquered death, so that Jesus could emerge victorious from the tomb. In the Orthodox and Eastern traditions, this day is a particularly dramatic one in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Church is packed with local Christians and pilgrims, who spill out into the courtyard and the streets of the Old City, waiting for the emergence of the Holy Fire. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch, accompanied by an Armenian bishop, enters the tomb after midday and, according to common belief, the taper he carries is miraculously lit by the light that symbolizes the resurrection. As he emerges, the Holy Fire is spread from candle to candle throughout the Church and into the streets as people rush to take the fire into their homes. Representatives of Orthodox and Eastern Churches present might even take the fire long distances, to foreign countries, so that this fire is the one that lights up churches as the resurrection is celebrated on Easter night. Some pilgrims will keep the flame lit in order to carry it from Jerusalem to their communities as a testimony of the resurrection.
The actual celebration of Easter begins with a late Saturday night celebration of the resurrection, often held at midnight. Gathering in silence, often outside the church, a flame is lit that signifies the Light that is coming and that has conquered death. Believers holding candles then proceed into the church, lighting it up as the priestchants special hymns celebrating the resurrection and the conquest of death. In the Roman Catholic rite, the hymn includes the verses:
Rejoice heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
This most solemn celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead contains various elements expressing joy and thanksgiving. In the Byzantine tradition, the refrain that is taken up and will be repeated over and over in the liturgies of the weeks to come is:
Christ has risen from among the dead,
He has conquered death by death,
And he has bequeathed life to those in the tombs.
The Gospel accounts of the resurrection all emphasize that the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid was empty and that Jesus was thereafter seen by a number of his disciples (cf. Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:23). These joy filled meetings are at the core of the faith that Jesus had conquered death by his own death and constitute the basis of the liturgical celebration on the night of Holy Saturday, spilling over into further celebration on the day of Easter Sunday. Traditionally, this celebration is also the time to welcome new adult members into the Christian community through the rite of baptism.  Many Christians in the Holy Land greet each other after this celebration with the traditional Byzantine “Christ has risen”, the response being “He has truly risen!”

The period after Easter is a special time in many Christian communities. The seven weeks that follow Easter Sunday are known as Easter Time. This too evokes the Old Testament where seven weeks separate the Passover from the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), which celebrates the First Fruits. In various Christian communities these seven weeks are marked with special prayers in the spirit of the resurrection. In the Byzantine tradition, the Sundays between Easter and Pentecost are consecrated to the following celebrations (in order): St Thomas (the doubting disciple, cf. John 20:24-29), the myrrh bearing women (who came to the tomb and became the first witnesses of the resurrection), the paralytic cured by Jesus (cf. John 5:1-15), the Samaritan woman (cf. John 4:5-42), the blind man cured by Jesus (cf. John 9:1-38) and the Church Fathers. In some Churches this is a time when the Gospel of John and the Book of the Acts of theApostles are read, recalling the life of Jesus and the birth of the early Church.
On the fortieth day after Easter (the Thursday of the sixth week of Easter), Christians commemorate the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The account of Jesus’ ascension can be found in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Acts 1:6-11). After having spent forty days with his disciples as the Risen Lord, Jesus ascends, according to Christian faith as proclaimed in the credo, to the right hand of God the Father, from where he will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. The various traditional Churches in the Holy Land gather at the dome of the Ascension on the peak of the Mount of Olives and hold their prayers at this shrine. The Byzantine hymn for this day proclaims:
Christ our God who gloriously ascended into heaven and gladdened your disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit: through your blessing you confirmed them in their belief that you are truly the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world (Troparion, Ascension).

Ten days after the Ascension, seven weeks after Easter Sunday, Christians celebratePentecost Sunday, the day that brings the Easter cycle to a close. Pentecost is Greek for fifty and refers to the fiftieth day after Passover, the name in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the feast called Shavuot (Weeks) in Hebrew. The parallel between Christian Pentecost and the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) is clear. Whereas Shavuot is the Feast of the First Fruits, Christian Pentecost celebrates the first fruits of the resurrection, which is the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples ofJesus so that they can constitute the Church. This Church, as a social body in the world, replaces the body of Jesus that having ascended to the Father is now absent. According to Christian faith, the Church replaces Jesus’ human body in the world and Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. In later rabbinic tradition, Shavuot became the Feast of the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, strengthening the parallel between Pentecost and Shavuot. For Christians, the celebration is of the giving of the Holy Spirit and for Jews it is the celebration of the giving of the Torah. Spirit and Torah are alternatively the principles by which the Christian and the Jew are called to live.
The account of what happened on Pentecost is retold in the New Testament: 
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4, cf. Acts 2:1-41, see also parallel in John 20:19-23).
This is a day of joyous celebration in Christian communities that remember Pentecost as the beginning of the spread of the Good News throughout the world. The Byzantine hymn for this day includes the following:
When the Most High came down and confused the tongues (in Babel), He divided the nations; but when he distributed the tongues of fire at Pentecost, He called all men to unity. Wherefore we glorify the Holy Spirit with one accord (Pentecost Kontakion).
In Jerusalem, Christian communities gather on Mount Zion where various shrines commemorate the foundation of the Mother Church of Jerusalem on this day.
In the weeks that follow Pentecost, already back in “ordinary time”, a series of different celebrations mark diverse Christian theological themes and beliefs that emerge out of the long and highly important Easter cycle. These celebrations are a particular feature of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar and include:
- The Sunday after Pentecost is known as Trinity Sunday, celebrating the unity of theGod who reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- The Thursday after Trinity Sunday commemorates Corpus Christi (the Feast of the Body and the Blood of Christ), which is an important celebration of the meaning of the central Christian sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus Christ gave his body and blood as food for his Church, to strengthen it and help the believers conform to his image and likeness. Some communities organize special processions on this day with the Blessed Sacrament (the Eucharistic bread that has been consecrated as the body of Christ during the celebration of the Eucharist).
- Eight days later, on the following Friday, Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a time to meditate the self sacrifice of Jesus and the nature of his loving heart. The following day is consecrated to the loving maternal heart of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
These feasts are particular to the Roman Catholic (Latin tradition) Church. However, the weeks after Pentecost are counted in the Byzantine tradition too, right up to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). The first two Sundays after Pentecost are commemorated as the Sunday of All Saints and the Sunday of the Divine Body of Jesus (paralleling the themes of the Roman Catholic feasts).
Feast of the Transfiguration

The Byzantine tradition counts the weeks between Pentecost and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated on September 14. Interestingly, the feast then falls around the time of the Jewish Feast of Sukkot, towards the end of the summer. Forty days before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, on August 6, Christians celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. (The Armenians celebrate the Transfiguration 14 weeks after Easter.) It is thus moveable in their tradition and linked to the feasts of Easter and Pentecost. In the Holy Land, all eyes turn to Mount Tabor at this time, venerated as the “high mountain” in the Gospel account. The narrative of how Jesus was transfigured before the eyes of three of his disciples is retold in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36). Jesus, his face shining like the sun and his clothes brilliantly white, gives his disciples a vision of his glory before he enters into thePassion and Death. Confronted with Jesus, brilliantly transfigured, conversing withMoses and Elijah from the Old Testament, Peter, one of the three with Jesus on the high mountain at the time of the Transfiguration, suggests building three tabernacles (sukkot) for the three figures. Christian tradition understands this proposition as ambiguous. Peter is resisting the fact that Jesus must go down the high mountain to his suffering and death in Jerusalem, rather than stay enshrined on the mountain. TheFast of the Transfiguration is especially important in the Byzantine tradition. One of the hymns chanted in the Byzantine tradition is:
He who mysteriously spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and said: “I am who I am”, today manifests himself to his disciples on Mount Tabor and reveals through his person that human nature is reestablished in its original splendor. As witnesses to this grace and partakers of this joy, he raised up Moses and Elijah, the forerunners of the glorious and saving Resurrection made possible by the Cross of Christ (Apostichon of the Transfiguration).
 Jesus is not to stay on the mountain under a tabernacle but must go to Jerusalem where he will be crucified.
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

The Byzantine tradition counts the weeks between Pentecost and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated on September 14, forty days after the Transfiguration. Interestingly, the feast then falls around the time of the Jewish Feast ofSukkot, towards the end of the summer. Although many Christian traditions liken the wood of the Cross to the wood of the Tree in the Garden of Eden, through one death entered the world because of disobedience (Adam ate from the forbidden tree), and through the other life was restored (Jesus was obedient unto death on a cross). It is also likened to Noah’s Ark (in which all who took refuge were saved) or Moses’ staff. However, it might also be likened to a tabernacle (sukkah). Instead of a tabernacle forChrist on Tabor, Jesus’ Cross provides a tabernacle for the Christian who takes refuge under it from sin. The Apostichon sung in the Byzantine tradition on this feast sings the mystery of the Cross:
Joy to you, life bearing cross of the Lord, invincible triumph of Orthodoxy! You are the gate to paradise, the strength of the faithful, the stronghold of theChurch. Because of you, corruption no longer has any meaning nor any power. We have been lifted up by you from earth to heaven. You are an invincible weapon against evil, a glory indeed for saints and martyrs and a haven of salvation. You are a source of mercy to the world.
This feast is the founding feast of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where the central liturgies of the day are celebrated by the different Churches.
The feasts of the Transfiguration and the Cross, celebrated forty days apart, might together reconstitute the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, thus providing an otherwise important third feast in the biblical liturgical cycle. Certain groups of EvangelicalChristians, ignoring the ancient traditions of the Church, have instituted a celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. For them it is an eschatological feast that celebrates the ingathering of Israel and the nations to Jerusalem as recounted in the Book of Zachariah, chapter 14.
Feasts of the Lord

In addition to the feasts that we have already mentioned in connection with the Easterand Christmas cycles, there are many other feasts that are related to the life of JesusChrist. We will cite three examples here of important feasts celebrated by many diverse currents of Christianity.
- The Presentation of Our Lord. On February 2 (or on February 14 for the Armenians),Christians commemorate, forty days after Christmas, the presentation of Jesus in theTemple. The narrative is retold in the Gospels (cf. Luke 2:22-38). This day is also a celebration of the consecrated life of those Christians who have chosen to serve God in a special way, particularly monks, nuns and other religious.
- The Annunciation. On March 25, Christians celebrate the feast of the Incarnation. This is the day to commemorate the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary and the annunciation that to her, a virgin, would be born a child (cf. Luke 1:26-38). In the Holy Land, the town of Nazareth is the center of attention on this day.
- Christ the King. The Roman Catholic liturgical year ends with a final Sunday celebration of Christ the King (some time at the end of November).
Feasts of Mary

The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth has a very special place in the life of many Christians. The Orthodox, Eastern and Catholic Churches venerate Mary with particular devotion and their liturgical calendars are full of feasts that remember events in her life or the consecration to her of churches or shrines. The Protestant Churches (Lutheran, Calvinist or Evangelical traditions) have generally shied away from Marian devotion and these feasts have left little trace in the Protestant liturgical calendars.
The two central Marian feasts for both Byzantine and Latin tradition Christians are connected to the beginning and the end of the life of the Virgin.
- The Dormition and the Assumption of the Virgin. Mary’s falling asleep (Christians do not use the word death for Mary) and her bodily assumption into heaven are not recounted in the New Testament. However, Christian tradition developed the understanding that Mary, mother of Jesus, did not end up like all flesh. Instead her body was assumed into heaven. This feast is celebrated on August 15. The Latin preface to the Eucharist on this day proclaims:
Today the Virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way. You would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to your son, the Lord of all life, in the glory of the Incarnation (Preface, Feast of theAssumption of the Virgin Mary).
- The Immaculate Conception. Highly developed in the Latin tradition, the conception of Mary is also celebrated in the Byzantine tradition, where it is called the Feast of the Maternity of Anne. Mary, believed to have been preserved from any taint of original sin, is also said to have been miraculously conceived by her mother Anne (Hannah). This feast is celebrated on December 8 (Roman Catholic) or 9 (Byzantine). The Byzantine Kontakion of the feast is heard:
Today the universe rejoices, for Anne has conceived the Mother of God in a manner provided by God himself: for Anne has borne the one who is to give birth to the Word in a manner beyond all telling. 
- There are many other Marian feasts. Some of these are based upon her life, including the Nativity of Mary (September 8) and her presentation in the Temple (November 21). The entire month of May is dedicated to Mary in the Catholic tradition and the month ends with the feast of her visit to Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist (May 31), the day of special pilgrimage to the village of Ein Karem, where Elizabeth lived. Many other feasts are more local in nature commemorating the many churches, places and peoples dedicated to her. Other popular Marian feasts relate to her apparitions to individuals or groups of persons (for instance at Lourdes, France (February 11) or Fatima, Portugal (May 13).
The Feasts of the Saints

The Christian calendar is full of other feast days that commemorate the saints who have given models of Christian life. The Protestant Churches do not venerate the saints butOrthodox, Eastern and Catholic Churches have a vast array of saints who might be classified in three groups: those from the Old Testament, those from the New Testament (who walked with Christ) and those from the centuries of Church history. Each region has its own local saints as does each Church. Here we will mention only a few of the more important feasts:
Among the Old Testament saints feasted in the different Christian liturgical cycles, we find:
- the Patriarch Abraham, who is commemorated in the Roman Catholic Church on October 9.
- the prophet Moses, who is commemorated by various traditions on September 4 or 5.
- the king David, who is commemorated in the period just before or just after Christmas. In the Roman Catholic Church his feast is on December 29.
Among the New Testament saints feasted, we find:
- John the Baptist, who is commemorated by various feasts connected to his life, the most important being the feast of his birth on June 24.
- Peter and Paul, who are commemorated by various feasts, the most important being their common feast on June 29.
- Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, who is commemorated on March 19.
- Mary Magdalene, who is commemorated on July 22.
In the Christian traditions that venerate the saints, almost every day might be the celebration of a particular saint. Some countries, towns or parish churches have their own local traditions and churches and individual Christians celebrate their patron saints (for whom they might be named).
Among the myriad saints that have appeared in the history of the Church, we find:
- Anthony of Egypt, the founder of monastic life, celebrated on January 17.
- Cyril and Methodius, who brought Christianity to the Slavs, celebrated on February 14.
- Patrick, who brought Christianity to Ireland, celebrated on March 17.
- Mark, who wrote the second of the Gospels, celebrated on April 25.
- Athanasius, Church Father in Alexandria, celebrated on May 2.
- Justin Martyr, Church Father from Nablus in the Holy Land, patron saint of philosophers, celebrated on June 1.
- Ignatius of Loyola, great Church reformer and founder of the Jesuit order, celebrated on July 31 (celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church).
- Maximos the Confessor, Church Father and opponent of heresies in the East, celebrated on August 13.
- John Chrysostom, Church Father and composer of the Byzantine liturgy, celebrated on September 13 in the Roman Catholic tradition and on November 13 in the Greek Orthodox tradition.
- Therese of Lisieux, a French Carmelite renowned for her ascetic life, celebrated on October 1 (celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church).
- Cecilia, Christian martyr and patron saint of music, celebrated on November 22.
- Nicholas, bishop in Smyrna and the figure behind Christmas’ Santa Claus, celebrated on December 6.
The Roman Catholic Church celebrates All Saints on November 1. This is a commemoration of the multitude of saints, both those recognized officially by the Church and those who have disappeared without trace. The night before is what is popularly known as Halloween (Hallowed evening). The day after All Saints, Roman Catholics celebrate All Souls, a day of special prayers for all those Christians who have died. This recalls the fact that in the early Church, all Christians (those baptized) were known as saints. Many important churches are also commemorated in the Christian liturgical calendar on the date of their foundation.
New feasts are regularly added to the Church calendar, particularly in the Roman Catholic tradition, as the Church recognizes new contemporary models of Christianfaith. Recent examples include two victims of the Nazi Holocaust: Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who gave his life for a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz (his feast is celebrated on August 13) and Edith Stein, a renowned Jewish philosopher who became a Carmelite nun and died at Auschwitz (her feast is on August 9). The liturgy and the liturgical calendar are realities that are living expressions of the life of the faithful and thus ever evolving as they take on new expressions in traditional forms.
Feasts of the Church of Jerusalem

Local churches have special feasts connected to their particular traditions and history and the Holy Land is no exception. However, what is unique in the Holy Land is that many of the universal celebrations of the Church, especially those that commemorate biblical events, can be celebrated in the very places associated with the historical memory. Thus Holy Land Christians can ideally (when the political situation permits) go to Jerusalem for Easter, to Mount Zion for Pentecost, to Bethlehem for Christmas, to the Jordan for the Baptism, to Nazareth for the Annunciation, etc. This gives a particular pathos to Christian celebrations in the Holy Land.
There are a number of feasts that have special significance in the Holy Land and we might mention a few examples:
- The Feast of Saint George, celebrated on April 23. Saint George is a patron saint of the Holy Land, remembered in Christian tradition as a captain in the Roman army, who defied the anti-Christian edicts of the Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century and was martyred for the faith. Depicted as a warrior battling a dragon in order to save a king’s daughter, St George is seen as the defender of the Church from the forces who seek to destroy it. He is enormously popular throughout the Middle East, where there are many churches in his honor and Christians named after him. The Emperor Constantine constructed a great church in his honor in the town of Lydda, the hometown of George’s mother where she returned with him from Cappadocia after she had secretly become a Christian. The main ceremony honoring the saint on this day is held in Lydda. In one of the Byzantine hymns to his honor, the faithful chant:
O George the soldier, you have lived according to the meaning of your name: by carrying on your shoulder the cross of Christ, you ploughed the earth that was made barren by Satan’s errors. Uprooting the thorns of pagan worship, you planted the vine of Orthodox faith, wherefore you gave forth healing for the faithful throughout the world. Since you have become a trustworthy husbandman of the Trinity, we beseech you to intercede for the safety of the world and the salvation of our souls. 
- The Feast of Saint James, celebrated on May 3. Saint James, a leader of the Jerusalem community in the New Testament (cf. Acts 15), is considered the patron saint of the Church of Jerusalem and Orthodox and Catholic alike claim this saint as patron of their Jerusalem churches.
- The Feast of the Prophet Elijah, celebrated on July 20. Elijah, great prophet of Israel, who lived on Mount Carmel, is an important figure in Christian spirituality. The Churches of the Holy Land make a festive pilgrimage to Mount Carmel on his feast day and the processions that take place there attract many non-Christians too. Elijah is seen as a defender of the true faith, slaughtering the prophets of Baal and suffering persecution because of his fidelity. Known in Arabic as “Mar Iliyas”, many churches andmonasteries are named for him as are new born children. In Christian Scripture and tradition, strong links bind Elijah to John the Baptist. The Carmelite monks in the Roman Catholic Church see Elijah as their founder whereas the Greek Orthodox have an important monastery named after him (on the way to Bethlehem).
- Among the modern examples of holy men and women in the Catholic Church, thePope proclaimed blessed a Palestinian Carmelite nun, Mariam Bawardi from Galilee, who lived in the 19th century. Her feast day is on August 26.
- In the first part of the twentieth century, the Roman Catholic Church constructed a local Marian shrine at Raf’at, today alongside Beit Shemesh. There, once a year, on October 25, Christians gather to venerate Mary as Queen of Palestine.
- For the Christians of the Holy Land, Mar Sabba (Saint Sabbas) is the local founder of Holy Land monasticism in the sixth century. His monastery in the Judean Desert is inhabited until today. His feast is celebrated on December 5.
- Once a year all Holy Land Christians come together to pray and celebrate Christian unity in diversity. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was introduced in 1908 and is traditionally observed between January 18 and 25. In the Holy Land and particularly in Jerusalem, this week, observed the last week in January, from Sunday to Sunday, has become an important time in the Christian calendar when Christians from all different confessions pray together. During the eight days, prayers are held each day in a different church according to a different rite. Perhaps the most moving time of prayer is that held on the Thursday of this week. Christians gather in the Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion. This particular shrine, once Franciscan, is not now part of the property of any particular Church although Christians can visit there. Representatives from all the different Churches of Jerusalem lead together the prayer and chant in many different languages, rites and melodies. At the end of the prayer there is the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the rarely opened room of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, situated just above the Room of the Last Supper. This room is also no longer part of Christian held property. Mounib Younan, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem, has composed a litany widely used during this week of prayer:
Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs. (…)
Eternal God, you know the troubles and pains of the people of Israel-Palestine: We pray for the victims of injustice and violence but also for those who have caused suffering. We pray for those who cannot enter their places of work. We pray for young people who are losing their hope for the future and for mothers who are tired of bloodshed and killing. We pray for the bereaved families, who have lost their beloved ones. Lord, in your mercy - hear our prayer.
We pray for the recovery of the injured. We pray for those who have to live with permanent disability. We pray for politicians; grant them wisdom and courage to search for reconciliation and peace. Lord, in your mercy - hear our prayer.
We are all created in your image. Grant us courage to recognize every person\'s human, religious, civil and political rights. Help us to build a culture of peace, justice and reconciliation. Free us from all hatred and bitterness. Lord, in your mercy - hear our prayer.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said to his disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." (Jn 14:27) Give peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts. Merciful God, accept our prayers and yearnings. You are our only strength, refuge and hope. In the name of Jesus – our liberator and redeemer. Amen.