The Calendar as Teacher
Some consider the Church Calendar to be nothing more than dates and times of services. Others think it too complex to be of any value. It is complex. It is dates and times of services, but it is also a daily reminder of the myriad saints we commemorate, many of whom gave their lives for Christ and His Church. It is also a great teaching tool to help us understand the greater picture. Today is one of those days.
Today the Church commemorates the Conception of John the Baptist by the righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth. You can, and should, read the story below from the Gospel about his conception, but today’s blog isn’t about his conception per se. It is about the calendar.
Normally the Church commemorates the death of a saint and maybe the birth of a saint, but only in three cases does the Church commemorate a conception. Today is one of those days. December 9th is another and March 25th is the third. Do you know which conceptions are commemorated on those dates?
- The Conception of John the Baptist – September 23rd
- The Conception of the All Holy Theotokos – December 9th
- The Conception of Christ – March 25th
Now for the teaching part. The Church commemorates the nativity connected to each of these conceptions.
- The Nativity of John the Baptist – June 24th
- The Nativity of the All Holy Theotokos – September 8th
- The Nativity of Christ – December 25th
Do you notice anything interesting with the dates? At first glance, the nativity is commemorated nine months after the conception, but ONLY in the case of Christ is the time exactly nine months. For John the Baptist and the Theotokos, the Church offers a reminder of our human imperfection. We know the human gestation period is nine months, but children are rarely born on their due dates because we are not perfect.
Obviously we also never know the actual date of conception in the womb, but since the Church places a particular date on the calendar, one would think we would locate the nativity nine months later. In the case of John the Baptist the gestation period (on the calendar) is nine months and one day. For the Theotokos, it is one day short of nine months. In this way, the Church is reminding us that ONLY Christ is perfect. John the Baptist and All Holy Theotokos are ‘right up there’ on the Iconostasis, so we know they are among the most important saints of the Church, but lest we think they were perfect, the Church reminds us they were not with the basic use of the calendar.
Our mission at Be Transfigured Ministries is to assist others to Live A New Life In Christ, through the Orthodox Christian Church. The Church has many tools with which to guide us in this new life. The calendar is one of those tools that we too often take for granted if we look at it all. Maybe now, you will appreciate, while complex, the calendar is much more than just dates and times.
At that time, in the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they wondered at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he made signs to them and remained dumb. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, “Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.” – Luke 1.5-25