Feasts and Holidays
An Excerpt from With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man
by Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994)
This excerpt is from what I consider to be one of the most important Orthodox books
I've ever read. The Blessed Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994) has so many valuable
things to say about the Orthodox Christian way of lifewhat has been lost
in our day due to
secularism, and how to restore and
preserve what we can.
Although Elder Paisios is often addressing monastics, most of it is highly relevant
to lay people who want to live authentic Orthodox lives. In his numerous comparisons
of modern society with the older times he remembers so well, the Elder offers us
glimpses into an Orthodox way of life that has largely been lost today, but which
can still be restored and preserved to some degree. He beautifully and simply shows
how life-giving Holy Tradition can be.
Every Orthodox Christian should read this book! Unfortunately, it is not
well known due to marketing and distribution challenges. You can find it at
Light and Life. I also highly recommend
the short stories of Alexandros Papadiamandis, who in a similar but
more literary way, offers us an inspiring look into traditional Orthodoxy lived
to its fullest a century ago in Greece. Patrick Barnes
"Let Us, the Faithful, Celebrate a Spiritual Feast" 
Our Lord Jesus Christ, with His great love and joy which fill the souls of the faithful
during His holy feast days, exalts us spiritually and truly resurrects us. All we
need to do is participate in these feasts and celebrate them with a spiritual appetite;
for once we taste the heavenly wine to which the Saints will treat us, we will become
drunk in spirit.
Geronda, what must we do to live a spiritual life during these feasts?
To live through Christ's feasts in a spiritual way, we must keep our minds
focused on the holy days themselves and not on the work that we have to do to prepare
for them. We should think about the events of each holy day (Christmas, Theophany,
Pascha and so on) and say the Jesus Prayer glorifying God in our heart.
This way we will celebrate with reverence every feast day of the Church. For most
people, who live in the world, Christmas is the time to eat pork, Pascha
to eat lamb and the Carnival at the beginning of Lent, the time to throw confetti.
But for the true monks, every week is Holy Week. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
they experience Holy and Great Wednesday, Holy and Great Thursday, and Holy and
Great Friday, that is, the days of the Passion of Christ, and every Sunday is for
them Pascha, the Day of the Resurrection. Why must we wait until Holy Week
to remember the Passion of Christ? Why should we be like people who live in the
world? Can't we realize what Christ is risen means, without eating lamb?
You see, Christ said, Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think
not, the Son of Man cometh.  He did not say, "Get ready right now!"
From the moment Christ said, "Be ready!" we must all, but especially monks and nuns,
be constantly vigilant and ready.
We must study and live through these divine events all the time. When someone studies
the events of each feast day, he will be naturally moved to pray with particular
reverence. Then, during liturgical services, our mind will be absorbed by the events
we are celebrating and we will follow with great reverence the chanting of hymns.
When our mind thinks divine thoughts, we get to live through these holy events,
and in this manner we are transformed. We think of a Saint for whom we have a special
devotion, or of the Saint whose feast day we are celebrating, and our mind rises
higher toward Heaven. And when we keep the Saints in mind, they keep us in mind
too, and they come to our assistance. This is how we can start a friendship with
them one that will last forever. And so, even though we may live alone, we will
actually share our lives with everybody: with the Saints, the Angels, the whole
world. Imagine, being alone, and feeling their company! This is the living presence
of the Saints who are God's children and will reach out to help us, their poor brothers
Our Saints have shed blood, sweat and tears for the love of Christ. We should always
celebrate them with reverence, and they will be there to help us. Every time we
hear their Synaxarion "On this same day, we commemorate Saint ...," we
must rise to our feet, like soldiers standing at attention when the names of their
fallen comrades who died heroically are being read. "On this day of the month soldier
so and so ... fell in action heroically defending the country in such and such a
If we want to really feel the significance of a feast day, we must abstain from
all work. On Holy and Great Friday, for instance, the only thing we should be doing
is praying. For people who live in the world, Holy Week is full of chores and obligations.
On Holy and Great Friday, they will exchange good wishes "Happy Easter! May you
live a long life! May your son find a good bride!" This is so wrong! On Holy and
Great Friday, I will lock myself in my Kalyvi. Silence will be of great
help to the soul during feast days. It's very much like the time that follows the
reception of the Great Schema, when a monk or nun will spend a whole week
in silence to allow divine Grace to fill the soul and to appreciate what has actually
taken place. In silence, we get the opportunity to rest a little, to study and pray.
When a good thought crosses our mind, when we examine ourselves, or say the Jesus
Prayer, we will really come to feel something of the divine event celebrated on
"Better Is a Little That the Righteous Has" 
It is unfortunate that in our days we don't use freedom to do good and become holy;
instead, we use freedom to become more secular. In the past, people would work all
week and rest on Sunday, a holy day. Now, they rest on Saturday as well. But are
their lives more spiritual? Or are they more sinful? If people spent their time
on spiritual work (prayer, spiritual study and so forth), things could have been
different; people would live more conservative and decent lives. But we poor human
beings try to rob time from the spiritual things, from Christ. People who live in
the world will arrange to do all their heavy chores on Sundays. They are trying
to find one Sunday for this chore, a holy day for another, and that's how they bring
God's wrath on themselves. Why would the Saints then come to their assistance? Turn
Sunday into a chore day? Never! Even if others offer to help us on that day, we
should never accept it. Not on a Sunday.
We will not allow God to be in charge. And so, everything that we do without faith
in God has nothing to do with Him; it belongs to the world. It does not have His
blessing and for this reason the outcome is never good. When this happens we like
to say, "It's the devil's fault." Well, not really. It's not the devil's fault but
ours, for not letting God help us. When we work on holy days, we give the devil
rights and then he gets involved in our affairs. The Psalm reads, Better is a little
that the right eons has than the abundance of many wicked. 
This is the kind of life that will receive a blessing. The rest is as worthy as
shavings. But in order to live this way, we must have faith, philotimo
and reverence, and put God in charge of our lives. Otherwise, we'll never get the
job right whether it is on holy days or on week days and we'll end up spending our
time on nonsense. And you'll see that God will never abandon you. I have never worked
on a Sunday or a feast day, and God has never left my side and has always blessed
I remember once, some threshing machines were brought to the village, and my father
was notified that they could start on Sunday from our fields, and then move downhill
to other lots. My father said to me, "What should we do? The machines are here."
"There is no way I will work on Sunday," I replied. "We can do it on Monday." "But,"
my father objected, "if we miss this opportunity, we'll have such a hard time threshing
with the horses." "That's fine with me," I said. "If I have to, I'll be threshing
all the way to Christmas." So, I went to Church anyway, without giving the matter
any more thought. Well, as the machines started coming toward our field, they broke
down. "Forgive us, but the machines won't work. We'll take them to Yiannena and
fix them, and when we come back on Monday, you will be first in line"! So instead
of threshing on Sunday, they ended up threshing on Monday. I've seen this kind of
thing happen so many times.
What Are Laypeople Supposed to Do?
How different was the spirit of Monasticism in the old days! I remember how laypeople,
who celebrated the Feast of the Holy Cross according to the new calendar, would
come to the Holy Mountain after the feast and bring us grapes. Sometimes, the day
they arrived, we would be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Cross according to our
calendar. But the Fathers would never go to unload the boat on such a day. They
would send them back, or just leave them there, both the caique and the grapes.
They would do the same if an olive oil or wood shipment would happen to arrive on
the day of a feast. And the Monasteries were poor. The monks were thinking "What
will people say if they see monks working on this day?" They would rather have a
storm take the load, and lose the oil and the grapes, than to go and unload the
ship, miss the Feast and scandalize souls.
Not so today... I happened to be at a Monastery on the eve of a feast day, and the
monks were unloading grapes. The entire Coenobium later gathered together
to squeeze them. That night they were supposed to have a Vigil, but they decided
to postpone it and transfer it to another time. And that was a major Feast! "In
the case of need even a law may be transferred..." In another place, they were repairing
a Monastery damaged by fire, on a Sunday. Just wait... it will burn down again!
When people who live in the world see these things, they naturally say to themselves,
"Feast days mean nothing anymore."
We monks should be especially careful not to work on feast days, not only because
doing so is a sin, but because we also become a cause for scandal; we sin twice.
People who live in the world are looking for an excuse to justify their sins. They
may be working day and night and never observing the feasts, but let them see a
monk or nun working on some emergency, and the devil will whisper to them, "Take
a look; if priests work, why not you?" A nun may be seen simply airing a blanket
on a Sunday, and if people see her, they will think, "Well, if nuns are working,
what's wrong with us going to work?" That's why we need to be very careful; we don't
want to cause a scandal.
Geronda, what if a workman wants to work on a feast day, let's say on the
Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple?
To work in the Monastery on the Feast day of the Entrance of the Theotokos
in the Temple? No, that's not right! He should not be allowed to work.
Geronda, this actually did happen. One of the Sisters did not think of telling
the workman to come another day.
Then the Sister needs to be given a canon. 
Geronda, on a feast day, after the Vigil is over, if one becomes sleepy,
can they do some handiwork while saying the Jesus Prayer?
Can't she do prostrations? Let her do prostrations to overcome her sleepiness.
Why do handiwork?
How about on Sunday? Is it right to weave a komboschoini after a
Sister has performed her spiritual duties?
Why should you weave a komboschoini? Why not enjoy this day's full
spiritual nourishment? Unfortunately the spirit of the world is entering our Monasteries.
From what I hear, there are Monasteries where, on Sunday afternoons or in the afternoon
of a feast day, they will return to their chores and duties. As if they have children
that are dying from hunger or owe heavy debts that will force them to auction their
house! Where's the need? Of course, it's different with the monk or nun who serves
the visitors, or the cooks who serve in the kitchen. Someone needs to be there to
do the necessary work.
Sometimes people bring me fish. "Take it and go away," I tell them. What will happen
if people start bringing a live fish here, a dead fish there? If someone brings
you fish here in the Monastery on a feast day, you would have to clean and cook
it and so on. How will you be able to enjoy the feast day? Do you remember Father
Menas in the Skete of Saint Anna?
A fisherman brought him fish on a Sunday morning, for the feast day. "They're fresh,
Geronda," he said. "Today is Sunday, when did you catch them and they're so fresh?"
he replied, puzzled. "This morning," the man answered. "Throw them away, son, they're
anathematized," Father Menas responded. "And if you want to make sure that I'm telling
you the truth, give one to the cat and see if it will eat it." And indeed, the fisherman
threw the cat a fish but the animal turned its head away, with repulsion. That's
how sensitive monks were in those days!
Now, on great feast days, you'll see Monasteries full of workers and technicians...
Once, on the Feast of the Theotokos in August, a Monastery had a whole
crew working with chain saws in the forest, gathering wood. Even though it was a
clear day, suddenly it got cloudy, and lightning struck just next to the woodcutters,
who were so terrified that they left without even notifying anyone that the forest
was on fire. It took them forever to put out the fire. The following Sunday, two
wood cutting crews went out again. These fires are God's wrath, because we have
turned Sundays and feast days into working days. And the sad thing is that we don't
realize what we are doing. We are pushing God's tolerance and patience to its limits.
If there is a need for something, the monks will pray, saying the Jesus Prayer one
hundred times each, and God will enlighten someone to send them one hundred thousand
drachmas. The monk's job is prayer. If we don't put our trust in God, who will?
Those who live in the world? God feels obligated to hear the prayer of the monk
who has entrusted his life to Him. When I lived in the Coenobium, there
was a monk who assisted the Abbot. He was not quick at all; in fact, he never left
before the Divine Liturgy ended, and yet he always managed to finish all his chores.
I, on the other hand, who was quicker and left before the Liturgy ended to prepare
the assembly room, would be running into all kinds of problems. Sometimes I would
mishandle the coffee beaker and the coffee would spill all over; other times I would
drop the cups and the glasses; something would always go wrong! But he would wait
until the end of the Liturgy. He would cross himself and trust in God to help him.
If he were ever reprimanded, he would accept it with humility. He was humble and
benefited twice as much.
When we don't get stuck on unimportant details, which would cause no harm if omitted,
we will benefit twice as much from whatever good we do, and give to the Saints,
whose feasts we celebrate, double the praise they are due. We should try to the
best of our ability, not to devote ourselves to work at the expense of our spiritual
life, which should always come first; this way, no matter what job we do, we'll
have the blessing of God. It's our spiritual life that must come first, not material
things. If we put our work ahead of everything else and put prayer in second place,
this means that for us work is more important than prayer. It is pride and irreverence
that lie behind this attitude. The work of the spiritually bankrupt cannot be sanctified.
If we put spiritual matters first, God will take care of us. When we monks don't
observe feast days, what are laypeople supposed to do? If we don't do our spiritual
work and plead with the Saints to help us, who will? What happens is that we end
up saying all the time that we believe in God, but in reality we don't even trust
in Him. If we monks and nuns, who wear the monastic cassock, will not respect the
Canons of the Church, and violate and dishonour Her age-old traditions, what possible
meaning can our lives have?
Normally, we must cease all work before the Vespers of Sunday or of a feast day.
If arrangements can be made, it is better to work more on the previous day, and
avoid any work after the Vespers of a festal celebration. It is a different matter,
if, in the event of an emergency, some light tasks need to be taken care of in the
afternoon of a Sunday or a feast day. But even in such cases, the work should be
done with discretion. In the old days, when farmers out in the fields heard the
church bell announcing Vespers, they would do the sign of the cross and cease all
work. The women of the neighbourhood would do the same. They would stand up, cross
themselves and stop knitting or anything else they were doing. And God would bless
them. They had their health and enjoyed life... Now they have abolished the feast
days, distanced themselves from God and the Church, and not surprisingly, end up
spending all the money they earn on doctors and hospitals... Once, a man came to
my Kalyvi and said, "My boy gets sick very often and doctors cannot figure
out what's wrong with him." "Stop working on Sundays and things will change," I
told him. He followed my advice, and his little boy recovered.
I always tell people that if they want to avoid calamities in their life, they should
stop working on Sundays and feast days. Work schedules could be arranged to keep
these days free. Where there is spiritual sensitivity, everything is possible; solutions
will be found. That's really the issue here. Even if a particular solution is to
our disadvantage, and we suffer a loss, in the end we'll be twice blessed. But so
many people fail to understand this. They do not even attend the Divine Liturgy.
The Divine Liturgy sanctifies. If a Christian will not go to Church on Sunday, how
will he be sanctified?
It's unfortunate, but, the way things are going, people will do away with feast
days, and with everything else. You see, they are even changing their names, and
are forgetting their Saints whose name they bear. If they are named Vasilike,
they change it to Vicky; Zoe (Life) to Zozowhich sounds
like saying zo (animal) twice! They have come up with new feasts, Mother's
Day, May Day, April Fools' Day... Pretty soon they'll say, "Today is Artichoke Day,
tomorrow Cypress Day, later the birthday of the inventor of the atom bomb, or of
soccer and so on..." But God will not abandon us...
- This is a troparion of the 6th ode to the second Canon of the Feast of
the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (November 21).
- Mt 24:44.
- Ps 37:16.
- Ps 37:16.
- Canon: the discipline imposed by a Spiritual Father upon the believing
sinner in the context of the Mystery of Repentance, for his or her correction. Such
discipline could take the form of fasting, almsgiving, prayer, abstinence from Holy
Communion for a specified time and so on.
From With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man (Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece:
Holy Monastery "Evangelist John the Theologian", 2006), pp. 368-379. Posted 3/5/2008.
+ + +
For man, the earthly life, life in the body, serves only as a preparation for eternal
life, which will begin after the death of the body. Therefore we must avail ourselves
without delay of the present life as a preparation for the other life; and as we
chiefly work during week-days for the earthly life, we must work on Sundays and
other holidays wholly for the Lord God, devoting them to attendance at Divine service,
to reading the Word of God, to pious meditation, to edifying conversations, good
works, and especially to works of mercy. Those sin grievously who neglect the matter
of their spiritual education for eternal life in the world above. How can we forget
our final destination? How is it possible to be so ungrateful to the Creator, Who
created us after His own image and likeness, incorruptible, and for union with Himself;
Who redeemed us by His Cross, and opened to us the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven?
How can many of us becorne "like the beasts that perish"? "Let us lift up our hearts!"
From My Life in Christ, by St. John of Kronstadt, p. 291.