Icons of the Great Feasts

Russian Icon showing the Resurrection and the 12 Great Feasts c. 1903

Russian Icon showing the Resurrection and the 12 Great Feasts c. 1903

The Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church are the thirteen major celebrations of the year, celebrated together by the universal Church. At the centre of the year is Easter, the Feast of Feasts, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ and therefore the greatest of Christian celebrations. The other Twelve Great Feasts all relate to the Resurrection, marking the major events leading up to it and after it. In such a way the calendar is “redeemed” by marking each day as related to an event in the Church’s history, and particularly in the life of Jesus Christ.

Each of the Twelve Great Feasts, and Easter itself, have festal icons which depict the celebrated event, both as a historical act and a spiritual reality. They are presented below, with relevant links to blog posts about them:

The Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept 8)
Together, the Great Feasts serve to tell us the story of the Incarnation, which has its climax in the centre of the year with the celebration of the “Feast of Feasts” – Pascha. It is therefore fitting that the first Great Feast of the Church year, which begins in September, is that of the Nativity of the Theotokos.
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The Elevation of the Holy Cross (Sept 14)
No blog post on this specific event yet, but of interest may be: Why does the Orthodox Cross have Three Bars?; The Inscriptions of the Orthodox Cross (Slavonic); and of course: The Crucifixion | Giving Meaning to the Cross.

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Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple, Byzantium, 15th CenturyThe Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov 21)
The first major feast of the Advent period, is that of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple at Jerusalem (Gr: Η είσοδος της Θεοτόκου στον Ναό; Ru: Введение во храмare). As the hymn for the feast says, the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple is the “prelude” of God’s plan for Salvation: the Incarnation.
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Modern Icon of the NativityThe Nativity of Christ, or “Christmas” (Dec 25)
The Birth of Christ has always been celebrated and hymned by Christians in some way or other, as it is central to the Faith. The Word of God in past times appeared in various forms. However, now He has taken on our human nature and in humility is born of a woman appearing as a tiny baby. This miracle is shown in the Nativity Icon.
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Icon of the TheophanyTheophany, or the Baptism of Christ (Jan 6)
From the first century of the Christian Church, there has always been “The Festival of Lights”. In the depth of Midwinter, this feast celebrated the advent of the Son of God’s coming into the world as Jesus Christ, and His early years up to and including His baptism in the Jordan, which heralded the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
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The Presentation of the Lord in the TempleThe Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Feb 2)
Forty days after the birth of Christ is celebrated, and bringing the Nativity cycle of feasts to a close, the dedication of the infant Jesus is remembered at the Feast of the Presentation. Beneath the mere outward act of submission to Mosaic law lays an epochal point in the history of our salvation.
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Annunciation Icon, Ohrid, 14th Century

The Annunciation (Mar 25)
The Hymns for this Feast proclaims: Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. The icon of the Annunciation is one that presents the joy of the announcement of the coming of Christ.
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The Entry Into Jerusalem IconPalm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter)
The end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week is heralded by Palm Sunday, which remembers the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem. This is a key event in Christ’s ministry, and so as well as being celebrated since antiquity, it is also a common icon in larger churches, along with other scenes from Christ’s life.
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The Descent into Hades - Resurrection IconEaster, or Pascha
The Feast of Feasts: at the centre of the Christian faith is the celebration of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection from the dead. As such, the Icon of the Resurrection is the most celebrated, the most common, the most cherished, the most instructive. See also: Boundless Christ | Resurrection Icon with Extra Scenes
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The Ascension of Christ (Forty Days after Easter)
Forty days after Christ’s resurrection, He was taken up into the Heavens before the disciples, and so forty days after Easter, is the Feast of the Ascension. The icon for this feast shows the events as described in the Book of Acts, though as with all Holy Icons there is more revealed than just a straight retelling of the story in pictures.
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Pentecost

Pentecost, or Whitsun (Fifty Days after Easter)
The Icon for the feast of Pentecost is also called the Descent of the Holy Spirit, as it is a depiction of the event described in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:1-4) when the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire upon the Apostles gathered together and enabled them to preach in different languages.
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Russian Transfiguration Icon (16th Century)The Transfiguration (Aug 6)
Described in the first three Gospels (Matt 17: 1-9; Mark 9: 2-8; Luke 9: 28-36), the Transfiguration’s commemoration has become uncommon in many non-Orthodox churches, which is unfortunate as there is much to discover in this event. There is also a rich heritage of iconography surrounding the Transfiguration of Our Lord.
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Dormition IconThe Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos (Aug 15)
The Church calendar tells us the story of our Salvation in the traditional way, with the climax of the story coming in the middle, when Easter is celebrated, before ending in a way which is somewhat symmetrical and complimentary to the beginning. Therefore, the final “scene” in our story of Salvation is the Dormition of Mary, the Mother of God.
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Note on the “Great Feasts” Icon:
The icon at the top of this post shows the Resurrection of Christ, with the Twelve Great Feasts in the border. Starting top left and going clockwise, the feasts shown are: The Nativity of the Theotokos; The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple; The Annunciation; Christmas; Theophany; The Transfiguration; Exaltation of the Cross; The Dormition; The Holy Trinity (instead of Pentecost*); The Ascension; Palm Sunday; Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

*In the Orthodox Church, Pentecost is also known as Trinity Sunday. Most Russian icons of this sort will substitute an image of the Holy Trinity (or the “Hospitality of Abraham”) for an image of Pentecost.

A brief description of the Twelve Great Feasts

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4 Responses to Icons of the Great Feasts

  1. Pingback: 1.563 LINK-URI ORTODOXE

  2. Rebecca says:

    I am a Roman Catholic, and through a Byzantine/Latin rite community in Canada I began to experience the graces of icons. I have been trying to get others interested in praying with icons, by doing some decoupage icons. I have written a couple of icons in the past, but because of limited time, access to good teachers and space at the moment I have not been able to continue writing icons. As I have been doing just some decoupage icons I have been using images that are noted as ‘public domain’ or with permission of the copyright owner of the image. I was wondering of the status of the images from this blog site. Are they public domain? Can they be used with permission of the one who is the copyright owner of the image? Is there a reference that I can link the image to if I can use the image to make icons? I am very grateful of this website and the information that it contains as it seems that information on icons is almost inexhaustible as the mystery that it contains. Thank you

  3. Pingback: Saints Who Destroyed Religious Images (Icon Reader, 2012) | Scott Nevins Memorial

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