The Underrated Annunciation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation.  In one sense, it is more important than Christmas. It is the real feast of Incarnation. It celebrates the moment Very God of Very God confines Himself to the womb of the most holy Mother of God.  It is the reason her veneration is so vital to Orthodoxy – using not just her womb, but her ovum, her chromosomes, her DNA, God became Man.Yet it is the most under-celebrated feast of the year.

If Pascha originally began a fast-free period until after Pentecost (since reduced to a week thanks to the ascendency of ascetism within the Church) and Christmas has a two-week feast, surely Annunciation should fall somewhere in between. Unfortunately, the hierarchs of the Church have been entirely unified in not consulting me about these matters.

I find it odd that one of the developments in the Eastern Church has been to turn the Wednesday and Friday fast given to us by the Holy Apostles into a year with more fasting than non-fasting days. This year there are 213 fasting days and 152 non-fasting days. Nearly 60% of the year is spent fasting. In case you are wondering, I’m not counting fish days or cheesefare days as non-fasting. If it doesn’t involve killing and eating something that walks and breathes air, it’s a fasting day.

Invariably this includes the Annunciation.

When compared to the feasts of the Church the constrast is even starker. Other than the twelve days of Christmas and the Bright Week of Pascha, the feast days are one-day affairs. Of these, the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross, is also a fast day. So we fast even on feast days.

We need to be having Annunciation parties. We need to perkiest, most joyful music. Well, as perky as we get with eighth century tones. But that’s another matter altogether.

Post-Apostolic Asceticism

I think the Peter and Paul fast starts tomorrow. I don’t know. I lose track. My menalogion software is on the computer that’s not working so well.

If there is one thing the Orthodox Church likes to do, it is fast. I’m not sure why there is so much fasting. Apparently following fasting rules suited to an ancient Mediterranean culture makes us more spiritual.

The only truly Apostolic fasting is the Wednesday/Friday fast days. Great Lent started as a recommended discipline for catechumens who would be baptised at Pascha, though the very early Church may have fasted for 40 hours in preparation. The Christmas fast could not have preceded the origins of the Christmas feast. The Dormition fast and the Apostles Fast are more recent.

The number of fasting days varies from year to year, depending on the date of Pascha. And early Pascha cuts short the normal time after Theophany and extends the Apostles’ Fast. In 2010, by my rough calculation, there are 195 fasting days. By fasting days, I mean days when meat is not allowed, so I’m including Cheesefare week. For a carnivore such as me, any day without meat is a day of severe asceticism.

This leaves 170 normal, regular, meat and potatoes days. Fasting seems to lose it value if it is actually more of the norm than normal eating. And when a fast and a feast conflict, the fast wins. The feast of the Annunciation is an example of this. This is the true feast of Incarnation, but it is trumped by Great Lent.

Observed more strictly than I am able, Orthodoxy seems like a vegetarian religion with occasional omnivorous moments. If our sacramental theology says that all of creation is sacramental and that everything we eat is sacramental, because we bless it and it is a gift from God, why do we spend so much time not eating it?