Monday, March 10, 2014

The Fourth Commandment of the Law of God

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.

The fourth commandment of the Lord God directs that six days be spent in labor and devoted to duties such as one’s vocation, but that the seventh day be devoted to the service of God, for holy work and acts pleasing to God.

Holy works and acts pleasing to God are understood to be: work for the salvation of one’s soul, prayer both in church and at home, study of the commandments of God, enlightenment of the mind and heart by wholesome learning, reading of the Holy Scriptures and other spiritually helpful books, pious conversation, helping the poor, visiting the sick and prisoners, comforting the grieving, and other good deeds.

In the Old Testament, the Sabbath (which in Hebrew means rest, peace) is celebrated on the seventh day of the week, Saturday, in remembrance of God’s creation of the world (on the seventh day God rested from acts of creation). In the New Testament, at the time of the Apostles, it began to be celebrated on the first day of the week, Sunday, in remembrance of the resurrection of Christ.

In the category of the seventh day it is necessary to include not only the day of the Resurrection, but also other feast days and fasts established by the Church. In the Old Testament the Sabbath also included other feasts: Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, etc.

The most important Christian feast day is called "The Feast of Feasts" and "The Triumph of Triumphs," the Bright Resurrection of Christ, called Holy Pascha (Easter), which occurs on the first Sunday after the spring full moon, after the Jewish Passover, in the period between the 22nd of March (April 4th new style) and the 25th of April (May 8th, new style).

Then follow the twelve great feasts established to honor our Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother, the Holy Virgin Mary:
The Nativity of the Theotokos September 8 (21, n.s.).
The Entry into the Temple of the Theotokos, November 21 (December 4, n.s.).
The Annunciation of the Most-holy Virgin Mary, March 25 (April 7, n.s.).
The Nativity of Christ, December 25 (January 7, n.s.).
The Entry of the Lord, February 2 (15, n.s.).
The Theophany (or Epiphany), January 6 (19, n.s.).
The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, August 6 (19, n.s.).
The Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the last Sunday before Pascha.
The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, on the fortieth day after Pascha.
Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday, on the fiftieth day after Pascha. ~
The Elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, September 14 (27, n.s.).
The Dormition of the Mother of God, August 15 (28, n.s.).

Of the remaining feast days, some of the most important are:

The Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ, January 1 (14, n.s.).

The Protection of the Mother of God, October 1 (14, n.s.).

The Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, October 22 (November 4, n.s.).

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24 (July 7, n.s.).

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, August 29 (September 11, n.s.).

The feast of the Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, June 29 (July 12, n.s.).

The Apostle John the Theologian, May 8 (May 21 n.s). and September 26 (October 9, n.s.).

The feasts of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, May 9 (May 22, n.s). and December 6 (19, n.s.).

Fasts established by the Church are:

1. The Great Fast, before Pascha.

The Fast lasts for seven weeks: six weeks are the fast itself and the seventh week is Holy Week — in remembrance of the suffering of Christ the Saviour.

2. Nativity Fast, before the feast day of Nativity, the birth of Christ.

It begins on the 14th of November (27, n.s.), the day after commemorating the Apostle Philip and is therefore sometimes called the fast of St. Philip. The fast lasts for forty days.

3. Dormition Fast, before the feast day of the Dormition of the Mother of God.

It lasts for two weeks, from the 1st of August (August 14, n.s). until August 14 (27, n.s.).

4. The Apostles’ or Peter’s Fast, before the feast day of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

It begins one week after Trinity Sunday (Pentecost) and continues until the 29th of June (July 12, n.s.). Its length is determined by whether Pascha is early or late. The longest it can be is six weeks, and the shortest is a week and one day.

One day fasts:

1. Nativity Eve — the day before the Birth of Christ, 24th of December (January 6, n.s.). An especially strict fast during the Nativity Fast. Customarily, one does not eat until the appearance of the first star, and then only strict lenten food, no meat, fish or dairy products.

2. The Eve of the Theophany — the day before the Baptism of the Lord, the 6th of January (January 19, n.s.).

3. The day of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, 29th of August (September 11, n.s.).

4. The day of the Elevation of the Cross of the Lord, in commemoration of the finding of the Cross of the Lord, 14th of September (September 27, n.s.).

5. Wednesdays and Fridays of every week. Wednesday — in remembrance of the betrayal of the Saviour by Judas. Friday — in remembrance of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.

There is no fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays in the following weeks: in Bright Week, the week of Pascha; in the interval between Christmas and Theophany; in the week of the Holy Trinity (from Pentecost until the beginning of Peter’s fast), in the week of the Publican and the Pharisee (before the Great Fast); and in Cheese-fare week immediately preceding the Great Fast, when dairy products, but not meat, are allowed.

At the time of the fasts it is especially necessary to resolve to cleanse oneself of all bad habits and passions such as anger, envy, lust and enmity. One must refrain from a dissipating, carefree life, from games, from shows and spectacles, from dancing. One must not read books which give rise to impure thoughts and desires in the soul. One must not eat meat or dairy products, since according to the experience of the Saints these foods strengthen our passions and make it more difficult to pray, but only permitted fasting foods such as vegetables, and when permitted, fish, and only making use of these foods in moderation. During a fast of many days one should have confession and receive Holy Communion.

Those who break the fourth commandment are those who are lazy on the first six days, doing no work, as well as those who work on a holy day.

No less guilty are those who may cease worldly pursuits and work, but who spend the time in amusements and games, who indulge in pleasure and drunkenness, not thinking about serving God. Especially sinful is indulging in distractions the evening before a feast day, when we should be at the Vigil, and in the morning, after the Liturgy. For Orthodox Christians a feast day begins in the evening when the All-night Vigil is served. To devote this time to dancing, movies, or other diversions instead of prayer, is to make a mockery of the feast day.
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