In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus, called Pascha (Easter), is the greatest of all holy days and as such it is called the “feast of feasts”. Immediately below it in importance, there is a group of Twelve Great Feasts (Greek: Δωδεκάορτον). Together with Pascha, these are the most significant dates on the Orthodox liturgical calendar. Eight of the great feasts are in honor of Jesus Christ, while the other four are dedicated to the Virgin Mary — the Theotokos.
The Twelve Great Feasts are as follows (note that the liturgical year begins with the month of September):
- The Nativity of the Theotokos, September 8
- The Exaltation of the Cross, September 14
- The Presentation of the Theotokos, November 21
- The Nativity of Christ (Christmas), December 25
- The Baptism of Christ (Theophany, also called Epiphany),January 6
- The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Candlemas), February 2
- The Annunciation, March 25
- The Entry into Jerusalem (Flowery/Willow/Palm Sunday), the Sunday before Pascha
- The Ascension of Christ, forty Days after Pascha
- Pentecost, fifty Days after Pascha
- The Transfiguration of Jesus, August 6
- The Dormition of the Theotokos, August 15
Besides the Twelve Great Feasts, the Orthodox Church knows five other feasts that rank as great feasts, yet without being numbered among the twelve. They are: the Circumcision of Christ (1 January), the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June), the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June), the Beheading of St John the Baptist (29 August), and the Intercession of the Theotokos (1 October).
An Afterfeast is a period of celebration attached to one of the Great Feasts celebrated by the Orthodox Christian and Eastern Catholic Churches (somewhat analogous to what in the West would be called an Octave).
The celebration of the Great Feasts of the church year are extended for a number of days, depending upon the particular Feast. Each day of an Afterfeast will have particular hymns assigned to it, continuing the theme of the Feast being celebrated. At each of the divine services during an Afterfeast, the troparion and kontakion of the feast are read or chanted. The canon of the feast will usually be chanted on every day of the Afterfeast (if two canons were chanted on the day of the feast, they will be alternated on the days of the afterfeast). Some of the Great Feasts of the Lord will have a special canon composed of only three odes, called Triodions, which will be chanted at Compline on each day of the Afterfeast.
Most of these Great Feasts also have a day or more of preparation called a Forefeast (those Feasts that are on the moveable Paschal Cycle do not have Forefeasts). Forefeasts and Afterfeasts will affect the structure of the services during the Canonical Hours.
The last day of an Afterfeast is called the Apodosis (Ancient Greek for “leave-taking”, lit. “giving-back”) of the Feast. On the Apodosis, most of the hymns that were chanted on the first day of the Feast are repeated. On the Apodosis of Feasts of the Theotokos, the Epistle and Gospel from the day of the Feast are repeated again at the Divine Liturgy.
The Forefeasts and Afterfeasts break down as follows:
|Days ofForefeast||Name ofFeast||Date||Days ofAfterfeast|
|1||Nativity of the Theotokos||8 September||5|
|1||Exaltation of the Cross||14 September||8|
|1||Entry of the Theotokos||21 November||5|
|5 ||Nativity of our Lord||25 December||7|
|4 ||Theophany of our Lord||6 January||9|
|1 ||Meeting of our Lord||2 February||8|
|0 ||Palm Sunday||Sunday before Pascha||0|
|1 ||Annunciation of the Theotokos||25 March||2|
|0 ||Pascha||Sunday of the Resurrection||39|
|0||Mid-Pentecost||Twenty-fifth day of Pascha||7|
|0||Ascension of our Lord||Fortieth day of Pascha||9|
|0||Pentecost (Trinity Sunday)||Fiftieth day of Pascha||7|
|1||Transfiguration of our Lord||6 August||8|
|1||Dormition of the Theotokos||15 August||9|
Four of these Afterfeasts have a special commemoration on the day following the Feast, called a Synaxis. In this context, a Synaxis commemorates a saint who is intimately bound up with the Feast being celebrated. The four Synaxes are:
- Synaxis of Ss. Joachim and Anna (9 September—the day after the Nativity of the Theotokos)
- Synaxis of the Theotokos (26 December—the day after the Nativity of our Lord)
- Synaxis of the Forerunner (7 January—the day after the Theophany of our Lord)
- Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel (26 March—the day after the Annunciation) If the Annunciation falls during Holy Week the Synaxis is omitted.
Other Great Feasts that have Afterfeasts (although no Forefeasts) are:
- The Nativity of the Forerunner (June 24)
- The Beheading of the Forerunner (August 29)
- The Feast of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul (June 29).
Each of these three has only 1 day of Afterfeast, and no Apodosis. These are not counted among the Twelve Great Feasts (i.e., Great Feasts of the Lord or Theotokos).
The Feast of the Procession of the Cross (August 1), though it is not counted as a Great Feast, has one day of Forefeast, and no Afterfeast.