On 21 September (8 September on the Church Calendar) the Orthodox Church celebrates the Great Feast of the Nativity, or Birth, of the Mother of God. As the church year begins on 1 September, this is the first of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. On it we commemorate the wondrous birth of the Holy Virgin to her elderly, righteous, but hitherto childless parents, Joachim and Anna, the circumstances of which are preserved in the memory of the Church. This commemoration is known to have been observed in Jerusalem by the middle of the Fifth Century AD, and throughout the Christian world by the middle of the Seventh Century AD. The focus of the liturgical texts is the role of the Holy Virgin in the Incarnation of Christ. The appointed readings from the Holy Scriptures are Genesis 28:10-17 (Jacob dreams of a Ladder reaching to Heaven); Ezekiel 43:27 – 44:4 (The East Gate and the Prince); Proverbs 9:1-11 (Wisdom has built her house); Luke 1:39-49, 56 (The visitation and the Magnificat); Philippians 2:5-11 (The Hymn to Christ); and Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28 (Martha and Mary, The truly blessed).
On 27 September (14 September on the Church Calendar) the Orthodox Church celebrates the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. Of all the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, this one alone does not commemorate an event from the earthly life of our Lord or His Mother. On it, rather, we commemorate the finding of the Cross of the Lord by Saint Helen in 326 AD and the restoration of the Cross to Jerusalem in 629 AD after it had fallen into the hands of the Persians. This commemoration is known to have been observed throughout the Christian world by the Seventh Century AD. The focus of the liturgical texts is the salvation that we have through the Cross of Christ. An important element of the all-night vigil on this Great Feast is the “bringing-out” of the Cross for veneration and the singing of the hymn, “Before Thy Cross, we bow down and worship Thee, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify”. The appointed readings from the Holy Scriptures are Exodus 15:22 -16:1 (At Marah and Elim); Proverbs 3:11-18 (God’s discipline, Wisdom as a tree of life); Isaiah 60:11-16 (The splendour of Jerusalem); John 12:28-36 (The prediction of Jesus’ death); 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 (True Wisdom); and John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35. (The Crucifixion and death of Christ). For the sake of the Cross of Christ, this is a day of fasting.