January is the fifth month of the liturgical year in the Byzantine Rite. This article covers the most important liturgical aspects of the month of January. See the online menaion and the Lectionary for the hymns and readings of each day.

The feast of the Circumcision, and of Saint Basil the Great

On January 1, we celebrate a double feast: the Circumcision of the Lord (commemorating his naming and circumcision on the eighth day after his birth, in accordance with the Law of Moses) and the feast of holy father Basil the Great, archbshop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (in the interior of modern Turkey).

For more about this feast, the The Feast of the Circumcision (January 1).

The hymns of the Divine Liturgy can be found on pages 305-309 of our Divine Liturgies book:

The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is celebrated, since it is his feast day. The setting for the Communion Hymns uses the Christmas melody, Divnaja novina, but any melody can be used; see the table in the Cantor's Companion (page 56).

If you study the Byzantine tradition, you will often find references to the Cappadocian Fathers:

These three men, brought up in the Greek philosophical tradition but embracing Christianity, set Byzantine theology on a firm footing. Their writings continue to be read today.

The pre-festive days of Theophany

As soon as the feasts of the Nativity and the Circumcision are concluded, we turn to ponder and celebrate the baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River, which we celebrate on January 6 as the feast of Theophany (revelation of God).

The feast of Theophany has four prefestive days, January 2-5. On the Divine Liturgy on each day, together with the hymns for the saint of the day, we sing a special pre-festive troparion and kontakion that prepare us for the feast.

Here are the pre-festive troparion and kontakion for January 2-4:

Zebulun, make ready; Naphtali, prepare yourself. * O River Jordan, stand and leap for joy * to receive the Master coming to be baptized. * O Adam, rejoice with the first mother, Eve, * and do not hide yourselves as once you did in Paradise. * For, seeing you naked, Christ has appeared to put on the first robe. * He has appeared to renew all creation.

Today the Lord appears in the Jordan's streams * and cries out to John: * Do not be afraid to baptize me, * for I have come to save Adam, the first created.

The final pre-festive day, January 5, is called the vigil of the feast and has its own troparion and kontakion:

After Elijah had been taken up, * the River Jordan was parted in two by Elisha's mantle; * and a dry path was opened in the waters * as an image of true baptism * by which we pass beyond this fleeting life. * Christ appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters.

O most compassionate Christ, who take away the many sins of all, because of your immeasurable mercy, you have come to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan as a man, clothing in a robe of glory the misery of my ancient nakedness.

The Sunday before Theophany has its own readings and associated hymns (prokeimena and Alleluia), which are combined with the pre-festive hymns AND the Sunday troparion in the Tone of the Week. This makes the Divine Liturgy for the Sunday before Theophany particularly complicated. The hymns at the Divine Liturgy for this Sunday are on pages 309-312 of our Divine Liturgies book, but were not included in the compact disc set of recordings for this book; nor are the pre-festive troparia and kontakia listed separately as they are for the weekdays before Christmas. (This probably reflects the expectation that in parishes, pre-Christmas services are much more common than pre-Theophany ones.) See the MCI Monthly Menaion for January for the Divine Liturgy hymns for each of the pre-festive days.

A note in passing: we often pray and sing hymns for different feasts without noticing the connections between them. But compare the pre-festive troparia for the Nativity (December 20-23) and Theophany (January 2-4):

Bethlehem, make ready, * Eden has been opened for all. * Ephrathah, prepare yourself, * for the Tree of Life has blossomed from the Virgin in the cave. * Her womb has become a spiritual paradise * in which divinity was planted. * If we partake of it we shall live and not die like Adam. * Christ is born to raise up the likeness that had fallen.

Zebulun, make ready; Naphtali, prepare yourself. * O River Jordan, stand and leap for joy * to receive the Master coming to be baptized. * O Adam, rejoice with the first mother, Eve, * and do not hide yourselves as once you did in Paradise. * For, seeing you naked, Christ has appeared to put on the first robe. * He has appeared to renew all creation.

There are many relationships like these among the hymns and readings of the Byzantine liturgy - and this is particularly true for the hymns of Vespers and Matins. Because these monthly pages were prepared for the MCI Online intermediate course, Introduction to the Liturgical Year, they focus on the hymns of the Divine Liturgy. But even cantors who do not have a chance to celebrate Vespers regularly might benefit from reading and praying the daily hymns of the Menaion.

The vigil of Theophany

The final pre-festive day is the vigil of Theophany, on January 5. The liturgical services appointed for this day depend on the day of the week.

Finally, at sunset on January 5, we begin the celebration of the feast of the Theophany of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

The feast of Theophany

On this feast, we celebrate:

For a complete account of the feast and its services, see the article on Theophany.

Theophany is a great feast of the Lord (Great feast), and one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Byzantine liturgical year. The services for Theophany precisely correspond to those of the Nativity, with the addition of the blessing of water (in the church, on the eve of the feast, and in a nearby body of water, on the day of the feast).

The hymns of the Divine Liturgy on the day of Theophany can be found on pages 312-316 of our Divine Liturgies book:

You may notice that instead of two musical settings for the irmos (simple and solemn), there is only one. The Music Commission and bishops chose to do this because the original melody for the Theophany is fairly easy to sing, and so there was no need for a "simpler" version to be provided. See Magnification and Irmos for Theophany.

The post-festive days of Theophany

Theophany is a feast of the Lord, and so, as we saw for the feasta of the Exaltation of the Cross and Nativity, the first and second antiphons, magnification, and irmos are sung at the Divine Liturgy on each of the post-festive days from January 7 through the "leave-taking" of the feast on January 14, while the third antiphon and entrance hymn are changed to include a reference to the feast:

Come, let us worship and bow before Christ. O Son of God, baptized by John in the Jordan, save us who sing to you: Alleluia!

The Sunday after Theophany has its own readings, prokeimenon, and Alleluia, which are combined with the post-festive and feast-day hymns. Music for the Divine Liturgy on this Sunday can be found on page 316-318 in the Divine Liturgies book.

Other saints’ days in January

There are two feasts of vigil rank (Vigil feast) in the month of January (plus one more, which will be described separately below):

Saints Anthony, Euthymius, and Sabbas (December 5) are all commemorated in the prayers before the Divine Liturgy by which the celebrant prepares the gifts of bread and wine, and all three are vigil-rank saints.

("Venerable" as used in our tradition indicates an ascetic (monk, nun, or hermit), and "God-bearing" is a title which indicates the spiritual gifts of a particular saint. Several saints are called "God-bearer", including Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107); that is why today we avoid translating Theotokos, "she who gave birth to God", as "God-bearer.")

In January, we also celebrate three polyeleos feasts (Polyeleos feast):

If a feast of polyeleos (or vigil) rank falls on Sunday, the feast day hymns are always added to those of the Sunday Divine Liturgy. In this way, the Church reminds even those who only occasionally come to Church of the witness and teaching of our most important saints and witnesses to Christ.

The approach of the Great Fast

The Great Fast, our preparation for the high feast of Pascha, the Resurrection of the Lord, begins some seven weeks before Pascha, and this in turn is preceded by four preparatory Sundays:

Depending on the date of Pascha, the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee may be as early as January 11, or as late as February 14. This means that in some years, the final days of Theophany may actually overlap with preparatory days of Lent, while on other years the entire month of January may pass without a hint of the coming Great Fast. The Menaion and Triodion provide rules for combining the feasts of January with the preparatory days of Lent when necessary, and these are summarized for the current year in the Annual Typikon.

It is worth noting that in most years, the first sign of the approach of Lent is the reading of the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, which is appointed to be read in church a week before the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Thus, we sometimes speak of an additional preparatory Sunday, the Sunday of Zacchaeus, even though this Sunday has no special features other than the reading of this Gospel. If the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is so early that it overlaps with the conclusion of Theophany, then the Sunday of Zacchaeus may be omitted entirely.

The feast of the Three Holy Bishops

On January 30, we celebrate the feast of the Three Holy Bishops: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. Each of these men is an important teacher and writer in the Byzantine tradition; all three wrote liturgical texts and homilies, passing on the faith of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD); and all three have separate feasts of their own in the month of January.

This is actually one of the more recent feasts on the Byzantine calendar; it was established in 1076 as a result of controversy over which of the three was most influential. Instead, along the with existing feast for each saint, a common feast in their honor was added to the Menaion.

This is a vigil feast (Great feast), meaning that in monasteries an all-night vigil would be held. In the Byzantine Catholic Church, it is also a "simple feast" (see the discussion for the feast of St Stephen in December), on which each parish priest should celebrate the Divine Liturgy at a convenient time for the faithful. The hymns for the Divine Liturgy can be found on pages 318-320 of our Divine Liturgies book.

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