Orthodox Christians begin fast in honor of Holy Mother of Jesus

Icon of Virgin Mary holding infant Jesus

An Orthodox icon of the Theotokos and infant Jesus, as blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1: Jesus’s mother Mary is a major figure for most of the world’s 2 billion Christians who are either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, however, Eastern Christians have a more extensive and enduring tradition of fasting throughout the Christian year. In the opening 14 days of August, Orthodox Christians look ahead to the August 15 Great Feast of the Dormition (or the “falling asleep” or death) of the Theotokos. The title Theotokos refers to Jesus’s mother and is Greek for “birth-giver” or “bearer of God.”

Unlike Western Christians, observant Orthodox families spend a little over half of each year living with some form of dietary limitation, described in general as fasting. The two-week fast in early August is sometimes called the Dormition Fast and bars consumption of red meat, poultry, dairy products including eggs, fish, oil and wine.

1,025TH ANNIVERSARY
OF KIEVAN RUS

Orthodox Christian headlines have been rising in importance in the West in recent years, especially because of the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. The New York Times is one of the main U.S. news organizations reporting on the close ties between Russian President Vladimir Putin and some leaders within Russian Orthodoxy. The most significant controversy arose after the 2011 arrest of members from a Russian feminist punk band, following a protest in a Moscow church. Western celebrities and activists—including Paul McCartney, Madonna, Elijah Wood and peace activist Aung San Suu Kyi—are all on record as condemning the punk band’s treatment. In 2012, the New York Times reported on provocative ties between Putin and a media-savvy Russian monk. The Times’s opening paragraph explained: “the Russian Orthodox Church continues its ascent as a political force.”

That’s why the exceptional events involving Putin and the 1,025th anniversary of the Christianization of Kievan Rus have attracted journalists. Wikipedia has a lengthy article on this complex conversion story, which boils down to a celebration of the whole Russian region associating itself with Christianity.

American-sponsored Radio Free Europe reported Sunday on: Commemorations taking place in Ukraine to mark the 1,025th anniversary of the conversion to Christianity of Kievan Rus, the medieval Slavic state that laid the Orthodox foundations for modern-day Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. On July 28, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin participated in the consecration of a new bell at a church near the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol at the Vladimir Cathedral in Chersonesus Taurica, which is located on the site where, according to legend, Prince Vladimir the Great was baptized into Orthodox Christianity in 988.