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Fasts And Feasts

The liturgical calendar of the Coptic Church is rich with periods of fasting and spiritual feasts. The primary festal celebrations of the Church include seven Major Feasts of the Lord and seven Minor Feasts of the Lord, as well as two Feasts of the Cross, the Feast of Nayrouz (the Coptic New Year), the Feast of St. Mary, the Feast of the Apostles, and the Passover of Jonah. The Church also honors the rich tradition of her saints and martyrs through daily commemorations of those who successfully completed their struggle in this life and entered the Paradise of Joy. Many Coptic Churches hold special celebrations on the feast days of their patron saints which include the day of their death or martyrdom and, for certain saints, the day of the consecration of the first church in their name.

The Diocese publishes the dates of all the primary fasts and feasts of the Coptic Orthodox Church (from the year 2000 A.D. to 2100 A.D.). Some dates according to both the Gregorian and Coptic Calendars are noted in the descriptions below. Please note that some of the Gregorian dates listed below shift by one day during leap years.

Instructions for adding the dates of the Coptic fasts and feasts to your own Google Calendar are available here.

In addition to these annual commemorations, the Coptic Church observes monthly commemorations as follows:

  • 12th of every Coptic Month – Commemoration of Archangel Michael
  • 21st of every Coptic Month – Commemoration of the Theotoks, St. Mary the Virgin
  • 29th of every Coptic Month – Commemoration of the Feasts of the Annunciation, Nativity, and Resurrection

Major Feasts of the Lord

January 7 (Koiahk 29)

Nativity

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

During the Feast of Nativity we celebrate the birth of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (Mother of God). The Incarnation of the Lord, Christ, was the beginning of God’s earthly ministry towards the salvation of mankind. The Feast of Nativity in the Coptic Church is preceded by a 43 day period of fasting.

January 19 (Tobe 11)

Epiphany

“It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”” (Mark 1:9-11)

The Feast of Epiphany (manifestation of that which is above), also called Theophany (revelation of God) is the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus Christ by the Forerunner, John the Baptist in the Jordan River. At this time The Son of God was in the Jordan river, the voice of God the Father was heard, and God, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. Thus, all three persons of the Trinity were revealed together.

April 11 (Paremhotep 29)

Annunciation

“Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” (Luke 1:30-32)

The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated nine months before the Feast of Nativity. On this feast we commemorate the appearance of Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to announce to her the joyful message of the conception of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, in her womb through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Date Varies

Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem (Hosanna Sunday or Palm Sunday)

“”Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

“They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!”” (Matthew 21:7-9)

The church celebrates the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem riding on donkey on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before His crucifixion and one week before His glorious resurrection. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Passion Week or Holy Week, also known as Pascha. Christ entered Jerusalem as a king, but not as a military king, riding on a horse, but rather as the Prince of Peace.

Date Varies

Resurrection (Easter)

“But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”” (Matthew 28:5-7)

The glorious Feast of Resurrection marks Christ’s victory over death. After having been crucified, His human spirit, united with His divinity descended into Hades to free the souls that were captive in that place who had died previously in the hope of the Resurrection. His human body, united with His divinity lay in the tomb over three days, from Friday night to Sunday morning. On the third day, early Sunday morning, Christ rose from the dead by His own power. While there were other accounts of people rising from the dead in both the Old and New Testaments, none of those people rose by their own power. Rather, they were raised by God through some visible action, the work of a prophet, touching the bones of a prophet, or by the command of Jesus himself. However, Jesus, as God, rose from the dead by His own power without the work of anyone else. By His death He abolish death and through His Resurrection He gave life to those who were in the tombs. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we all live in the hope of the Resurrection. The Feast of the Resurrection is preceded by a 55-day long fast known as the Great Lent which includes the week of Jesus’ Passion immediately before the Resurrection.

Date Varies

Ascension

“And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50 – 51)

After His Resurrection, Christ remained with His disciples ministering to them for forty days. He ascended to heaven to remind us that we two will have a place in His heavenly kingdom as He said “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)

Date Varies

Pentecost

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26)

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

The Feast of Pentecost is celebrated annually fifty days after the Feast of Resurrection. On the Feast of Pentecost we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Disciples and other followers of Christ in the form of tongues of fire. Through the Pentecost, we received the grace of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a gift that is given to every believer through the Sacrament of Chrismation.

Minor Feasts of the Lord

January 14 (Tobe 6)

Christ’s Circumcision

“And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21)

Eight days after His birth Christ fulfilled the law of Moses through His circumcision. Circumcision was an outward sign of the old covenant made with Abraham. We also are called to be circumcised in heart, to die to fleshly desires and worldly lusts and cares and to be fully dedicated to God.

January 21 (Tobe 13)

Wedding at Cana of Galilee

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. … And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:1,2 – 10,11)

By attending the wedding at Cana of Galilee, the Lord Christ blessed the sacramental union between husband and wife. It was at this wedding that He performed the well-known miracle of turning water into wine. The meaning of this sign is fully understood when we see Him turn wine into His blood when He says “”Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28). As the new wine that Jesus made was superior to the wine offered at the wedding, so also, the new covenant in His blood is superior to the old covenant of the sacrifices of the Old Testament that had no power to save.

February 15 (Meshir 8)

Presentation of the Lord into the Temple

“Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “EVERY MALE WHO OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”)” (Luke 2:22)

Christ was presented in the temple 40 days after His birth, thus fulfilling the law of Moses. There he encountered a just man named Simeon who prophesied by the grace of the Holy Spirit saying that this Child was the one spoken of in the prophecies who came for the salvation of the world, Jews and Gentiles alike. Tradition teaches that this man, Simeon, was one of the 70 elders who were charged with preparing the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) from Hebrew to Greek. In the temple, there was also a prophetess named Anna who, when she saw the Christ child, spoke of the redemption of Jerusalem.

Date Varies

Covenant Thursday

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

Covenant Thursday is observed annually on the Thursday of Passion Week, the day before Christ’s crucifixion. On this day Christ celebrated the first Eucharist and instituted the sacrament of Communion with His Disciples. He took bread and wine mingled with water and turned them into His Body and Blood and distributed them to His disciples. The church models Christ’s example every time she administers the sacrament of the Eucharist to the faithful. Also on this day Christ washed the feet of His disciples giving us a powerful symbol and explanation of the sacrament of Confession and Repentance.

Date Varies

Thomas Sunday

“And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)

Thomas Sunday is celebrated one week after the Feast of the Resurrection. Christ rose with an incorruptible body, but retained the prints of the nails and the wound in His side where He was struck with the spear, the symbols of His sacrifice. Thomas’ handling of the body of Christ shows us that this was not a mere vision or a spiritual apparition. Rather, Christ truly rose in the flesh. And yet, He blesses those who believe without seeing.

June 1 (Pashons 24)

Entry of the Lord into Egypt

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

When the three wise men came in search of the Christ child, they inquired of King Herod about His location. Out of his jealousy, Herod plotted to kill the baby Jesus. Having been warned in a dream, Joseph took Jesus and His mother Mary and fled to Egypt. As the Church of Egypt, the Coptic Church takes pride in the fact that Egypt was the only country outside of Israel that the Lord Christ visited during His incarnation here on Earth. This is a great blessing for the Church and for the whole land of Egypt. We celebrate this occasion because of its significance to Egypt, but also because of its significance in God’s plan for the salvation of mankind.

August 19 (Mesore 13)

Transfiguration

“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” (Mark 9:2-4)

The Feast of the Transfiguration reminds us of the glory of God, the Son, Jesus Christ. He appeared to His disciples in His glory revealing His Godhead and giving us a glimpse of the glory of His resurrection. In His transfiguration, Christ was joined by two important figures from the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah. Moses represents those who died while Elijah represents those who were living. Moses represents the law, while Elijah represents the prophets. Moses represents those who were married while Elijah represents those who remained unmarried. Both Moses and Elijah fasted for 40 days as did the Lord Christ.

Other Feasts and Important Commemorations

Date Varies

Passover of Jonah

“And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.” (Luke 11:29-30)

The Passover of Jonah is celebrated annually prior to the beginning of the Great Lent. It is preceded by a three-day fast that begins two weeks before the start of Lent. This fast and the associated feast remind us of the prophet Jonah who spent three days in the belly of a great fish. As Jonah descended to the depths of Sheol (Jonah 2:2) and after three days came out alive, so also the Lord Christ descended to Hades while His body lay in the tomb for three days. The fast of Jonah (also called the fast of the Ninevites), reminds us of the repentance of the people of Nineveh and prepares us for penance during the Holy Great Lent.

March 19 & September 27

Feasts of the Cross

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

As Christians, the cross of Christ is our glory and salvation. Through His cross, Christ abolished death, granted us eternal life and overcame our adversary the Devil. As such, the Church takes pride in the cross which, once being a symbol of death, has become a symbol of life. The Church celebrates two Feasts for the Cross. On September 27 the Church commemorates the appearance of a cross of light to Emperor Constantine. Through the power of the cross, Emperor Constantine was victorious in Battle. He became the first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire and made Christianity a recognized religion, protecting Christians from persecution, through the Edict of Milan in AD 313. On the same day the church commemorates the celebration of the cross in the Church of the Resurrection in AD 335 by the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. This feast is celebrated for three days. On March 19 the church celebrates another Feast of the Cross to commemorate the appearance of the honorable cross of Christ which was discovered near Jerusalem by Queen Helen, the mother of King Constantine.

Date Varies

Lazarus Saturday

“Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)

The Church celebrates Lazarus Saturday on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. On this day, Christ raised Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany, from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days. This miracle serves as a strong demonstration of Christ’s authority over death. The following day Christ entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey beginning the events of His passion demonstrating that although He has power over death, He went to His own suffering and death willingly and not out of compulsion.

Dates Vary

Holy Pascha (Holy Week or Passion Week) & Good Friday

“”You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”” (Matthew 26:2)

The Holy Pascha is the holiest week in the liturgical calendar of the Coptic Church. During this week we commemorate the events of Jesus’ suffering leading up to his arrest, trial, and ultimately death. The church observes this blessed period through a rigorous schedule of prayers that is rich in Bible readings from the Old and New Testament, all of which focus our attention on the suffering and death of Jesus. The church chants many beautiful hymns in the paschal tune during this time which help us to focus our thoughts on the events of the week. The holiest day of the Liturgical calendar is Good Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion on which He offered Himself as an acceptable sacrifice to the Father. The day is observed through prayers which last the whole day and are rich in rites, hymns, Biblical readings, and homilies. Participating reverently in the rites of the week of Holy Pascha is one way in which we participate in the suffering of Christ.

May 8 (Parmoute 30)

Martyrdom of St. Mark the Evangelist

“Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11)

St. Mark was one of the 70 Disciples of Christ, although not one of the 12 Apostles. He is the evangelist who wrote the account of the Gospel known by his name. He was a young man when Christ was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and the upper room of his house was the site of many significant events in the early church, namely, the Last Supper and the Pentecost. St. Mark evangelized in Egypt and established Christianity there. He is recognized as the first Patriarch of the Church of Alexandria, the Coptic Church, which is also referred to as the See of St. Mark. He was martyred by being dragged through the streets of Alexandria by the Pagans after celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection in AD 68. The church celebrates his martyrdom as the day that he entered the Paradise of Joy.

July 12 (Epep 5)

Apostles Feast (Martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul)

“And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.” (Acts 5:14-15)

“Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12)

The church celebrates the Apostles Feast annually to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul the Apostles. St. Peter was the Apostle to the Jews while St. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. They were martyred in Rome in AD 67 during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. St. Peter was crucified upside down while St. Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded. These two great saints are responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout much of the known world in the first part of the first century after the resurrection of Christ. The Church celebrates the day of their martyrdom as the day on which they entered the Paradise of Joy and received the reward of their labors. The Feast of the Apostles is preceded by a fast which lasts from the Feast of Pentecost until July 11. Thus, the length of the fast varies each year depending on the date of the Feast of the Resurrection. During this fast we remember the evangelical work of all of the disciples of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in His Church.

August 22 (Mesore 16)

Assumption of St. Mary’s Body

“Kings’ daughters are among Your honorable women; At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir.” (Psalms 45:9)

St. Mary, the virgin, the Theotokos (Mother of God) is venerated, but not worshiped, in the Coptic Church. She received the distinct honor of having borne Christ, who took flesh from her and was nourished by her during His infancy. Church tradition teaches that after her death, her body was assumed (carried up) to heaven as it was not befitting that the body that carried the Lord Christ should decompose in the same way as common earthly bodies. This miracle was revealed to the disciples by St. Thomas who was returning from his missionary work in India and saw a vision of the angels carrying the body of St. Mary to heaven. The church honors the Mother of God by celebrating the feast of her assumption annually and by consecrating a two-week fast in her honor preceding the celebration of her feast.

September 11 (Thoout 1)

Nayrouz (Coptic New Year)

“You crown the year with Your goodness, And Your paths drip with abundance.” (Psalms 65:11)

“And He has exalted the horn of His people, The praise of all His saints—Of the children of Israel, A people near to Him. Praise the LORD!” (Psalms 148:14)

The Coptic calendar is based on the agricultural calendar of Egypt. It begins in September and the beginning of the Coptic Year corresponds to September 11 on the Gregorian calendar. Known as the Church of the Martyrs, the Coptic Churches uses the Coptic New Year as an opportunity to celebrate all her saints, and particularly those who accepted martyrdom out of their love for Christ. The church reveres martyrdom so highly that the beginning of years in the Coptic calendar corresponds to the year AD 284. This is the year that Emperor Diocletian assumed his reign of the Roman empire. The church chose this year as the beginning of years because Diocletian was particularly merciless in his persecution of Christians and countless Egyptian Christians were martyred during his reign. The church honors these holy men, women, and children for their love of God and their commitment to preserve the true faith to the last breath and at all costs.