An occasion appointed by the church to be observed with rejoicing and celebration.
Old Testament Feasts
In obedience to God’s commandments, the following occasions were kept as days of rest, abstention from work, and offering of sacrifices:
- The Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11)
- Passover (Ex. 12; Lv. 23:5)
- Feast of Weeks, or of the wheat harvest, celebrated seven weeks after Passover (Lv. 23:15)
- Feast of the Tabernacles, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, at the end of the harvest festival (Lv. 23:33)
- New Moon Feast, on the first day of every month (Nm. 10:10; 28:11-15)
- The Day of Atonement, on the tenth day of the seventh month (Lv. 23:27)
- Feast of Blowing of the Trumpets, on the first day of the seventh month (Lv. 23:24, 25)
In addition, the Israelites were ordered to hallow the jubilee year, occurring once every fifty years at the end of seven Sabbatical cycles.
Early Christian Feasts
From various references in the New Testament, we learn that Christ and His disciples observed the annual Jewish feasts (Mt. 26:19; Mk. 19:13; Lk. 2:42; Jn. 2:13; 5:1; 7:2, 37). Likewise, Saint Paul celebrated various feasts, stressing their Christian character and dissociating them from Jewish connotations. Thus, for example, he observed the Pentecost at Jerusalem (Acts 18:21; see also Acts 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8).
The Apostolic Constitutions ordained the celebration of feasts: “Brethren, observe the festival days . . .” (Constitutions 5.13, p. 443), and the Apostolical Canons warn, “If any of the clergy be found fasting on the Lord’s day, or on the Sabbath, excepting the one only [the Saturday preceding Easter Sunday], let him be deposed. If a layman, let him be excommunicated” (Apostolical Canons 66, p. 598).
Patristic writings abound in references to feasts and festivals. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (c. 35-107) states: “”. . . let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days . . . on which our life sprang up again, and the victory over death was obtained in Christ . . .” (1956, Vol. 1, p. 63; see also Justin Martyr [c. 100-165], First Apology 67; John Chrysostom [c. 347-407], Homilies on First Corinthians 27; Saint Basil the Great [c. 330-379], Epistle 176).
Feasts Observed by the Coptic Church
These fall into four main divisions: the seven major feasts, the seven minor feasts (see FEASTS, MAJOR; FEASTS, MINOR), the seven Marian feasts, and the saints’ and martyrs’ feast days.
The seven major feasts are:
- The Annunciation (29 Baramhat)
- The Nativity (29 Kiyahk)
- The Epiphany (11 Tubah)
- Palm Sunday, on the seventh Sunday of the Great Lent
- Easter Sunday, a movable feast celebrated on the first Sunday after Passion Week
- Ascension Day, on the fortieth day after the Resurrection
- Pentecost, on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection
The seven minor feasts, in chronological order, are:
- Circumcision (6 Tubah)
- The Marriage Feast at Cana (13 Tubah)
- Candlemas (8 Amshir)
- Maundy Thursday, on the Thursday preceding Good Friday
- Saint Thomas’s Sunday, on the Sunday following Easter Sunday
- Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt (24 Bashans)
- Transfiguration (13 Misra)
The seven feasts of the Theotokos are:
- Annunciation of her Nativity (7 Misra)
- Nativity (1 Bashans)
- Candlemas (3 Kiyahk)
- Dormition (21 Tubah)
- Assumption (16 Misra)
- The Iron Dissolver (21 Ba’unah)
- Apparition at Zaytun (24 Baramhat)
Saints’ and Martyrs’ Days
The Coptic SYNAXARION records the history of the saints and the martyrs who gave their lives for the Christian faith. Various churches also celebrate the anniversaries of their patron saints.
- Butrus Jirjis. Kitab al-A‘yad al-Sayyidiyyah. Cairo, 1947.
- Habib Jirjis. Al-Sakhrah al-Urthudhuksiyyah, pp. 175-82. Cairo, 1948.