My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
BEGINNING OF THE CHURCH YEAR (INDICTION) COMMEMORATED SEPTEMBER 1ST
By Father Theodore Stylianopoulos (Professor of the New Testament at Holy Cross School of Theology)
"Christ our God, Your Kingdom is an everlasting one and Your Lordship is over all. You have made all things with wisdom and have established proper times and seasons for our lives. We give thanks to You in all circumstances and for all things. Grant that this liturgical year be for all of us a year of Grace. Make us worthy with purity of heart always to praise You. Lord, Glory to YOu!" [Orthros [Matins], September 1st
Do you know why the first day of September marks the beginning of the Church year? We are accustomed to think of January 1st as the beginning of the year. But the tradition of computing the start of a new year with autumn was common to the lands of the Bible and to all the lands around the Mediterranean. The summer harvest was at an end, the crops were stored, and people prepared for a new agricultural cycle. It was an appropriate time to begin a new year.
Many of the hymns for the first day of the Church year state that the coming year is God's to give and God's to bless-a year of the Lord! These hymns take their theme from Psalm 65 (64 in the Greek Septuagint or Old Testament), a psalm of praise to the Creator Who is awesome as the Holy Lord but Who richly sustains the earth with His abundant goodness.
"Bless, O Lord, the crown (that is, the beginning) of the year with Your goodness!"
The goodness of the Lord is His love, mercy and grace. The Church's prayer is that the coming year will be a year of grace, a year blessed by God. Each year can be a year of grace, a year blessed by God.
The prayers and hymns of the Orthodox Church not only recite the wonderful works of God in creation and history for our salvation but also frequently offer guidance about how to make each year a year of grace, a year of the Lord. For example, the very first hymn of the New Liturgical Year, chanted at Vespers in the joyful first tone, reminds us that prayerful daily dependence on God is the basic attitude of the Christian and Christian life. This hymn is also interesting because it refers to another key passage in the Holy Bible and addresses all the Orthodox faithful.
"O faithful, having learned true prayer from the very words and Divine teaching of Christ, let us cry out to the Creator each day: Our Father, Who dwells in heaven, give us always daily bread, and forgive us our transgressions". [Vesper Hymn, September 1st]
Of course this hymn is making reference to the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father..."
Both the above Vesper hymn and the Lord's Prayer set down three anchors, three great principles, necessary to make the coming year a year of the Lord, a year of grace.
The teachings of Christ are the source of truth for our lives. Our Father in heaven is a personal God Who provides for all our material and spiritual needs as we ask Him by faith. Daily prayer is the way of ongoing communication and a vital relationship with God. Prayerful daily dependence on God sanctifies every moment of the day whether we are at work, at play, at rest or in difficulty, it fills it with the presence of God and makes it God's moment.
"Christ our Lord, You Who provide the rains and fruitful seasons, and hear the prayers of those who humbly seek You, accept also our requests about our needs and concerns and deliver us from worry, danger and sin. Your mercies are as abundant as Your works. Bless all our activities, direct our steps by Your Holy Spirit and forgive our shortcomings. Lord bless the year with Your Goodness and make it a year of grace for all of us. Amen." (Orthros [Matins], September 1st)
O Lord, Creator of all things, Who by Your Authority have established times and seasons, bless the beginning of our Church year with Your Goodness; preserve Your people in peace, and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us. Amen. (Apolytikion [Dismissal) Hymn, September 1st)
The worship of the Orthodox Church is rich in the Logos (Word) of God. For the first day of the Church year a total of eight readings are designated, three from the Old Testament which are read during Vespers, and five form the New Testament which are read during the Orthros and Divine Liturgy. Vespers are chanted on the previous evening (that is, August 31st) because, according to the Holy Bible and the Orthodox Holy Tradition, each new day begins after the setting of the sun.
The main Bible reading from the Divine Liturgy of September 1st is Luke 4:16-22, a passage which marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry in St. Luke's Gospel. In this reading we see the beginning of Jesus' ministry. He reads from the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue and proclaims to the world that Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in Him.
See how the beginning of Jesus' ministry and the beginning of the Church year converge! According to Orthodox Liturgical Tradition, Jesus came to Nazareth to preach the good news of His mission on September 1st! This is of course not verifiable but it is spiritually significant that the Church in its worship has joined the first day of the liturgical year with the first day of Jesus' public preaching. Will we reject Him or accept Him? Will we rebel against His Word actively, will we ignore it, or will we respond to it positively?
Christ's Good News demands our faithful response of mind, heart, soul and body. The unconditional love of God, shown by the Most Precious Gift of His Son Who shed His blood on the Cross for our salvation, requires a total response on our part. Saint Symeon the Stylite, whose feastday is observed on the first day of the Church year lived on top of a pillar (stylos) [and therefore he is called the "stylite"] in prayer, sustained by the power of God and little else. His ascetic witness was not only a radical denial of all earthly things but also a provocative pointer to the Kingdom of God.
His vigil for Christ had a powerful impact upon generations of Christians in the Orthodox Tradition who were moved to commit their lives to the Lord. A martyr dies once. Saint Symeon was a martyr for Christ for a period of forty years until his death (d. 459 A.D.)!
One of the hymns for the Feast of Saint Symeon compares the Saint with Christ Himself.
"O holy Father, imitating your own Lord, you ascended on a pillar as if on a cross by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord wiped away the ancient sentence against us whereas you destroyed the rebellion of corruptive passions; He became as a lamb and you as a victim; He ascended a Cross and you a pillar. Holy Symeon, intercede with Him for the salvation of our souls." (Vesper Hymn, Feastday of St. Symeon the Stylite)
By putting before us St. Symeon's example of extreme asceticism at the beginning of the liturgical year, the Church shows how seriously it takes the priority of Christ and how uncompromising our faith is about worldly values.
There is no merrymaking or party revelry on the eve of the beginning of the New Church Year. It is an eve which does not call for wine and song but for contemplation, reflection and prayer. It is a time to pause and refresh the spirit and meditate on the new year before us. It is also a suitable time for us as Orthodox Christians to recommit our lives to Christ our God.
MORE ON THE CHURCH YEAR
For the maintenance of their armed forces, the Roman emperors decreed that their subjects in every district should be taxed every year. This same decree was reissued every fifteen years, since the Roman soldiers were obliged to serve for fifteen years. At the end of each fifteen-year period, an assessment was made of what economic changes had taken place, and a new tax was decreed, which was to be paid over the span of the fifteen years. This imperial decree, which was issued before the season of winter, was named Indictio (Indiction), that is, "Definition," or "Order." This name was adopted by the emperors in Constantinople also. At other times, the latter also used the term Epinemisis, that is, "Distribution" (Dianome).
It is commonly held that Saint Constantine the Great introduced the Indiction decrees in A.D. 312, after he beheld the sign of the Cross in heaven and vanquished Maxentius and was proclaimed Emperor in the West. Some, however, (and this seems more likely), ascribe the institution of the Indiction to Augustus Caesar, three years before the birth of Christ.
It should be noted that to the present day, the Church has always celebrated the beginning of the New Year on September 1st. This was the custom in Constantinople until its fall in 1453 and in Russia until the reign of Peter I. September 1st is still festively celebrated as the New Year at the Patriarchate of Constantinople; among the Jews also the New Year, although reckoned according to a moveable calendar, usually falls in September. The service of the Menaion for January 1st is for our Lord's Circumcision and for the memorial of Saint Basil the Great, without any mention of its being the beginning of a new year.
A SAYING FROM SAINT SILOUAN THE ATHONITE
"The Saints live in another world, and there, through the Holy Spirit, they behold the Glory of God and the beauty of the Lord's countenance. But in the same Holy Spirit they see our lives, too, and our deeds. They know our sorrows and hear our ardent prayers. In their lives they learned of the love of God from the Holy Spirit; and he who knows love on earth takes it with him into eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven where love grows and becomes perfect. And if love makes one unable to forget a brother here, how much more do the Saints remember and pray for us!"
Please note: We, at Saint Andrew, begin the New Church Year with worship and thanksgiving to the Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Orthros [Matins] at 9:00 a.m. and Divine Liturgy at 10:00 am. There is no better way to begin the New Church Year but in the House of God.
MY BLESSING TO YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
MAY WE ALL HAVE A BLESSED NEW CHURCH YEAR!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God