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 ΧΡΙΣΤΟ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
BEGINNING OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL (CHURCH) NEW YEAR (Indiction)-September 1st
"Christ our God, Your Kingdom is an everlasting one and Your Lordship is over all. 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 Ecclesiastical (Church) New 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 Old Testament [Septuagint]), 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 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 Holy 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 (Esperinos) 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 of the Holy Bible and addresses all the Orthodox Christian faithful.
"O faithful, having learned true prayer from the very words and divine teachings 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 divine 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. Prayerfully 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 of Grace for all of us. Amen." (Orthros [Matins] hymn, September 1st)
The worship of the Holy Orthodox Church is rich in the Logos/Word of God. For the first day of the Ecclesiastical Year a total of eight readings are designated, three from the Old Testament which are read during Vespers, and five from the New Testament which are read during the Matins and Divine Liturgy. Vespers are chanted on the previous evening (that is, August 31st) because, according to the Holy Scripture and the Holy Orthodox Tradition, each new day begins after the setting of the sun.
The main Bible reading from the Divine Liturgy of September 1st is St. 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' earthly 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' earthly Ministry and the beginning of the Ecclesiastical Year converge! According to Orthodox Liturgical Sacred 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. In this fashion the Church has Jesus speaking to us today just as He did to His contemporaries in the synagogue at Nazareth. 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, 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 feast-day is observed on the first day of this Ecclesiastical Year, is an example of unwavering devotion. Saint Symeon for many years lived on top of a pillar (stylos, 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 Holy Orthodox Christian 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 (459 A.D.)!
By putting before us Saint Symeon's example of extreme asceticism at the beginning of the Liturgical Year, the Holy 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. (Adapted from A Year of the Lord, Vol, 1 by Father Theodore Stylianopoulos).
Apolytikion (Dismissal ) Hymn of the Indiction in the Second Tone
Creator of the universe, setting times and seasons by Your sole authority, bless the cycle of the year of Your grace, O Lord, guarding our rulers and Your nation in peace, at the intercession of the Theotokos, and save us.
Kontakion Hymn of the Indiction in the Fourth Tone
You who created all things in Your infinite wisdom, and set the times by Your own authority, grant Your Christian people victories. Blessing our comings and goings throughout this year, guide our works according to Your Divine Will.
The Ecclesiastical New Year is a day marked by prayers for the care of the environment.
Patriarch Demetrios of Constantinople, of Blessed Memory, issued an encyclical on the environment in 1989, calling all Orthodox Christians to both pray for and protect the world around us. His encyclical also established September 1st-the beginning of the New Church Year--as "a day of prayer for the protection of the environment" for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, something adopted soon after by the rest of the canonical Orthodox Churches.
Since his elevation to Ecumenical Patriarch, an encyclical has been issued each year on September 1st by His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew on the environment. Patriarch Bartholomew is affectionately known as "the Green Patriarch," and he often speaks on an international stage regarding the protection of God's Creation.
May we all be blessed by God on this New Ecclesiastical Year!
With love in Christ,