ORTHODOX CHURCH TRADITION
By Rev. Protopresbter Nicholas V. Gamvas, D.Min., Ph.D.
THE ECCLESIASTICAL NEW YEAR
Begins on September 1st.
The first day of September marks the beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year. We are accustomed to think of January 1st as the beginning of the New Year. However, Holy Tradition computing the start of the new year with Autumn was common in the Biblical times. The Summer harvest was at an end, the crops were stored, and the people prepared for a new agricultural cycle. Thus, it became tradition to begin the new year of the Holy Church on September 1st.
Many of the hymns of the first day of the Church new year state that the coming year is God’s to give and God’s to bless – A Year of The Lord. The hymns take their theme from Psalm 65 (64in the Greek Septuagint), a psalm of praise to our Creator, Who is awesome as the Holy Lord who richly sustains the earth with His abundant goodness.
The goodness of the Lord is His love, mercy, and grace. The Holy Church’s prayer is that the coming year will be a year of grace and a year blessed by God. We pray that each year is a year of grace and 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 prayerfully daily independence on God is the basic attitude of the Christian and the Christian life. This hymn is also interesting because it refers to another key passage in the Holy Bible and addresses all of the Orthodox faithful.
The first Vesperal hymn of September 1st and the Lord’s Prayer, set down three great anchors, three great principles, necessary to make the coming year of the Lord, a year of grace. They are: 1. the teachings of Christ are the source of truth for our lives, 2. our Father in Heaven is a personal God who provides for our material and spiritual needs as we ask him in faith, and 3. 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.
The worship of the Orthodox Church is rich in the Word of God. The first day of the Church New Year, there are a total of eight readings: three from the Old Testament, read during Vespers, and five from the New Testament read during the Orthros and the Divine Liturgy. Vespers are chanted on the previous evening, because according to the Holy Scriptures and Orthodox 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 Christ’s public ministry. The Book of Isaiah, proclaims through this New Testament passage, that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Christ.
The beginning of the Church New Year and the beginning of Christ’s public ministry converge in Holy Scripture on September 1st, the Church New Year. In this fashion the Church has Jesus speaking to us today just as He did over 2000 years ago. Will we reject or accept Him?
Christ’s good news demands our faithful response of mind, heart, soul, and body. The unconditional love of God, shown to us, by the most precious gift of His Son who shed His blood on the Cross for our salvation. This requires a total response on our part. Saint Symeon the Stylite, whose feastday is observed on the first day of the Church year, is an example of unwavering devotion. St. Symeon for 40 years lived on top of a pillar, a stylos, therefore he is called a stylite. He was sustained in prayer and 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. St. Symeon was a martyr for Christ for a period of 40 years until his death in 459 AD.
By putting before us, St. Symeon’s example of extreme asceticism at the beginning of the liturgical year, the Church shows us how seriously it takes the priority of Christ and how uncompromising our faith is. The beginning of the Church New Year is a time to pause and refresh the spirit and pray on the new year before us. It is also a suitable time for us to recommit our lives to Christ our God.
Main Hymn, 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.