The Beginning of the Ecclesiastical Year
“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! “ Matin Hymn, 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), 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 Bible and addresses all the Orthodox 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 Lords 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.”
Matin 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. Amen.
Dismissal Hymn, September 1st
The worship of the Orthodox Church is rich in the 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 from the New Testament which are read during the Matins and Liturgy. Vespers are chanted on the previous evening (that is, August 31st) because, according to the Bible and the Orthodox tradition, each new day begins after the setting of the sun.
The main Bible reading from the Divine Liturgy of September 1st is Lk. 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. 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, 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. St. Symeon the Stylite, whose feastday is observed on the first day of the Church year, is an example of unwavering devotion. St. 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 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 forty years until his death (d. 459 A.D.)!
One of the hymns for the Feastday of St. 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”.
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.
Adapted from A year of the Lord, Vol 1. by the Rev. Dr. Theodore Stylianopoulos.
September 07, 2018
September 07, 2018
July 01, 2018