Liturgical New Year

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I am continually grateful for everyone’s welcoming and patience as I get know you and the culture of the parish. It is certainly providential that I begin my ministry at Saints Peter and Paul so very near the beginning of the Ecclesiastical/Church New Year on September 1st. And it is certainly no accident that church ministries and activities begin again around this time.

Many of you may know that our liturgical (church) year starts this month on September 1st. Just like the world marks a new year on January 1st. Most of us do not know why the church year begins here. Fr. George Poulos, in his book Lives of the Saints and Major Feast Days, states that the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea 325 AD decreed Sept. 1 for the following reasons:

1. Before the Julian (devised under Julius Caesar 44-45 BC) calendar, which established the January-December year (today we use the more accurate Gregorian calendar established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 AD), the Romans began their year on September 1st. This may be because Constantine the Emperor defeated Maxentius, an enemy of Christians, in September. Subsequently, he legalized Christianity early in the 4th century.

2. According to Holy Tradition, it was on Sept. 1st that our blessed Lord first entered the Jewish Synagogue (Luke 4:16-21) to preach His mission to mankind. On that day Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the openings of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn.” Therefore, these particular scripture passages are read for the Feast, Isaiah at Vespers and Luke during the Liturgy.

3. Tradition also tells us that it was during the month of September that the Hebrews finally entered the Promised Land. There civil year began at that time. (see Ex. 12:2)

4. It has always been accepted within the church community that the month of September was the time to gather all the fruits of the summer months and prepare for the beginning of the winter months ahead. At the start of the new year hymnographers also prepared beautiful songs to be chanted during the services. The hymns are offered to Almighty God so that we might receive His divine blessings throughout the coming year.

In the book The Year of Grace of the Lord, a Monk of the Eastern Church wisely reminds us that the liturgical year is not merely a calendar of events. It has an educational and pedagogical function, but its primary significance is much deeper. The liturgical year is, for us, a special means of union with Christ. We share in the whole of His life from Birth to Resurrection. In addition, we share in the sacred events and saints of history which, again, lead us ultimately to Christ. Just as we make New Year resolutions on January 1st, we should resolve, on September 1st, to live a more spiritual life–thinking and doing all things which are pleasing to the Lord. The liturgical year acquires its true meaning to the extent that it becomes an adoration in spirit and in truth.

+Fr. Rick