The New Ecclesiastical Year Begins September 1st

Dearest Spiritual Ohana, On September 1st, we begin the New Ecclesiastical Year. We must wonder why we celebrate this new beginning on this appointed day. Vincent Gabriel answers this question most adequately in a “blog” from Ancient Faith Radio entitled “Why Orthodox Christians Celebrate the New Year on the First of September.” I invite you to visit the website to read the complete article. The link to the website is as follows: onbehalfofall/why-orthodox-christians-celebrate-the-newyear-on-the-first-of-september/

I will offer only some of the main points. The main points of the blog are as follows:

So This is the New Year?

The old Roman term for this day is Indictio, meaning “definition” or “order.” This was a day established as the beginning of a fifteen year cycle, marking the redefinition of tax obligations for Roman citizens (especially since Roman soldiers served fifteen-year terms), likely from the time of Caesar Augustus.

One of the Emperor St. Justinian’s novellas (AD 537) decreed that all official documents of the Empire should include the indiction reference. When attempting to date manuscripts from this era, it can be helpful to know the year of the indiction (1–15), as exact dates or years are less commonly found. And when a date is found, it usually corresponds to Anno Mundi(Hebrew: )העולם לבריאתor “the year of the world” since the date of Creation.

Anno Mundi (AM) served as the beginning point for calendars until the modern era in many parts of the world, and is still a liturgical point of reference for both modern Judaism and Christians. (Jews also mark the New Year in September, but on a floating date.)

The date of the creation of the world—as discerned by a literal reading of the Patriarchal histories of the Greek Septuagint—was determined to be around 5500 BC on our modern calendar, with variations here and there. On the Julian calendar, the date of creation was said to be September 1, 5509 (BC), with the birth of Jesus Christ taking place in 5509 AM–that is, 5,509 years from the foundation of the world.

Harvest, Thanksgiving, and Sowing

By marking the start of a new year in September, the Empire—and later, the Orthodox Church—was associating the new year with harvesting crops. As preparations for winter were being made, so too were preparations for the upcoming year.

For Christians, it was a time of thanksgiving, remembering the good weather and abundant rain the Lord provided for that year’s harvest— something we pray for at every Divine Liturgy.  This draws close parallels with the Feast of Trumpets for the pre-Incarnation people of God (Lev. 23:23–25)

Ecological Stewardship

The Ecclesiastical New Year is now a day marked by prayers for the care of the environment. (Please (Continued on page 2) 2 see references in the entire blog regarding references to our former Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios and present Patriarch Bartholomew)

The beginning of the New Year was for centuries a commemoration of the foundation of the world (Anno Mundi). It is a day for giving thanks to God for plentiful harvest. It is a day that recognizes God’s protection over and providence for the world, along with our responsibility and stewardship towards the same.

This all goes back naturally to the story of Creation itself, and a story where mankind—represented by Adam and Eve—is given the awesome responsibility of caring for every living creature. A restoration of peace between mankind and the created order lies at the heart of redemption and deification, and that is ultimately what the Ecclesiastical New Year is all about. Here is what the celebration of the Ecclesiastical New Year is in a “nutshell.” In Vincent Gabriel’s conclusion to the blog, he writes: “Our Church Year begins and ends with the life of Mary. The Nativity of Mary is the first Great Feast of the year, while her Dormition or “falling asleep” is the last.

 In this cycle we see the Incarnation of the God-Man Jesus Christ at the heart of our story as God’s people. And in between those two reference points we have this feast that could, at first glance, seem a peculiar or even irrelevant holdover from the Roman Empire. Rather, the Ecclesiastical New Year serves as the crux for our entire liturgical life each and every year.

We say goodbye to the old and welcome the new. We give thanks for what the Lord has done, and petition his lovingkindness and protection for the days yet to come. We take a moment to consider our impact on the world around us, and whether our actions proceed from hearts of selfishness or hearts of compassion.

This is a feast day that points to the very core of Christ’s message of true, Christian spirituality: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayers for blessings seen and unseen, fasting for the sake of the world and our own mortification, and almsgiving for the care of others. Self-sacrifice and promise, beauty and self-restraint.

So pop open a bottle of champagne and bring your petitions to the Lord. It’s the start of a new year.” I pray that this information is helpful in your understanding of this Great Feast celebrated on September 1st. I wish all of you a Most Blessed and Prosperous Beginning!

With Love in Christ,

+Fr. Alexander

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