"Christ our God, Your kingdom is an everlasting one
and Your lordship is over all.
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 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
Vesper Hymn, September 1st
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.
"Christ our Lord, You who provide the rains
Matin Hymn, September 1st
O Lord, Creator of all things,
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,
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.
Dates are in Old Style here.