Updated: Aug 23, 2020
Have you started school yet? Did you get your new clothes for school? New books and supplies?Start a new routine? Renew your diet? This time of year is naturally a time for new beginnings, especially since it marks the beginning of our new liturgical year. Why is it, you may ask, that we begin our church calendar on a different day than we begin our civil New Year?
History tells us that once upon a time the world celebrated its New Year on the same day as the Eastern Church! But how did January become New Years Day? It was the Roman emperor Julius Caesar who first introduced a method of marking the seasons, the Julian calendar in 45 B.C., which made January 1 the beginning of the calendar year. Now, this didn’t mean that the world agreed with him! Most cultures, in all parts of the world, continued to mark the beginning of their yearly cycle with the abundant harvest season. It simply made sense to the agrarian people of that time to begin the year on September 1. It became official when the Catholic Church held the council of Tours in 567 A.D., The September New Year date was set and the Church declared that which tradition already held.
Traditionally, September 1 marked many beginnings in the history of the church. It was believed to have been the date that Christ entered the synagogue to begin His public ministry as we see in Luke 4:16-22, the Gospel reading of the day. Tradition also held that Moses led the Hebrew people into the Promised Land in the month of September, marking the beginning of their new life as God’s chosen people. The Byzantine Empire also traditionally began their calendar on September 1. To have the liturgical New Year begin on that date as well just made sense.
In 1582 however, Pope Gregory XIII realized that the Julian calendar was slightly imperfect and had, as a result, drifted about 10 whole days from its course! He, therefore, devised a new, more chronologically precise, system that came to be known as the Gregorian calendar. Still, because he was a Roman and followed the thinking of Julius Caesar, Pope Gregory's new calendar named January first as its beginning date. This is why, since that time, the western Catholic Church marks the start of its New Year with the advent season.
It is interesting and somewhat surprising to note that many western Catholic cultures continued to hold the September New Years' date on their civil calendars until well into the 18th century. Scotland, for example, changed its new years day to January 1 in 1600, and England as relatively recently as 1752!
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
"Christ our Lord, You who provide the rains
and fruitful seasons, and hear the prayers of those who humbly seek
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 1
Sick of 2020 yet? We eastern Christians have an early way out of what has been the most difficult year to endure in a long time! Time for a New Year's Eve party! The evening of August 31st is the perfect time to decorate the house with streamers and balloons! Find the noisemakers and the sparkling cider! Have a special New Year's Eve dinner party and toast the survival of the past liturgical year, while anticipating the upcoming new one!
Since it is customary to begin the New Year by composing a list of New Year’s resolutions, things we pledge to improve upon during the coming year, perhaps this would be a good time to resolve to make some spiritual changes as a family!
Perhaps we could resolve to:
Pray the Jesus Prayer more often throughout the day, pray the Akathist, or just refine our personal prayer rules
Fast from treats once or twice a week for Christ: or take that "next step" in our fasting plan
Go to confession more often.
Let’s discuss this with our family and make a list of the ways we can improve our own spiritual lives during the coming year.