For most of the world, January 1st marks the first day of the year. This day is filled with celebration and new things to come. Mostly, it signifies the beginning of a new cycle of months, seasons, and holidays. These things we expect every year. We know that on January 1st, we can expect the new year to bring Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. We can expect Independence day in July, Thanksgiving in November, and birthdays throughout the year.
In the same way, September 1st marks the beginning of the new liturgical year for the Church in which we can expect the four fasting periods - the Nativity Fast (Christmas), Great Lent, the Apostles Fast, and the Dormition Fast. We celebrate major feast days, such as the Elevation of the Holy Cross and Epiphany. We greet each other joyfully on the day of one another’s Saint (name day).
Many cultures begin a new year at different times than that of Western American culture. We have heard of the Chinese New Year (January 22, 2023) and Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah -September 25-27, 2022). If other cultures celebrate their new year with pride, perhaps it’s time we give a little more recognition to our Church New Year.
So why do we celebrate the new year on September 1st?
The Roman Empire, which was in control of the regions where Christianity first spread, began their new year on the first of September. When the Church formed it was only natural that she began the year at the same time as those around them. In part, the new year was relative to harvest, and like many time related events, the new year revolved around farming. Since then, western civilization has changed the beginning of the year to January.
Biblically speaking, September 1st has an even greater significance. According to Tradition, Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry on this first day of the Roman New Year. Having spent forty days in the wilderness, he returned to his home town of Nazareth, where he preached from the Prophet Isaiah and was rejected by His own people. (Luke 4:14-30).
Jesus Christ was bold and set the tone for His ministry with this event. He proclaimed the year of the Lord. As such, each year, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople observes this day and signs the Protocol Statement initiating the New Ecclesiastical year.
In the life of the Church, every day has significance. We have a Saint or a few Saints to guide us through each day.
This is your second chance at a new year, a new you, grounded in Christ. Now is a good time to ask yourself, What can you do to make this Ecclesiastical New Year more spiritual? Perhaps you could read the Bible every day, find a spiritual book, take moments to pray, find out more about the day’s saint and perhaps learn to fast better. This is a wonderful opportunity! But as we work on becoming closer to God, find time to love your neighbor better. Be patient, and kind. Offer time and talents to the Church and to those in need. This is how we celebrate the Ecclesiastical New Year!