(September 14th, new style)
Today, dear brethren, we celebrate the ecclesiastical New Year. This holiday is totally different from its civil counterpart. In celebrating the civil New Year, we mark the passage of a certain period of time. There, new year after new year carries us inexorably forward, as though along a horizontal line.
Along this line, life changes constantly, people are born, grow old and die; the same happens with entire nations and even civilizations. Everything moves ahead – both time and life on earth; everything proceeds towards its end – the life of each individual and the existence of humanity in general. In accordance with one of the basic principles of nature, life on earth consists of a constant and inexorable decay of everything and everybody, until the time when, according to God’s prophecy, “the earth and all the deeds thereon shall be burned…. and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth.”
The ecclesiastical New Year is quite different. There we see not a horizontal line, but a circle. This circle is continuously renewed and never changes, and with its constancy and immutability it gives us – in our earthly life, which is so strictly bound up with time, with the movement of time, - this circle gives us stability, gives us a taste of eternity, where everything is constant and immutable.
Let us look at the essence of this circle, and why the Church commemorates its constant renewal. The celebration of the ecclesiastical New Year was established by the Holy Fathers at the first ecumenical council in 325 A.D. At that time, under the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great, Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Thus, in celebrating its New Year, the Church commemorated the beginning of freedom for Christianity, and also the advent of a new period of grace and of the “favorable year of the Lord.”
The words – “favorable year of the Lord” – are taken from the following event, described by Saint Luke the Evangelist: during His life on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ once entered a synagogue and stood among the teachers. It was customary among Jews to have one of the teachers read a certain passage from the Old Testament books and then to explain that which had been read.
On that day Christ was given the book of the prophet Isaiah, and opening the book, He found and read the following passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to give joy to the sorrowful and to preach the favorable year of the Lord.” Closing the book and giving it back to the servant, Jesus then began to say to them, that the prophecy which He had read has been fulfilled in Him, that He is the true Messiah, Who has been sent by God the Father for the salvation of man and the renewal of life on earth.
Today, as every year, dear brethren, that is what we celebrate: the advent of the favorable year of the Lord, i.e. a period of time, a year, during which we commemorate all the events of Christ’s life on earth and the establishment of the Church, beginning in chronological order with the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos and ending with Her Dormition, which have the purpose – as Christ Himself said – of saving mankind and renewing life on earth.
The new ecclesiastical year begins anew that constant and immutable circle, in which we spiritually live and find salvation. This circle comprises God’s entire plan of creation, i.e. the blueprint of how the Lord God has achieved the salvation of man after his fall, and not only reinstated man’s former dignity, but more than that – through His Son’s incarnation as man, God has made man part of Himself.
Beginning the new ecclesiastical year, the new circle of salvation, let us look, dear brethren, at the earthly life around us. We have mentioned many times already that the forces of evil are attempting to destroy our planet and all of humanity. Even here we see evidence of their efforts. What is our life today? It is a whirlpool in which we twist and turn in a constant rush, under constant pressure, and we hurry and hurry…. where? Towards eternal life? Not at all! We never even think about eternal life. No, we are whirling and turning and hurrying…. nowhere. We are locked into a vicious circle of a constant and completely fruitless rush. Satan is robbing us of time and locking us into this futile circle, so that we would have no time to stop and think: to think about God, about eternal life, about the salvation of our souls.
As we begin the new ecclesiastical year, let us renew ourselves, dear brethren; let us try to reject Satan’s wiles and to leave the vicious circle of busyness; let us try to enter the quiet, dependable and joyous circle of church life, which will lead us to eternal life. Amen.
Father Rostislav Sheniloff