An Orthodox Thanksgiving Day prayer for when we find ourselves among non-Orthodox.
On January first our holy Church celebrates the Circumcision of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ and the memory of St. Basil the Great. What do these celebrations have to do with the first of the year? Nothing! Neither feast has any relation with the beginning of the Year. The connection of St. Basil with the exchange of presents, the making of sweets, etc. has a folklore character, not a religious one. Therefore it appears as if the Church completely ignored the coming of the new year and the celebrations associated with it, and as if she lived in another—her own—world, uninfluenced by the changes of the corruptible and fleeting reality of this temporary world.
Yet, without denying the other-worldly character of her worship, the Church cannot ignore the changes of years and times. She is not only a divine institution, but a human one as well, as is her Founder, the Theanthropos Christ. Therefore we cannot bypass the beginning of the secular year without comment. After all, 2018 is not an arbitrary number nor do we count years from the birth of Moses, Buddha or Muhammad, but from the birth of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Yet, when the Gospel of salvation was heard in the world and the Church was founded, she did not seek to invent a new calendar, or to conjure up new extra-terrestrial, subdivisions of time. A problem arose however, in that the Church found a multiplicity of calendars and systems of measuring time. There were several “First of the Year” dates. In Rome, for example, according to the old calendar of Nouma Pompilius, the beginning of the year was March 1st. What’s that to us? Well, believe it or not, this First of the Year has left its imprint on our calendar! If March were the first month, which would be the seventh month? September. What does September mean? It comes from Latin septum, which means seven, so the seventh month. October from onto, eight, November from novel, nine, and December, from decem, ten!
It was not until Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in the year 45 BC, when the First of the Year became January first. For most of the East, however, First of the Year continued to be Sept. 24, the day of the vernal equinox. For practical reasons, in the year 462 AD, the first of the year was transferred to Sept. 1st, which remained the beginning of the year for all the Byzantine period, and to this day continues to be the beginning of the new ecclesiastical year of the Orthodox Church.
When, during the most recent era, the Roman First of the Year came to the East, the Church, according to Prof. Foundoulis, for various reasons, no longer had the strength to absorb it and Christianize it. She remained attached to the medieval first of the Year (Sept. 1st), which was no longer the beginning of the year.
Treasures to rediscover
So it is that today we do not hear any hymns or readings pertaining to the New Year. Yet in the liturgical hymnology of September 1st, there was first of all an appropriate Gospel Reading, taken from the Gospel according to St. Luke, which describes the first public appearance of the Lord in Nazareth, and His first preaching about the “acceptable year of the Lord.”1 Then there was a treasury of hymnographic material of unparalleled beauty as well as litanies in the cities and blessing of the water, all this unutilized, buried under the ruins of the ancient New Year Day of Sep. 1st. The Church should rediscover its spiritual strength, which is capable of transforming everything she touches.
A Prayer for the Coming New Year
O Lord our God, You are the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Creator of time, existing before time and outside of time, the same yesterday, today and forever. You are the Pantocrator, the absolute Ruler who exercise sovereign authority over the entire universe and its laws. You are not limited by any natural events and occurrences, or by our action or inaction. The world is not driven by blind forces, but is governed wisely and lovingly by Your divine Providence.
You, O King and Master of the world, govern by Your almighty will the world You created as a captain governs his ship. We have nothing to be afraid of, as long as You are at the rudder. The very elements of nature obey You. Nothing happens by chance. What happens to us does not happen at random. Not a single hair from our heads falls to the ground without Your powerful will. We are in Your hands. What we are, whatever good we have in us, comes from You, the source of every goodness.
We ask You humbly, our Savior, as we enter this New Year of our salvation, to bless us all; to bless our endeavors, and everything we do. We ask You, O Lord, to bless the time You give us, that we may pass this new year of Your grace and the lifespan You have given us in repentance, forgiveness, patience, tolerance, peace, the fight against our passions, the practicing of the virtues, in doing Your will, not ours, and in accepting it cheerfully, without groaning or complaint.
Grant us, O Father Almighty, sincere faithfulness, wakeful preparedness and active witness, to be strong and grow in faith and love for You, and work diligently for the establishment of Your Kingdom, a Kingdom of peace and justice. Instill in us the longing for the establishment of Your heavenly Kingdom, a Kingdom of everlasting life, peace and joy.
We also beseech You, O Lord, to bless the entire world, and all Nations. Guide them to You, that they may come to know You, the only true God, and to do Your Holy Will. And protect, O Lord, Your Holy Church, everywhere, so that with one voice and one heart we may all praise and glorify Your most Holy and magnificent Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Written Dec. 31, 1993
- Luke 4:18-19
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis