It seems odd saying “Happy New Year” in September, but that’s when the Church marks Her annual beginning. September 1st is, for the Church, the first day of a New Year.
A pious tradition of the Church holds that Jesus of Nazareth began preaching the good news of His mission on September 1st. When our Lord entered the Synagogue, He was given the book of the Prophet Isaiah to read, and He opened it and found the place where it is written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).
Tradition also holds that it was during the month of September that the Hebrews entered the Promised Land. And, the custom of beginning a new year with autumn was common in Biblical and Mediterranean lands because the summer harvest was completed, the crops were stored, and it was a time when people began preparing for a new agricultural cycle. It was an appropriate time for a new beginning. This is evident in the services for the New Year as the Church beseeches God for fair weather, seasonable rains, and an abundance of the fruits of the earth.
As we begin this new year it should be noted that the Church Calendar is loaded with important events — especially the 12 Great Feasts, the Four Fasts, and PASCHA. Also, each day of the Church Year is set aside to honor Saints; many of whom died on that particular date. Similar to our personal calendars where we mark the earthly birthdays of family and friends, the Church remembers the Saints on their “heavenly birthday” — the day they passed from this life to Paradise.
Liturgically, the Church Year begins and ends with the Mother of God. The first Great Feast of the Year, September 8th, honors her birth; the last Great Feast of the Year, August 15th, remembers her falling asleep. Between these two Great Feasts the Church marks 10 other major Feasts and PASCHA, the Feast of Feasts. Here’s a list of those Feasts, including their dates for the coming year (those using the so-called Old Calendar add 13 days to fixed feasts — not Pascha, Ascension & Pentecost):
Elevation of the Holy Cross, September 14th
Entry of the Theotokos in the Temple, November 21st
Nativity of Christ (Christmas), December 25th
— preceded by a 40-day fast which begins on St Philip’s Day, November 15th
Baptism of Christ (Theophany), January 6th
Meeting of Christ in the Temple, February 2nd
Annunciation of the Theotokos, March 25th
Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) April 17, 2011
— preceded by the Great Fast and followed by Passion Week
PASCHA – April 24, 2011
Ascension of our Lord, June 2, 2011
Pentecost Sunday, June 12, 2011
Transfiguration of our Lord, August 6th
Falling Asleep of the Theotokos (Dormition), August 15th
— preceded by a 2-week fast which begins on August 1st
The dates for Palm Sunday, PASCHA, Ascension, and Pentecost vary each year. In 2011, Eastern Orthodox Christians will — yet again — celebrate PASCHA at the same time the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches celebrate Easter, April 24th. The Apostles’ Fast can vary in length. It begins on the Monday after All Saints Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost) and ends with the Feast, June 29th.
Each parish also celebrates its “altar feast” on the day set aside for its Patron Saint, Feast, or Name.
The wall calendars that most parishes make available each fall include many of the daily Saints and readings for the year. Also, most people have their own Patron Saint — or “nameday” — to remember, as well as other favorite and family Saints’ days.
Why not start the New Year off right? Mark your personal calendar with the Feasts, Fasts, and Saints days of the Church. Make a resolution to participate in the liturgical cycle of the Church. Unlike mundane New Year’s resolutions, marking your calendar, keeping the Feasts and Fasts, and embarking for a new life within the annual life of the Church is a wonderful way to sanctify time. Let’s all join together in making this an “acceptable year of the Lord!”
Happy New Year!
As can be seen from some of the Comments, this is an edited re-post from 2006.