Happy New Year? It is not January 1st but nevertheless a new year has arrived. On September 1, the Orthodox Church celebrates the ecclesiastical new year, also known as the Indiction. Indiction comes from the word Indictio, an imperial decree which means Definition or Order. Every fifteen years the Roman emperors would issue a new tax in order to maintain military defense. This period of time was also the length of conscription for Roman soldiers. The first worldwide Indiction was in 312 AD, by the Emperor Constantine the Great.
According to Holy Tradition, Christ entered the synagogue on September 1st as he began His earthly ministry, fulfilling the Scriptures: He was handed the book of the Prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: ‘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 brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing (Lk 4: 17-21).’
O Christ our God, on Mt. Sinai You wrote the tablets of old. And now You came incarnate, and You went to the city of Nazareth, O Lord, and accepted to read from the book of the Prophecies. And then you closed it and said to the people there, that the Scripture is fulfilled in You (Sticheron of Festal Vespers).
September is also the time when the harvest is gathered and the crops are stored away. Then new seed is sown for the production of future crops. The Orthodox ecclesiastical new year does coincide with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) which is the 1st and 2nd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei.
On that day a shofar which is a ram’s horn is blown. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel’, saying, ‘in the seventh month,
on the first day of the month, you shall have a rest, a memorial of trumpets, a holy convocation for you (Leviticus 23: 23-24).’ The Hebrew month of Tishrei is the beginning of the civil calendar for the Jews. The ecclesiastical calendar, however, begins with the month of Nisan.
For Orthodox Christians, the civil calendar starts in January and the ecclesiastical calendar in September. For the Jews, however, although Tishrei marks the beginning of the civil calendar, the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot) are all celebrated in this month. The month of Tishrei usually begins in September but in some years could begin as late as October 5th. It was in the month of Tishrei that the Jews entered the Promised Land.
Just like with the Jewish Feast of Rosh Hashanah, the Orthodox Ecclesiastical New Year celebrates God’s creation. The original ancestors of mankind are Adam and Eve. A popular icon that is usually venerated on this day is the one depicting God breathing into Adam’s face the breath of life, making him a living soul (Gn 2:7).
Holy Spirit, one in essence with the Son, the eternal Word, with Him You create and sustain all things visible and invisible: Bless the beginning of this year; bring peace to Your Orthodox people, through the prayers of the Theotokos and all the saints (1st Theotokion of Festal Vespers).
Another icon that is venerated on this day is Adam naming the animals. This visualizes that man has dominion over all earthly creatures. [God] brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. Thus whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all the cattle, to all the birds of heaven, and to all the wild animals of the field (Gn 2:19-20). Hence, man is the crown of creation, the highest creation of God on earth; made in the image and likeness of God.
It is a tradition in Constantinople at the Phanar that the Ecumenical Patriarch along with the Holy Sacred Synod concelebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of St George on September 1st. The hierarchs sign the Patriarchal and Synodal Tome for the Indictus, an ancient practice dating back to Constantine the Great.
So this is indeed a day of celebration, as we usher in the ecclesiastical new year. We offer thanks to God for the abundance of the fruits of the earth and pray for the new harvest that is about to be sown. Furthermore, let us offer thanks to God for the gift of life.
It is the first day of the ecclesiastical year. It invites us to honor those who make it splendid: Callista, Evodos, and Hermogenes, those siblings and martyrs; Symeon, that peer of the angels; Joshua, the son of Nun; the Seven Young Men of Ephesus; and that chorus of Forty Holy Women. As we commemorate them all together, O fans of the Church's feasts, let us sing with gusto and also pray, "O Lord, bless the works of Your hands, and grant that we may spend the time of the coming year advantageously (Festal Aposticha)."
Indeed, our ancestors, Adam and Eve, did fall but the Second Adam, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, redeemed them and all mankind from sin and death. We are of the generation following His Resurrection, the New Jerusalem (Νέα Ιερουσαλήμ). The sowing of seed is not just for crops but the good works that each of us do in accordance with God’s will that they will produce fruit bountifully.
O Fashioner of all creation, who made seasons and years by Your own authority, bless the crown of the year with Your goodness, O Lord, and preserve our rulers and Your city in peace, at the intercession of the Theotokos, and save us (Festal Apolytikion).
A Healthy and Blessed Ecclesiastical New Year to all!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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