Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Russian New Year Molieben

O Master of all created things,
You have established seasons and years by your power.
Bless this New Year with Your bounty:
Preserve this land and its people in peace,
And save us through the prayers of the Theotokos.
(Molieben hymn for New Year's, Troparion, tone 2, at "Now and ever")

By Sergei V. Bulgakov (1900)

January 1, i.e. New Year

At the present time we celebrate January 1 (1) as the beginning of the new year. Forty five years before the Nativity of Christ the Romans celebrated the New Year on January 1 instead of March 1, as they had before, and spent this day in licentious noisy games in disguises, in mad entertainment and abominable dissolution (2); therefore Christians for a long time did not dedicate this day as the New Year, and their days of the New Year looking at the different countries and times were: March 1, March 25, September 1, September 23 and December 25. In 1594 French King Charles IX established that the year begins on January 1; eventually other western countries accepted this establishment. At first Russia began the year on March 1, and then later on September 1. At the end of 1699 Emperor Peter 1 issued a decree to begin the civil year on January 1, and 1700 was the first year, which began with this month.


(1) The name January is given this month because it was dedicated to Janus by ancient Romans, represented by two faces - in front (young) and behind (old) - meaning that he stands between two times: his one face looks forward, and the other looks back at the year just expired. Prosinets refers to the shining light, which strengthens from that moment by the light of the sun, which begins to show the blue sky. This month is called Sichen from the crackling of severe frost or from the dissection, according to the belief of the people, of winter into two halves.

(2) According to the belief of the Roman pagans, the first moment of the New Year had a fatal influence on the entire annual period of time: whoever cheerfully meets and greets the first day of the New Year will live cheerfully during the entire year; therefore everyone made an effort to meet and to greet the first day of the New Year as cheerfully and loosely as possible. On New Year's Eve men and women gathered in private homes and in inns so that as a community they would meet the New Year. To be drunk on this day was regarded as necessary even by those who did not like to drink wine. Noise, shouts, songs, dancing, applause resounded on the streets and in the buildings all night. The men dressed themselves as women, and in turn the women did not lag behind the men in the art of masquerading. According to the testimony of the Blessed Augustine, some dressed up as animals, put on rams skins, attached to themselves heads of cows, deer, hounds and other animals; others dressed up even as demons or put on themselves images of the pagan gods and goddesses. The masqueraders went through the city, from house to house, with noise, song and dance. Various kinds of magicians, soothsayers and augurs, and fortune tellers of all possibilities about the future never had as many visitors as on this night, the eve of the New Year. With approach of morning all hastened to each other with congratulations, well wishing and gifts for the New Year. The eve of the day was spent in feasts and amusements.

The New Year Molieben

We receive the New Year as everyone knows, especially in the large cities, with noisy festivity, amid all possible kinds of sinful amusements and diversions (2). In view of this it is rather pleasant to note the custom, which has appeared only in recent times, to perform, with the sanction of local diocesan authority, a molieben in the temples at midnight for the New Year (3) (see for 1894 Diocesan News (Eparkhial'nyiia vedomosti), for example Astrakhan No. 5, Kholm -Warsaw No. 2, Penza No. 1). It is true that the Molieben is performed everywhere on January 1 after the liturgy, and where the New Year peacefully reposes, as for example in the villages (4), there is no present need to perform the Molieben at midnight. But there, where at midnight of the New Year debauchery reigns, it is rather beneficial at this particular time to call for a prayer for those meeting in the sinful watchfulness of the New Year. One must agree with the opinion of some,that in performing the Molieben at midnight for the New Year pastoral practice has found a faithful and most reliable means for counteracting the sinful meeting of the New Year. Many are involved in the debauchery of the New Year owing to their weakness and levity and it is especially necessary to stretch a helping hand to them. Contrasting with the dirty and noisy outbursts of worldly indecency for the New Year, solemn appeals of church bells, surely their mighty sounds will victoriously resound in many hearts, will stop, defend and show much of the present way as the way one should meet the New Year (5).


(1) Up to 1700, when the New Year was celebrated on September 1, "the action of the New Year" was made special. Emperor Peter 1 canceled this "action" in 1700, and then the molieben by Gabriel Buzhinsky was written and used till today.

(2) The accusations and instructions of St. John Chrysostom are involuntarily remembered in his sermon for the New Year: 

"The diabolical revelry, he says, continuing today in the all night, laughter, malicious gossip, nightly dancing and ridiculous burlesque has taken our city in captivity...The games concerned me most of all, occurring in the inns today, fulfilling intemperance and great impiety; -- an impiety that occupies them on these days observing, guessing and thinking that if on the first day of this month they spend in pleasure and gladness, then the rest of the year will be spent that way also; - but the intemperance that at dawn women and men having filled their glasses and cups with wine, drink without any limit...If you want to benefit from the first day of this month, act in such a way: that when you see the end of year, it will praise the Master that He entered into you such a cycle of years, a broken heart, numbering the years of your life, telling yourself: the days flow and pass, the years terminate...,and what good have we done?...Remember this philosophy at the beginning of months during the cycle of years... To observe on these days - not only the work of Christian philosophy, but also the errors of paganism..."

"Really, it is strange and inexcusable for the Christian to expect special benefits from how he meets the New Year, forgetting that true happiness and well-being depend not on the cycle of time, but on the will of God and from the character of our activity; it is inexcusable to approach New Year with noisy carousing from evening to midnight, to do only purely pagan things and for the truly Christian dishonor...Meeting similar days, as on the New Year's, with various profligacies and disgraces not only testifies to absence of piety, but also sustains antagonism to Christianity and the Church..."

(3) The initiative of such a meeting of the New Year was made about two or three years ago by some pastors in St. Petersburg. In 1894 in almost all the churches in St. Petersburg the molieben for the New Year prescribed for after the liturgy was performed on the eve after the Vigil, which then set the tone for the religious mood for the entire night for all those present at the divine services (Tserkovnyi Vestnik (Church Messenger) 1894, 1). In the same year in Armavir (Stavropol Diocese) the Vigil for the New Year was usually performed later, beginning at 10 p.m., and before the reading of the Gospel the Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus was read in the middle of the temple, and at the end of the Vigil appropriate instruction was given (Tserkovniya Vedomosti (Church News) 1894, 3).

(4) Unfortunately, even in our villages, as a heritage of old paganism, various superstitious customs, omens and fortune telling associated with the New Year still continue to exist. In many places in Little Russia the hostess prepares for the evening on the day before New Year as many pirogi and knishes as possible and puts them in one common heap on the table. The host after a prayer sits on his redemption place, behind a pile of pirogi; the children enter, pray and ask the mother: "where is our father?" - "He-he didn't you see me?" asks the father. - "No we didn't see you, dad!" the children answer. "Grant, O God, that even during this year they will not see!" says the father, that is, so that even the next year there will be the same abundance of loaves. The evening on the day before the New Year is known in Little Russia by the name "bountiful" and "rich", with the idea that the approach of the New Year represents the rebirth of the sun, while the summer and the harvest do not exist by themselves. On New Year's, brought out into the garden from the hut is the rubbish, which from the Nativity itself was not thrown out onto the courtyard, but was swept away into the corner under "redemption". In the garden this rubbish is burned so that the smoke from it made it possible "to fumigate" all the fruit trees. By doing this the peasants think the trees will be more fruitful. Early in the morning children visit homes and sow seeds of oats, rice, and so forth, singing so-called sowing time songs or pronouncing wishes for happiness and fertility for the next year. At the showering of the girls the unmarried boys by throwing on them seeds foretell: if the number of grains will appear even, it means the girl will marry, and if not to the contrary. The owners carefully collect the seeds which were strewn and hold them for planting, and then with other seeds throw them on the ground; a part of them they also give to the hens that laid more eggs. The act of showering with the seeds is called: assenemovsenem (with oats), hovsenem, badtsenev and so on. All these words come from the word oves (oats), used during the sowing, which, probably, are theremnants of some forgotten pagan village-owner feast. The same feast also prescribes the custom of preparing kasha on this day with special activity and with prognostications on it for the next year. A different kind fortune telling still continues its hold on the simple people even in Great Russia. In Belorussia, as soon as it gets dark, a little boy, a girl and even young ones are sent to the neighbors to perform "a theft", that is, to take from each other anything, that one can take in hand: clothes, utensils and so forth. The little boy makes an effort to steal anything from the wardrobe of a girl, and they in turn do the same. All stolen items come back the next day. In accordance with this everyone makes an effort to boast cleverly and usefully about the theft of an item. There are, however, situations where the "theft" as a joke turns out to be in reality an adult.

(5) The Holy Church in its prayer books prescribes the singing of the molieben on the New Year, encompassing all existing needs from the temporary to the eternal in human life, thanking the Creator and Providence for all the blessings abundantly poured out upon us by Him during the past year and asking Him "to bless the crown of the coming year with Thy bounty". Together with these the Holy Church stands us before the face of God, as the Source of life and immortality and the Originator of all good, and calls us to implore Him: "to forgive us and all Thy people all the sins voluntary and involuntary, we have committed during the past year", "to drive away from us all soul corrupting passions and corrupt habits", "to renew a right spirit in our hearts", "to create in us zeal for good works and obedience to all His commandments", "to grant us peace, perseverance, sincere love, orderly structure and a virtuous way of life". Therefore this very thing induces us, at the approach of the New Year, to strictly examine and review all our life and works during the past year, sincerely repenting our sins and making a firm resolution for the future, with full effort, to abstain from all evil, and to learn that the well-being of our life depends on God and that our only duty is "zeal for good works", that is, being truly Christian. Only a true Christian may enjoy a pure, tranquil conscience - the most precious of all treasures; only he may, with a firm hope in God, transfer all difficulties and temptations, which are so numerous in life and inevitable for everyone; only he can rightly take advantage for the good of the world for the glory of God, for the salvation of his soul and for the welfare of his neighbor; only he can be satisfied with any destiny the Lord sends him; and that in this satisfaction is the true happiness on earth. It is this happiness that we also should wish, at the approach of the New Year, for our neighbor and ourselves and for this we should lift up fervent prayers to the Most High.


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