September 1, 2010

September 1: The Ecclesiastical New Year

The Beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year (Feast Day - September 1)


Bless for us the Indiction of the New Year,
O You Who are both Ancient and for mankind New (namely You, O Christ).

For the maintenance of their armed forces, the Roman emperors decreed that their subjects in every district should be taxed every year. This same decree was reissued every fifteen years, since the Roman soldiers were obliged to serve for fifteen years. At the end of each fifteen-year period, an assessment was made of what economic changes had taken place, and a new tax was decreed, which was to be paid over the span of the fifteen years. This imperial decree, which was issued before the season of winter, was named Indictio (Indiction), that is, Definition, or Order. This name was adopted by the emperors in Constantinople also. At other times, the latter also used the term Epinemisis, that is, Distribution (Dianome).

It is commonly held that Saint Constantine the Great introduced the Indiction decrees in A.D. 312, after he beheld the sign of the Cross in heaven and vanquished Maxentius and was proclaimed Emperor in the West. Some, however (and this seems more likely), ascribe the institution of the Indiction to Augustus Caesar, three years before the birth of Christ. Those who hold this view offer as proof the papal bull issued in A.D. 781 which is dated thus: Anno IV, Indictionis LIII - that is, the fourth year of the fifty-third Indiction. From this, we can deduce the aforementioned year (3 B.C.) by multiplying the fifty-two complete Indictions by the number of years in each (15), and adding the three years of the fifty-third Indiction.

There are three types of Indictions: 1) That which was introduced in the West, and which is called Imperial, or Caesarean, or Constantinian, and which begins on the 24th of September; 2) The so-called Papal Indiction, which begins on the 1st of January; and 3) The Constantinopolitan, which was adopted by the Patriarchs of that city after the fall of the Eastern Empire in 1453. This Indiction is indicated in their own hand on the decrees they issue, without the numeration of the fifteen years. This Indiction begins on the 1st of September and is observed with special ceremony in the Church.

Since the completion of each year takes place, as it were, with the harvest and gathering of the crops into storehouses, and we begin anew from henceforth the sowing of seed in the earth for the production of future crops, September is considered the beginning of the New Year. The Church also keeps festival this day, beseeching God for fair weather, seasonable rains, and an abundance of the fruits of the earth.

The Holy Scriptures (Lev. 23:24-5 and Num. 29:1-2) also testify that the people of Israel celebrated the feast of the Blowing of the Trumpets on this day, offering hymns of thanksgiving.

In addition to all the aforesaid, on this feast we also commemorate our Savior's entry into the synagogue in Nazareth, where 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, for which cause He hath anointed Me..." (Luke 4:16-30). [This scene is depicted in a Vatican manuscript (Vatican, Biblioteca. Cod. Gr. 1613, p.1). It is pictured above]

It should be noted that to the present day, the Church has always celebrated the beginning of the New Year on September 1. This was the custom in Constantinople until its fall in 1453 and in Russia until the reign of Peter I. September 1 is still festively celebrated as the New Year at the Patriarchate of Constantinople; among the Jews also the New Year, although reckoned according to a movable calendar, usually falls in September. The service of the Menaion for January 1 is for our Lord's Circumcision and for the memorial of Saint Basil the Great, without any mention of its being the beginning of a new year.


St. Dimitri of Rostov exhorts the following for the Feast of the Indiction:

Therefore, offering Him thanksgiving, let us celebrate that acceptable year of the Lord, for we have received many and ineffable good things from His hand. Let us make haste to be well-pleasing in His sight. Let us celebrate, not the Indiction enacted by the Roman emperors, but that which has been ordained for us by Christ, the heavenly King of Glory. The tribute due to Christ from us on the occasion of the Indiction is the keeping and the fulfillment of His holy commandments, for Christ our King does not ask of us iron and brass. Neither does He exact silver nor demand gold, as David has made clear, saying to Him: 'Thou art my Lord; for of my goods no need hast Thou' (Ps. 15).

That we might with an upright heart believe in Him, He requires of us not iron and brass, but the virtue of faith, grounded firmly and strongly in Orthodox piety, which is founded upon the blood shed by the holy martyrs, who were tortured for the Christian faith with weapons of iron and implements and vessels of brass, as it is said: 'His life was spent in irons' (Ps. 104)....

Instead of silver, Christ our King requires of us the virtue of undoubting trust in God, which more than silver assures a man of a prosperous life... Such is the immaterial silver which the Lord requires of us. He commands that we trust not in riches, which quickly perish, but that we trust in the living God, Whose words 'are pure words, silver that is fired' (Ps. 11)....

Instead of gold, Christ our King demands the most precious virtue, unfeigned love for God and our neighbor, always represented by the teachers of the Church as gold because of its great value. Just as gold is more precious than silver, brass, or iron, so love is more honorable than hope and faith, as it is written: 'And now abideth faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love' (1 Cor. 13)....

The Orthodox Church now celebrates the Christian Indiction rather than that of the ancient heathen, 'having put off the old man with his deeds, and having put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him' (Col. 3). Thus let us celebrate the New Year as the Apostle counsels us, saying: 'We should walk in newness of life, that we should serve God in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter' (Rom. 6). Let us celebrate the Indiction, submitting to the ordinance of the Lord our God that was delivered through Moses, which is now read from the Book of Leviticus: 'If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them, then I will give peace in the land, and ye shall pursue your enemies and I will look upon you, and bless you, and My soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people' (Lev. 26), says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel.

Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Creator of the universe, setting times and seasons by Your sole authority, bless the cycle of the year of Your grace, O Lord, guarding our rulers and Your nation in peace, at the intercession of the Theotokos, and save us.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
You who created all things in Your infinite wisdom, and set the times by Your own authority, grant Your Christian people victories. Blessing our comings and goings throughout this year, guide our works according to Your divine will.

On this day, since established by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1989, the Orthodox also offer special prayers to God to protect the environment, which because of our sins is continuously being harmed. The following is from the Synaxarion of the Service for the Protection of the Environment:

On the same day, the beginning of the Indiction, we entreat our God, who loves mankind, for the welfare of the earth on which we live and for the whole creation.


We fall before you, Master, as we cry:
O Savior, from pollutions free the earth.

Apolytikion in Tone Four
Lord and Savior, who as God brought all things into being by a word, establishing laws and governing them unerringly to your glory, at the prayers of the Mother of God, keep secure and unharmed all the elements which hold the earth together, and save the universe.

Kontakion in Tone Two
With Your all-powerful strength you framed all things, both visible and invisible; and so keep unharmed, we implore your goodness, the environment that surrounds the earth.

At all times keep unharmed the whole creation we beg you, O Redeemer, and grant us breaths of winds and breezes moist with dew for our safety and salvation, O Lover of mankind.

The entire Service can be found here.