Happy New Year!
Fr. Gregory Hallam · September 11, 2011
Fr. Gregory Hallam reflects on the new liturgical year and three mighty manifestations of the Divine Glory.
The Orthodox Church claims to go back to the beginnings of human life. But when you examine the claim, you discover that there are more beginnings than one. There is for example the beginning of Salvation History with Creation and Adam; there is the beginning of corporate or ecclesial life, with Abraham; there is the new beginning and the type of the Resurrection which came with Noah and the flood. Then there is the all-important new beginning when Israel came out of Egypt and settled in the land of Palestine. Life there was in turn renewed by the reformation of the fathers of Deuteronomy. Then there was another new beginning at the time of the seventh century prophets, Amos & Co., which culminated in the height of prophetic activity we call Isaiah.
Among all these new beginnings and reformations and restitution’s, there have been three great and mighty manifestations of the Divine Glory. The first, Creation, has already been mentioned and this culminated in the birth of the first Adam. This was followed by the coming of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, born of the Blessed Theotokos, that flower and scion of the whole Hebrew race, Mary of Nazareth. This coming on earth of her Son culminated in the Cross and His Resurrection. The final expression of God’s power was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which gave birth to the creation of Christ’s Body, the ecclesial society of the Church.
All these events and people are commemorated in the Orthodox Calendar—and this includes the important prophets of the Old Testament. One by one, they all pop up in the daily unfolding and commemorating of our Salvation History. On 1st September, we commemorate at once all those many and varied beginnings. Properly the day is called “The Indiction” from the Latin, “to impose”. This is a reminder that Constantine the Great chose this day to impose tax each year on his Roman subjects. In this way 1st September became the start of a new year in the Roman Empire and so eventually, in the undivided Church as well. In passing, it is interesting to note that in Britain, our academic and judicial years also begin at this time. These, it is claimed, we so arranged by St Alfred, a great King, and founder of our educational system and by St Theodore, the Greek-born Archbishop of Canterbury who reorganised the dioceses of this country and their courts of justice. Strange, too, that our fiscal or tax year, still begins on what was, in the old Julian calendar, the Feast of the Annunciation, 25th March, and which, when transferred to the new calendar in 1752 became, 5th April.
Other new year’s days abound. The new year of Our Lord, 1st January, is now no more than a gala celebration, and the Western Church regards Advent Sunday as the start of its new year. The Jews and the Muslims; the Hindus and the Chinese all have different new year’s days but amidst all these, we stick to 1st September, and we have to be ready to defend ourselves for this. There appear to be three strands to its choice. The first has already been mentioned. We saw that Constantine started his tax year on this date and he was important to the early Church for ending anti-Christian persecution and for legalising Christianity, so his lead was important. This induced, secondly, the Bishops of the first Ecumenical Council in 325 to decree this day as the start of a new Church year. It was also commonly believed that the Exodus from Egypt took place during September, and the Orthodox Jewish New Year is also celebrated on the 1st September (allowing for the lunar cycle) and other traditions in Judaism celebrate it later in the month.
The third strand is that, tradition has the 1st September, as the day when Jesus Christ chose to come out of his obscurity and, for the first time, publicly proclaimed His mission, in His own home town of Nazareth, as recorded in this morning’s Gospel. He read and then spoke on the 61st chapter of Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor…..and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4.16-22). When talking about “time” the Greek of the New Testament uses two different words. Chronos refers, obviously, to chronological time, calendar time, time that moves on, second by second, day by day and year by year. And for all of us, this sort of time comes to an end when we die. So St Paul warned the Ephesians:—“Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of the kairos because the days are evil” (5.15). By using the Greek word “kairos” there, St Paul means, not chronological time, but rather God’s time, which stretches out into eternity and in which we are struggling to live now. Jesus, we believe, lived kairos time in that He never lost or ignored a single moment for doing good. He used time to the fullest:—teaching, comforting, loving, preaching. Even when He was alone, He spent time in prayer, communicating with His Father, to discover how best to use the time that was left to Him on earth.
This new year can be for all of us a “year of Grace of the Lord”, when we realise that we are called, despite the calendar and the chronos, we are called to live as best we can, in kairos, in God’s time, just because, as St Paul says, the days are evil. In our own strength, we cannot guarantee that we will persevere, but on this first day, we are called upon to look to OBL in a spirit of faith and dedication. The Gospel tells us that “the eyes of all were fastened on Him” We pray that on this first day, we might turn away from the sin which does so easily beset us, and fix our eyes on Christ and Him alone. We are called to use our chronos days, to enter into His kairos ways.
But there is another aspect of life reflected in our Calendar today. We began with the first act of God in our Salvation History, the Creation, and in modern times, our Church has now designated 1st September as a “Day of Prayer for the Protection of the Environment”. It is fully in keeping with our faithfulness to that great divine act that we respect God’s Creation. We are called to live within it, rather than attempting to dominate it, and so ultimately, to destroy it. To pray for the protection of the environment daily, is surely another way of proclaiming it to be for us, an acceptable year for the Lord. Creation began, and will continue, in kairos, God’s time, but we still have the duty during our chronos, to protect it. So help us, God.