IN THE MODERN AGE the world has come to accept one civil calendar which originated in Western Europe centuries ago. Many of us are aware that some groups still maintain an attachment to their historic calendars. The Chinese and Vietnamese, for example stage their own New Year’s celebrations according to their ancient calendars, usually in late winter. The Islamic New Year may begin anywhere from mid-October to mid-December. And the Jewish New Year, Rosh Ha-shanah, regularly begins in September.
Starting in the last half of the fifth century (probably ad 462), the Byzantine Empire designated September 1 as the first day of the New Year. The Byzantine liturgical year was arranged according to that calendar and September 1 remains the first day of our liturgical year. The cycle of the Church’s Great Feasts begin in September with the Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8) and conclude in August with the feast of her Dormition (August 15).
Although our contemporary civil calendar begins on January 1, many of our public institutions effectively begin their year in September also. Congress and the courts, the school year, the theater and concert seasons, fundraisers, and other civic events on hold through the summer start up again only after Labor Day. Perhaps the Jews and the Byzantines got it right after all.
The first day of the Church year is called the Indiction. Originally referring to the start of a tax assessment cycle in the Roman Empire, this word has come to mean the beginning of a cycle in a more general way and may be found in legal or formal documents to this day. Thus in 2011 Pope Benedict XVI issue a formal letter “For the Indiction [i.e. Beginning] of the Year of Faith.” And so calling September 1 an Indiction simply means that it is the start of a new cycle of the feasts, fasts and other observances of our Church.
On this day Byzantine churches read the Gospel of the beginning of Christ’s public ministry as recorded in Luke 4:16-22. After reading the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2 the Lord tells His listeners, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Messiah is at hand: God’s plan is on the move.
THE “YEAR OF THE WORLD”
A lesser-known aspect of the Byzantine calendar is that September 1, ad 2013 is the first day of am 7522! From ad 691 to 1728 the Byzantine Churches followed a system dating years from the creation of the world according to the calculations in the Book of Genesis (AM, Anno Mundi, the “Year of the World”). In 1700, during his westernization of Russia, Tsar Peter the Great replaced the Byzantine Era in his realm with the Western Christian Era. A few years later the Patriarchate of Constantinople and all the Churches in the Ottoman Empire followed suit. Formal documents of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Mount Athos and some other Eastern Church bodies may still indicate the Byzantine Era date along with that according to the Christian Era.
PRAYER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
The Genesis story of creation, on which the Byzantine Era was based, has given rise to a new expression in the modern age. In 1989 the late Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I designated September 1 as a day of prayer for the protection of the environment. He called for “prayers and supplications to the Maker of all, both as thanksgiving for the great gift of Creation and in petition for its protection and salvation.”
The patriarch noted that modern society has embraced an approach to the world around us, based on a philosophy which denies the existence of God the Creator. Since in this philosophy there is no God, there is no reason to consider creation as a divine gift. And since in this materialistic philosophy there is no higher life than the physical, there is no benefit to ascetic effort: to use the gifts of the earth sparingly and always with an eye to the needs of those who have less. In the patriarch’s words, “Unfortunately, in our days under the influence of an extreme rationalism and self-centeredness, humanity has lost the sense of sacredness of creation and acts as its arbitrary ruler and rude violator. Instead of the eucharistic and ascetic spirit with which the Orthodox Church brought up its children for centuries, we observe today a violation of nature for the satisfaction not of basic human needs, but of man’s endless and constantly increasing desire and lust, encouraged by the prevailing philosophy of the consumer society.”
Christians, the patriarch affirms, should approach the material creation with a eucharistic spirit, that is, with an attitude of thanksgiving, recognizing that it is of God and given to us by His grace. It should be used with an ascetic spirit, that is, according to our real needs rather than from a desire to amass or to out-possess others. An ascetic spirit sees our abundance as given that we may use it in doing good for those in need.
More recently H.H. Francis, the Pope of Rome, affirmed similar sentiments, speaking to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square. He identified modern society as a “culture of waste,” as others have spoken of a throwaway society. “This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” the pope said.
“Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.”
As we begin the new Church year we can embrace the sentiments of both these hierarchs, by taking a fresh look at the creation in which we live, seeing it as God’s gift to us meant to be used with a spirit of simplicity and love for others.
Prayers for the Protection of the Environment
Troparion (Tone 4) – 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 (Tone 2) – 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.
Ikos – Loving Savior, we praise the manifestations of your providence and your many saving powers; because with ineffable wisdom and order and harmony You have established for all things laws and unalterable ordinances for the protection of us, your royal fashioning. Keep us unshaken, Lord, from every corrupting activity, change and destruction, as guardian, protector and deliverer of all things, keeping in them the essential power unmoved, and especially watching over the environment that surrounds the earth.
Source: Eparchy of Newton