Arabic version is available here
A Pastoral Letter for the Ecclesiastical New Year, 1st September 2021.
“Maker of the Universe, O Lord who alone have power over seasons and times: bless the Crown of the present Year with Your bounty, preserve our Country in safety and keep Your Church in peace, through the prayers of the Mother of God, and save us.” (Troparion, tone 2)
My Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“May Grace and Peace be yours in abundance.” (1Pet 1:2)
Throughout history most cultures and civilisations have marked the passing of time and have usually recorded the cyclical unfolding of the seasons in terms of years, usually of some twelve months, adjusted to suit the inaccuracies of man-made calendars. Whatever can be said of our far distant ancestors, we can safely assume that when humankind first looked up towards the heavens and noticed that the stars move, humanity became Calendar-making Man.
The progress of the year, and its constant renewal at some point, has been universally celebrated as a cultural and religious event from the earliest times. We have but to glance across the calendars of the world’s great religions to note the varying yet consistently celebrated festival of the New Year.
Although, even within a religious community, the date might vary, e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism, or vary from year to year, e.g. Islam; and although, at times, there seems to be calendar chaos across cultures and regions, there is still the idea of a beginning for the recurring cycle of the year – a beginning to be marked and celebrated, in one way or another.
Throughout European history, New Year’s Day has been variously determined. During the Middle Ages, it was sometimes celebrated on 1st January, the Feast of the Circumcision, or 25th March, the Feast of the Annunciation, or 25th December, the Feast of the Nativity, or Easter Sunday whenever.
In the Latin Church, the church New Year now begins on the first Sunday of Advent – that Sunday which falls on or is nearest to the 30th of November.
For the contemporary People of the Old Covenant, the New Year will fall somewhere between the 6th of September and the 6th of October. This year, Rosh Hashana will begin on the 7th of September.
From before the end of the fourth century, i.e. 312 A.D., in the Byzantine East Roman Empire, the civil and liturgical year had a common beginning on 1st September. On that day the worldly affairs of both the state and individuals were put in order – debts settled, taxes paid and legal matters resolved. Whilst much has changed in the style of the calendar, especially in the western world, including a New Year celebrated on 1st January, the Byzantine Churches maintain the custom of beginning the year on the 1st of September, the Constantinopolitan tradition.
The question has been asked: Why on earth bother to keep a separate Church New Year’s Day, when we already have a civil New Year on the 1st January? This is best answered simply by noting, as one Russian Orthodox cleric has done - God’s time, and therefore the things of God, are not necessarily those of the State.
This Wednesday, the 1st of September, is a good opportunity for us, as members of the Household of the Faith, to take some time from our worldly concerns and activities, and to remind ourselves that we are in the world but not of it. (see Jn 17:14) Whilst we are loyal and co-operative citizens of the secular state, our journey’s end – our τέλος – is elsewhere. Our final fulfilment can only be in Jesus Christ, the One who is “The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Rev 22:13)
We well know, as did the earliest Christians, “This world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (Heb 13:14) – and nothing that this world has to offer is worth risking our home which is yet to come. As our Lord warns us, “What does it profit a person to gain the entire world, and yet lose their immortal soul?” (Mk 8:36)
And the civil authority would do well to keep in mind that when faced with a moral or ethical problem, Christians can only but heed the words of Jesus, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mk 12:17)
The making of New Year’s resolutions is a practice found amongst most ancient peoples, both Covenantal and Gentile. Perhaps the ecclesiastical New Year presents us with the opportunity to make a resolution appropriate to the nature of the day. We could resolve to be more consistent in daily prayer or the reading of Sacred Scripture. In our present shared difficulties, we could determine to set aside a time each day to pray for our health and safety as a community and for other communities throughout the world.
As St Paul writes to St Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim 2:1-4)
We may not be doctors or bio-scientists, nurses or health care workers, but God has made each one of us to be a pray-er. As the Blessed Apostle writes to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6) That is our task, as we await our deliverance from our present troubles – we are to pray always and everywhere for ourselves and for all humankind.
As we begin this new ecclesiastical year, let us place all under the constant and unfailing watch of the Most Holy Theotokos, our Blessed Lady, “She-who-shows-the-way”, leading us to discover the One who said: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6)
It is my fervent prayer for each of you, and for the many friends of our Melkite Catholic Church, that the ecclesiastical New Year beginning on this Wednesday, 1st September, will be a time of countless blessings and every heavenly grace.
May the Good Lord grant you many more years.
Ad multos annos! Χρόνια πολλά! لسنين كثيرة
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1Tim 1:17)
With prayers assured and with my paternal blessing,
✠ Robert Rabbat, DD
Melkite Catholic Eparch of Australia, New Zealand and All Oceania.
From our Eparchy in Greenacre, NSW,
for the First of September 2021