August 31 New Year’s Eve – Liturgically Speaking

Christ our God, Thy kingdom is an everlasting one and Thy lordship is over all. Thou has made all things with wisdom and have established proper times and seasons for our lives. We give thanks to Thee in all circumstances and for all things. Lord, bless the beginning of our Church year with Thy goodness. Grant that this liturgical year be for all of us a year of grace. Make us worthy with purity of heart always to praise Thee. O Lord, glory to Thee! Orthros Hymn, September 1st

Most of the liturical language for the feast of beginning the new Church year comes from Psalm 65.
Praise is due to thee, O God, in Zion; and to thee shall vows be performed, O thou who hearest prayer! To thee shall all flesh come on account of sins. When our transgressions prevail over us, thou dost forgive them. Blessed is he whom thou dost choose and bring near, to dwell in thy courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, thy holy temple! By dread deeds thou dost answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation, who art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of the farthest seas; who by thy strength hast established the mountains, being girded with might; who dost still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples; so that those who dwell at earth’s farthest bounds are afraid at thy signs; thou makest the outgoings of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. Thou visitest the earth and waterest it, thou greatly enrichest it; the river of God is full of water; thou providest their grain, for so thou hast prepared it. Thou waterest its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. Thou crownest the year with thy bounty; the tracks of thy chariot drip with fatness. The pastures of the wilderness drip, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

The worship of the Orthodox Church is rich in the Word of God. For the first day of the Church year a total of eight readings are designated, three from the Old Testament which are read during Vespers, and five from the New Testament which are read during the Matins and Liturgy.

The main Bible reading from the Divine Liturgy of September 1st is Lk. 4:16-22, a passage which marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in St. Luke’s Gospel. In this reading we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He reads from the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue and proclaims to the world that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Him.

See how the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the beginning of the Church year converge! It is significant that the Church in its worship has joined the first day of the liturgical year with the first day of Jesus’ public preaching. In this fashion the Church has Jesus speaking to us today just as He did to His contemporaries in the synagogue at Nazareth. Will we reject Him or accept Him? Will we rebel against His Word actively, will we ignore it, or will we respond to it positively?

Christ’s good news demands our faithful response of mind, heart, soul and body. The unconditional love of God, shown by the most precious gift of His Son who shed His blood on the Cross for our salvation, requires a total response on our part. St. Symeon the Stylite, whose feastday is observed on the first day of the Church year, is an example of unwavering devotion. St. Symeon for many years lived on top of a pillar (stylos, therefore he is called the “stylite”) in prayer, sustained by the power of God and little else. His ascetic witness was not only a radical denial of all earthly things but also a provocative pointer to the kingdom of God.

There is no merrymaking or party revelry on the eve of the beginning of the new Church year. It is an eve which does not call for wine and song but for contemplation, reflection and prayer. It is a time to pause and refresh the spirit and meditate on the new year before us. It is also a suitable time for us as Orthodox Christians to recommit our lives to Christ our God.

adapted from A Year of the Lord


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