The first day of September is a day of beginnings.
In the United States, certainly, early September has something of this ring of beginnings: the school year typically starts in or around its first week, and Labor Day marks the unofficial beginning of the fall season, which inexplicably also carries with it a categorical prohibition thenceforth to wear white. Yet these things lack the fastidious punctiliarity of saying that September 1, precisely and specifically, is day of beginnings.
Now I have no doubt that, even without any personal ecclesiastical reason, the more inquisitive and learned among you, my gentle snowflakes, are well aware that the first day of September marks the beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year of the Eastern Church. The calendar calls it “The Beginning of the Indiction” (Ἀρχή τῆς Ἰνδίκτου), by reference to the name of the 15-year Roman tax cycle (Lat. Indictio) that later came to designate (in the calendrical conventions of both East and West) each of the years during that period individually. Needless to say, this beginning is marked with great pomp and ceremony even to the present day: thus earlier this morning, 30 Bishops in all joined His All-holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople the New Rome, in signing the Patriarchal Proclamation of the Indiction for 7526 Anno Mundi. On this day, the Church asks her Lord to “bless the crown of the year with [his] goodness” (Apolytikion of the Feast; cf. Psalm 64:12, LXX). We also hear at Vespers a sobering reading selected from Leviticus 26, which together with Deuteronomy 28 makes up the great seat of covenantal blessings and curses in the Pentateuch, filled with references to the seasons, weather, agriculture, farming, and all of the business of the year—but also, of course, to obedience and disobedience to the “Fashioner of all creation, who fix[es] times and seasons by [his] own authority” (Apolytikion; cf. Acts 1:7). We do all of these things, of course, because we hope to make a good beginning.
Yet this is not all. Also at Vespers we hear a reading from Isaiah 61, which at the Divine Liturgy we hear repeated at the Gospel from the lips of Our Lord Jesus Christ himself:
“At that time, Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was his custom, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And he was given the book of the prophet Isaiah, and when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’
Then he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ So all bore witness to him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.”
(St Luke 4:16-22)
And so on this first day of September, “the Beginning of the Indiction which is the Ecclesiastical New Year,” of all possible beginnings we are presented with the beginning of the public ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in which he proclaims the arrival of “the acceptable year of the Lord” that is fulfilled in him. On this day of beginnings, then, we have the Gospel, the Good News, preached to us. And how we need it!
As we all know from bitter experience, we are fickle creatures who oscillate between obedience and disobedience—between the good we want but do not do and the evil we do not want but do, as St Paul once put it (cf. Romans 7:19). And so, when we fail, we at once sense the need for a new beginning, for a new day on which we will start again with a clean slate and renewed resolve. But we also know, of course, that gyms empty out by the end of January, that diets that start on Monday are abandoned by the end of the week, and that most of our other good intentions seldom outlast our best made plans. Yet here is the thing: this is not a reason for despair. There is nothing magical or mystical about the beginning of the week, or the month, or the year (even an ecclesiastical one!), convenient and necessary milestones though they may be. What matters in the end is that every day, every hour, every moment, we are living in this acceptable year of the Lord in which he has preached the Gospel to us, so that whenever we fail, we can at once turn to him and start anew. So, thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! (cf. Romans 7:25) Pleading with the Corinthians, St Paul draws on the Good News of Isaiah to make this very point, which I now plead with you to take to heart as together we make this new beginning:
“For [God] says:
‘At the acceptable time I have heard you,
and I have helped you on the day of salvation.’
Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
(2 Corinthians 6:2, cf. Isaiah 49:8, LXX)