Autumn is a season of anticipation and new beginnings. In Colorado, August usually provides a hint of the season’s upcoming changes—a cooling off of July’s oven-like heat (although we’re still baking this year), an occasional yellow leaf or two on the cottonwood trees, and summer’s final show-stopping blooms—clumps of yellow rudbeckia with their chocolate centers, the cool lavender of asters, and the bright oranges, reds, and yellows of blanket flowers, their fall colors pointing to the changing hues of the leaves and the ripening pumpkins.
The Church Greets a New Year
The gathering of crops into storehouses completes each year’s seasons of work, with the cycle beginning anew as farmers sow seeds in the earth for future crops. Because of this natural rhythm, the Church considers September 1st to be the beginning of the new year, called the Feast of Indiction.
Creator of the universe, setting times and seasons by Your sole authority, bless the cycle of the year of Your grace, O Lord, guarding our rulers and Your nation in peace, at the intercession of the Theotokos, and save us.
—Troparion (a hymn summarizing the feast of the day) of the Indiction
This reckoning of the calendar echoes back to ancient Israel, when the feast of the Blowing of the Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) marked the beginning of the new year in September. More directly, the Church’s calendar traces back to ancient Rome, where every fifteen years the emperors decreed a revised tax code, the indictio (definition or order). The Church adopted this term, Indiction, hundreds of years ago to mark the beginning of the new ecclesiastical year.
A Time for Fresh Starts
On the secular calendar, January 1st is not an immediately obvious choice for New Year’s Day. It makes sense scientifically but not experientially. The day itself marks no change of seasons and no change in the cycle of planting, growth, and harvest. It is merely a turning of a calendar page, a marking of the passage of Earth around the sun, and an adjustment of digits in the Anno Domini. New Year’s Day is a letdown, part of the post-Christmas hangover of overindulgence and overconsumption.
September is a much more fitting time for fresh starts, although those of us who live in the cities and suburbs experience the harvest season at a managed distance. Our livelihoods usually do not depend upon “fair weather, seasonable rains, and an abundance of the fruits of the earth,” our petition in the Divine Liturgy every Sunday.
Instead, the first sign of fall for suburbanites can be summarized in three letters: PSL. This acronym shows up in late August, signaling the appearance of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks as well as pumpkin spice everything else—candles, muffins, potpourri, desserts.
Soon actual pumpkins, as well as winter squashes and apples, will replace the abundant greens and fruits in the grocery stores.
We city folk will drive our children to the fields to explore corn mazes and select our future jack-o-lanterns in orderly pumpkin patches, experiencing well-organized fun on the land where farmers have worked and sweated all summer.
Yet September ushers in a season of change for suburbanites in other ways. In the United States, most families have begun to settle into the rhythm of a new school year. The summer vacation season is over; cooler weather begins, and long sleeves and boots reappear. (My apologies to readers in the American South who are still sweltering, as illustrated in this video, “When It’s ‘Fall’ in the South.”)
On the other side of the world, in Australia and New Zealand, spring arrives in September. There the Indiction ushers in a season of hope, with seeds of new life to remind us of new life in Christ.
Bearing Fruit in Our Spiritual Lives
The Eastern Orthodox Church helps all of us on a personal level in this process of change. The cycle of the liturgical calendar has feasts and fasts, times of celebration and repentance, holy days that lead us to the Nativity and to a series of feasts that celebrate major events in the life of Jesus and of the Virgin Mary.
Together we travel to the Lenten season of repentance and on to the Cross and Resurrection with Pascha, the Feast of feasts. The rhythms guide and shape our thoughts and actions throughout the year and call us back from our wilderness wanderings.
As both nature and the Church move into these new seasons of harvest or planting, I hope to bear fruit in my own life. Family schedules have shifted. Will I work on new rhythms of spiritual disciplines?
My parish has scheduled new classes, special events, and retreats along with the new ecclesiastical year. Will I make time? Will this be a new season of personal growth?
Asking God’s Blessings as We Look Ahead
A few years ago Archbishop Bartholomew of Constantinople joined with Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church to establish September 1st as a day of prayer and renewed attention for the protection of the natural environment.
His Eminence Demetrios, the former archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, annually offered his observations on the fitness of offering praise and thanksgiving for creation on the first day of the new ecclesiastical year:
As we enter upon a new season, a time of beginnings as the land is cultivated and our children and youth return to school, a time of renewal as we seek to strengthen our faith and follow the ways of the Lord, may we also strengthen our relationship with the created order. May we reconnect with the beauty, diversity, sustenance and life that comes from the world that God has made. May we affirm our divine calling to protect our natural environment as His creation, and as Orthodox Christians offer our support for the leadership and ministry of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and our beloved Ecumenical Patriarchate. May this ecclesiastical year be filled with the peace, blessings and protection of Christ, our Creator and Redeemer.
— Encyclical for the Beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year and Day for the Protection of Our Natural Environment, 9/1/18
As this new season begins, the day’s kontakion (a hymn, often with a biblical theme) is a wonderful accompaniment to my mug of coffee in the cool of the morning:
You who created all things in Your infinite wisdom, and set the times by Your own authority, grant Your Christian people victories. Blessing our comings and goings throughout this year, guide our works according to Your divine will.