1 September OS 2018 – Friday of the Sixteenth Week of Matthew; the Church New Year (the Indiction); S. Symeon the Stylite; S. Jesus Son of Navi (Joshua Son of Nun)
Today begins the Church’s New Year, and it is a good time to reflect on the use we make of our time.
Though we live amid great material abundance, most of us – perhaps all of us – still experience a great poverty, the poverty of anxiety. This is not simply a psychological problem, but a spiritual one, for it shows that we do not yet fulfill the Gospel commandment of Jesus Christ:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. – Matthew 6: 33-34
If we believed in the Lord’s words and fulfilled them, we would not worry so much. How can we truly believe in His words and fulfill them in the actual circumstances of our lives? What does the Church’s tradition have to teach us?
The month of September marks the beginning of the Church Year. Today, September the first, is the Church New Year. In the entry for September 1st in his great collection of the Lives of the Saints, our holy hierarch father Demetrius of Rostov relates the following about the way of life commanded by God through Moses in the Old Testament:
…Every seventh year was called a sabbath, a year of rest, as the Lord said through Moses to the sons of Israel: “Six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; but in the seventh year shall there be a sabbath of rest unto the land; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. If ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year, if we sow not, neither gather in our grain? I will send My blessing upon you in the sixth years, and ye shall eat of the old stores (Leviticus 25: 3-4, 20-21).”
All those years in which the Lord ordained that man allow the land to rest began in the month of September. The Lord commanded: Do ye proclaim, saith the Lord, the year of repose in the seventh month, that is, in the month of September. This month is the seventh after March, which was the first month after the creation of the world. Not only did the year begin in September, according to the commandment given in the Old Testament, but the pagan indiction likewise began on the first day of the month of September. – The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume I (Trans. Fr. Thomas Marretta, Chrysostom Press, House Springs, Missouri)
Thus speaking to Moses, 1500 years before His coming in the flesh, the Lord gives even His Church of the Old Testament a strict, liberating, evangelical command: Trust Me so much that every seventh year you will not even plant your fields. Every seventh year, like every seventh day, was a time of rest, so that man could experience once again, as he did in Paradise, that it is the Lord, and not he himself, Who provides for all of his needs. Instead of striving – repose. Instead of worry – peace of mind. Instead of constant activity – prayer, reflection, and gratitude.
Though we are not bound literally by this command of the Mosaic Law, and though our circumstances are different from those of ancient agricultural peoples, we are bound spiritually to fulfill this precept, and the needs of our souls are the same as the men of all generations. How can we fulfill this command of the Lord, and how will this heal and enlighten our souls?
- We have to recognize that acquisitiveness, and its concomitant, “workaholism,” are very serious spiritual problems. They separate us from God. We have to subject our preconceptions about our material needs to ruthless scrutiny and consciously try to re-order our priorities to the point at which there is ample time for prayer, for Church, and for family.
- We have to honor the Lord’s Day with gathering for the Divine Services and a prayerful atmosphere at home. Just as in the Old Testament, the Sabbath belonged to the Lord, so in the New Testament, the Day of the Resurrection belongs to the Risen Christ. This is not optional; when we use this day for something else, we are stealing from God. We do not think about it this way; we do not “mean” to do it. But it does have that effect on our lives.
- We must stop running around like madmen in our leisure time. When one sees how people dash about from one activity to another in their “free” time, one wonders how they ever have time for quiet and peace at all. Do a calculation: what percentage of your leisure time is spent in prayer and spiritual reading, or even reading good literature and listening to good music, or just sitting down at real, leisurely meals with your family and talking to them? The constant desire for entertainment and distraction is a sickness of the soul, and when we keep feeding it, we get sicker.
The whole point of this is to create the pre-conditions in which prayer can take place, not simply prayer at the appointed times, but a constant atmosphere and mentality of prayer throughout the day. The constant dwelling of the mind in the heart, and the heart in God, is what heals man.
Here is one thing everyone can do: Before bed in the evening, let the whole household sit down quietly before the icons and listen as one family member says the Jesus Prayer for five minutes. This sounds simple, does it not? Try it: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us!
Let us use this Church New Year to start afresh, to re-order our priorities and our lives. We cannot change everything all at once, of course, but we can take at least one step and then stick to it. May God, the King of the Ages and Creator of time itself, enlighten us to use our time as He intends, during the year which today begins.