16881New Church Year: How the Church reads thru the Gospels
- Sep 1, 2012Sample page from the forthcomingDIVINE LITURGY OF THE GREAT CHURCHCopyright © 1983 and 2012 by Paul N. Harrilchak/Holy Trinity Church, Reston, VA • mail@...
HOW THE CHURCH READS THROUGH THE GOSPELSThe tradition of Constantinople reads through the Gospels annually thus: We
begin LUKE in conjunction with the equinox and the ancient Church New Year,September 23.
†‡ We follow the Lord Jesus Christ on his journey—or better,ascent—to Jerusalem and the Cross, Lk. 9.51, 13.22, 17.11, 18.31, 19.11,28,41.
Near Jerusalem we pause for the Great Fast; we read from Mark and, with helpfrom John and Hebrews, we review basic truths: Christ is our priest (and sacrifice),
our prophet and king. From Pascha to the Descent of the Holy Spirit we read
JOHN, pondering the Resurrection of Christ: the experiences of the eyewitnesses,the response the Risen Lord elicits in men and women through his Church, and
the new Life he shares with us through the Sacraments. Finally, we take up
MATTHEW in conjunction with All Saints, the feast celebrating the fruits ofPentecost. The reality of Pentecost is an important Matthean theme: the Lord
Jesus, risen and exalted, is indeed present and at work in his Church, thanks to the
gift of the Holy Spirit. Matthew brings us back from Jerusalem, from Golgotha
and the Upper Room, and concludes the Church year. (The Sunday/Lordsday
and Saturday/Sabbath sequences are historically prior; the weekday assignments
a more recent—and arbitrary—development.) The cycle of continuous reading
is interrupted from time to time by selections appropriate to feasts,
etc.† Calendar questions are extremely complex. Behind the Church New Year ultimately
stand ancient reckonings linked to the Fall harvest. For example, the Jewish-Babylonian
month Tišri (September/October) means beginning. But how explain the fixed date of September
23? And the connection with the Gospel of Luke? The key is held by Roman history.
September 23 marks the birth, in 63 B.C., of the illustrious Caesar Augustus (Lk. 2.1), first
Roman Emperor, founder of the Pax Romana and father of Romeʼs Golden Age. Throughout
much of the East, the “Day of Augustusʼs Birth” was designated New Year. In Anatolia, for
example, heartland of the future Church of Constantinople, New Year, at the time Luke wrote
his Gospel, was September 23. In Constantinople itself, New Year was fixed on September
23 in the IV century and Christianized: it became the feast of the Conception of St. John
the Forerunner, the event which opens the Gospel of Luke and inaugurates “the Lordʼs
year of favor” (Lk. 4.19). In the X-century Typikon of the Great Church, September 23 is
still designated New Year. But after the X century New Year moves slowly place by place to
September 1, the civil New Year since 1 September 462 A.D. (See Mateos, Typikon, I, pg.
55.) The reading from Luke for September 1 was originally for the Sunday after the Cross
as the New Year came to be marked, and the Church continues to await the time appointed
by Antiquity before taking up the Gospel of Luke on a weekly basis. (More at pgs.166–168.)
‡ The widespread practice of reading Matthew for 17 Sundays regardless, and not
beginning Luke on time, utterly obscures our new start, when our eyes turn to Jerusalem
and the Pasch once more. [The Church of Rusʼ recently corrected herself in this matter.]
Cf. Typikon, Synodal Press, Moscow, 1904 (last edited 1682 A.D.): From the New Year, that
is the week following the Elevation [i.e., the Monday following the Sunday after September14]
up to Cheesefare Sunday, the Gospel according to Luke is read. (Chapter X, pg. 21)
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