Encyclical of the Episcopal Council for the Ecclesiastical New Year
Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America
The Episcopal Council
September 1/14, 2014 Libertyville, Illinois
To the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish and Church School Councils of the Serbian Orthodox Communities, the K.S.S. Sisterhoods, the Children, Youth, and the entire Serbian Orthodox Family in North and South America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we commemorate the beginning of the Church New Year or beginning of the Indiction, we are given the opportunity for reflection on God’s gratuitous, nurturing love and the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our everyday life and in the world around us. It is the opportunity to prayerfully discern God’s will in our life looking for divine encouragement, forgiveness, cooperation and willingness in carrying our cross as fellow travelers on the path to eternal life.
As Orthodox Christians, we are members of the Church, the Body of Christ. The Orthodox Church is The Church. This implies that the Orthodox Church has kept the sacred heritage of the Early Church, the Apostles and the Fathers intact and pure. Her teachings are patristic and faithful to the Sacred Tradition maintained by the abiding presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Church Tradition means the life of the Church as it is inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has guided the Fathers of the Church throughout the centuries and continues guiding the Church. Prayers, especially prayers to the Holy Spirit are an indispensible part of Orthodox daily life. Each service of the Church begins with the invocation of the Holy Spirit: O Heavenly King, the comfortor, the spirit of Truth, Who art present everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life; come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious One.
The supplication for God’s blessings at the beginning of the Church Year is manifest in the hymns chanted at services for the day: “Christ our Lord, You who provide the rains and fruitful seasons, and hear the prayers of those who humbly seek You, accept also our requests about our needs and concerns and deliver us from worry, danger and sin. Your mercies are as abundant as Your works. Bless all our activities, direct our steps by Your Holy Spirit, and forgive our shortcomings. Lord, bless the year with Your goodness and make it a year of grace for all of us. Amen.” (Matins Hymn) Therefore, let us begin this Ecclesiastical New Year and every day of our lives with prayer to God for His guidance, strength, and wisdom, so that our words and actions, our very life, may reflect His Gospel and that our shortcomings be perfected unto our salvation and eternal life.
In the lands of the Bible and the Mediterranean lands it was customary to compute the beginning of the civil year in the fall. This was so because the harvest season was over. The crops were stored for the winter. The people prepared themselves for a new agricultural year.
In the same way, in our place and time today, we must prepare ourselves for a new Ecclesiastical Year; a year of new harvest for the Gospel of Christ; a year to bring new fruit of the Holy Spirit Who will strengthen us as we continue His work in this world. Through the treasure of our Unity with Christ and one another, we prayerfully join each other in a community of love, worship and fellowship calling to mind the promises of the Lord “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” (Matthew 28:20)
Aware that the Church is in route to Heaven in this fallen world where external historical circumstances can deter her ministries and witness, we nonetheless, assuredly know that Christ has overcome the world. Our hope is in Him, Who when two or three are gathered in my name, there I am, in the midst of them, hence our hope comes from the Eucharistic gathering where we are united with the Lord and nourished with food and drink unto life everlasting. This Eucharistic gathering is of utmost importance for our parishes and families. Our hope and expectations are renewed in the Lord each time we come together in faith as the Church on every feast day, and especially on Sundays, as each Sunday is dedicated to the joyous resurrection of Christ so that we never lose sight of the centrality of Christ’s victory over death. May this New Year give us a renewed love to celebrate the Sundays and all of the feasts, avoiding the temptations of so many distractions around us which try to take this hope and joy from us.
As we begin the New Liturgical Year, we also begin a new school year and are mindful of all of the Christian educational efforts in our parishes. We encourage our dedicated and pious clergy, parents and educators to continue teaching with their instructive words and by their good example. Let us remember these efforts are the means to an end as our main task is to lead our children, youth and each other to God’s Kingdom and salvation in Christ our Lord.
Likewise we call to mind the stewardship way of life – a total commitment to Christ who sanctifies our life, turning challenges and mundane events into opportunities for the
proclamation of His Gospel and love in this often lost and confused age. Our stewardship or deep and compassionate care for our families, parishes, and environment is our responsibility before God who gives them all to us as gifts. At baptism we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit so that through our participation in the Church, “we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) The Lord has supplied us with the necessary gifts that we cannot ignore, but rather must multiply faithfully for the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven. Our each word, action and thought must reflect the love of Christ for mankind and the nature around us.
Finally, as the faithful people of our beloved Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, and in incessant prayer before the Lord for our lands, our families and communities, the many among us who struggle to work through so many temptations, and especially for our suffering brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija, Krajina, Republika Srpska, Serbia, Holy Land, Syria, Russia, Ukraine, and other regions of the world, we rest our hope on the Lord for perseverance in overcoming the temporal trials and suffering, awaiting the reward in the life that is in Christ our Lord, our Resurrection, The Way, The Truth and The Life.
With love in Christ,
The President of the Episcopal Council