What is the meaning of New Year?

2 January 2022

Beloved brothers and sisters,

Today is the beginning of the new civil year and we joyfully celebrate the divine Liturgy and the Doxology. All over the world, events have been organized with an array of fanciful actions in order to bring in the new year. However that may be, no one has even seen a year arriving from the east and the old year departing into the west. In fact, when the people who have been participating in these pleasing activities go back home, they do so with a certain bitterness and encounter pain, sorrow, despair and a tragic state of affairs. So what is this New Year, then? What does it mean that today is the start of the New Year? What is the meaning of New Year?

Years ago, in 2000 in fact, on today’s date we were entering the third millennium. It was not simply that another year had passed, but we realized that, moreover, two millennia had gone by since the birth of Christ. So we celebrated not only the beginning of a new year, but also the start of the third millennium. I remember then, New Year’s day, 2000, that after the divine liturgy and doxology for the new year in the cathedral of Saint Dimitrios, we went to the City Hall to be present at the first, ceremonial session of the City Council at the beginning of the new millennium. We prayed that the whole period would be joyful and productive, though we did not know whether we would be alive the following day.

Since then, time has slipped past without our noticing, because it races by like a river in spate. It flees as quickly as the second hand moves on a clock. During  this time, people we love have departed this life, many of the circumstances of our life have changed and new people have been born. All the students who are in the last class of senior high school or have gone on to the first year of college were born during the period between 2000 and now. In this way, death is interwoven with life. So we realize that time is fleeting, it comes and goes quickly and we are unable to hold on to it. We cannot stop it, it flies by and drags us along in its wake. Time has been called ‘the tamer of all things’, because it subdues everything and cannot itself be subdued, except by God who is its creator and stands outside it.  We ourselves are within time and it subdues us, exercises dominion over us, with all the dramatic consequences that involves.

From the moment of our conception the cells in our body have their own motion, just as the organs in our body do. We can understand this most easily from the beating of our heart. We are under the dominion of time and when, in accordance with God’s will, the time comes for the heart to stop, then biological life also ceases. Of course, this does not mean the annihilation of the soul, nor of the person as a being.

So we experience time in our life as a happy event, since we live biologically, but also as a tragic event, since the beat of the heart will, at some stage, fall silent. At that point there is the phenomenon of joyful sadness.

We realize this full well from the various expressions we use. When we wish someone ‘Many happy returns’, essentially we are acknowledging that, at some point, time will cease to count. When we make the wish ‘Here’s to next year’, we know that we may not actually make it through to the next New Year’s. When we gather at the festal board and are enjoying ourselves, there is still a hint of sadness that death is lurking or that someone we loved is no longer with us in this life.

But we Christians believe in God, who is the Lord of time and who also helps us to transcend it and to pass into eternity. For those who live in Christ, time is not a torment, it is not a treadmill, it is not a tyrant. Rather it is a time for us to prepare our passage into eternal life with Christ. The martyrs and our saints have shown us that those who live with Christ do not fear death and the dominion of time, but see time as the cape of good hope, as a crossing over into eternity in Christ. With Christ, nothing is troublesome or problematical. On the other hand, without Christ everything, even the celebration of New Year’s, is in the dark prison of time and death.

On the occasion of the start of the new year, I wish all of you many years in Christ, who is the liege-lord of time and the vanquisher of death and decay.

With best wishes for the feast,

Metropolitan Ierotheos of Nafpaktos and Ayios Vlasios