ARCHPASTORAL GREETINGS OF THE MOST REVEREND DANIEL,
ARCHBISHOP OF CHICAGO AND THE MIDWEST,
ON THE OCCASION OF THE BEGINNING OF THE INDICTION
& THE ECCLESIASTICAL NEW YEAR
September 1, 2023
Beloved Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the Midwest:
Thy Nativity, O Virgin Theotokos, hath proclaimed joy to the whole world,
for from thee hath shone forth the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,
Who annulling the curse hath bestowed blessing,
and destroying death hath granted us eternal life.
–Troparion of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos
For Orthodox Christians, September 1st marks the start of the New Church Year, also known as the Beginning of the Indiction. As we enter this New Year of Grace, the first Great Feast that we celebrate is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, September 8.
In reflecting on the birth of Mary of Nazareth and her singular role in the history of salvation, we notice that the Gospel of John speaks of only two moments when the public life of Jesus directly intersects with His Mother. Of course, Mary’s very life was intimately connected to that of her Son from the very moment of His conception, and Matthew and Luke make special note of this in their Infancy Narratives. However, John only mentions these two moments: the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-12) and the moment when Mary stands beneath the Cross (John 19:25-27). Perhaps the Holy Evangelist wants to show us the Mother of Jesus in these two completely opposite situations in human life: the bright joy of a wedding feast and the profound sorrow at the death of a child.
Let us hone in, however, on the special place of Mary in John’s account of the Lord’s Passion and Death. The first thing that John mentions is Mary “standing near the cross of Jesus” (John 19:25), close to her Son as He suffered the pains of the Cross and shed His blood for the salvation of mankind. Mary stood there, at the foot of the cross, filled with sorrow—yet with unwavering conviction, courage, and fidelity. This is the main way that Mary appears in the Gospel of John: she stands near those who suffer and want, those rejected and marginalized by the world, those on the very fringes of our social and economic order. It is in this role as Mother that Mary stands close by us all, steadfast and faithful near the cross of human sorrow and suffering, yet ever under the shadow of the Cross of Her Son.
In this way, Mary also teaches us how to “stand near” these situations. It demands more than simply acknowledging the realities of human suffering; rather, those in painful situations should feel us standing faithfully and fearlessly at their side. All those suffer any pain or loss can experience the Mother who remains near them, for in their sufferings she sees the open wounds of her Son Jesus. She learned this at the foot of the cross. We too are called to respond to the sufferings of others. Following the example of Mary, let us go out to meet our suffering brothers and sisters, to console them and accompany them. Let us not be afraid to experience the power of tenderness, to be involved, even in the most uncomfortable of situations, and to let our lives become complicated for the sake of others. Inspired by Her, the Most Pure One, let us remain steadfast and faithful, our hearts at peace in God in even the most difficult circumstances of life. Let us be ever ready to lift up the fallen, raise up the lowly, showing them the love and that “peace beyond understanding” that only comes from God (cf. Philippians 4:7).
Grateful that the beginning of September brings with it this special Feast, let us also acknowledge that every day of every year, no matter the month or the season, offers us the grace-filled occasion to give thanks to God for His many blessings, just as each day presents the opportunity to be present with those who are suffering in any way. Every day of every year invites us to draw closer to Christ, to grow in holiness, to bear witness to our faith, and to continue stand with those who are suffering and in any kind of need. As we enter into the New Church Year, we look forward to another Year of Grace, living the Gospel, serving our brothers and sisters, and experiencing the Church’s liturgical cycle which invites us to enter, ever more deeply, into the great mystery of our salvation.
In this new Ecclesiastical Year, let us entrust ourselves, our families and loved ones, our parishes, and all the world to the loving maternal care and protection of the Holy Theotokos.
With love in the Lord,
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest