September is the first month of the liturgical year in the Byzantine Rite. This article covers the most important liturgical aspects of the month of September. See the online menaion for descriptions the saints and events commemorated on each day, together with the appointed liturgical hymns. For the readings for each day, see the Lectionary.

The beginning of the liturgical year

Among the ancient Mediterranean cultures, it was common to begin a new year in the autumn, with the end of the previous year's harvest. The civil year of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire began in September, and September 1, the first day of the civil year, also called the "Indiction", became the first day of the Church's year as well.

September 1 is a polyeleos day, the lowest rank of what we commonly call a feast, and so the hymns for September 1 should always be sung at the Divine Liturgy. On this day, the Church's readings from the Old and New Testament announce "a year of grace of the Lord", and encourage Christians to pray for the needs of all. In the troparion of the New Year, we sing:

O Lord, Maker of the universe, * who alone has power over seasons and times, * bless this year with your bounty, * preserve our country in safety, and keep your people in peace. * Save us through the prayers of the Theotokos.

We also commemorate Saint Simeon Stylites, the first of the stylites or "pillar saints." Living in the fifth century, he withdrew to live on a stone pillar, in order to withdraw from the world - but became famous for his preaching. Take a few minutes to read the services for the day (click on the Menaion link in the left-hand navigation).

Some ordinary days

The days from September 2-6 are "ordinary days." If the day falls on a Sunday, the Divine Liturgy for an "ordinary Sunday in the tone of the week" would be sung. On a weekday, the hymns of the Divine Liturgy (troparion, kontakion, prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion hymn) may be taken from any one of the following:

Readings will normally be for the particular week after Pentecost; a FEW lesser saints have their own Epistle and Gospel readings, which may be used if desired. Even if you do not commemorate the saint of the day liturgically, it is a good practice to find out more about them, since the Church presents them to us as examples and intercessors.

A pre-festive day

September 7 is a pre-festive day - a day which prepares us for an upcoming feast. These days usually have a special "pre-festive" troparion and kontakion at the Divine Liturgy, which are combined with the ordinary Sunday or weekday hymns.

In the pre-festive hymns, you will sometimes find the word "today" used in a curious fashion, in which the feast seems to already be occurring. For example, on September 7 we sing:

Today is born to us, from the root of Jesse and the loins of David, * Mary, the godly child. * Therefore, all creation rejoices and is renewed. * Heaven and earth rejoice together. * You families of nations sing her praise. * Joachim is elated and Anna cries out in celebration: * The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos * and the Sustainer of our Life.

This is intentional, and gives a sense of breathless anticipation to each feast. The pre-festive hymns for the Nativity of the Theotokos are the first ones of the cycle of fixed feasts that are included in our Divine Liturgies book, on pages 242-243.

A feast of the Mother of God: The Nativity of the Theotokos

On September 8, we celebrate the first major feast of the liturgical year: the Nativity (birth) of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. This is one of her four major feasts in the course of the year. The stories of the feast are taken from extra-Biblical writings and from the Church's tradition; the hymns of the Liturgy recall the longing of her parents, Joachim and Anna, for a child, but also place the Mother of God in her full context: as a descendent of King David, and the "cause of our joy."

The hymns of the Divine Liturgy for this feast can be found on pages 243-236 of our Divine Liturgies book:

If you listen to the troparion and kontakion, you will hear that they are very specific to this feast. In contrast, the prokeimenon, Alleuia, Gospel reading, and Communion Hymn are used on quite a few feasts of the Mother of God.

The singing of the magnification and irmos (from Matins) at the Divine Liturgy in place of the ordinary hymn to the Theotokos ("It is truly proper to glorify you") is the mark of a major feast. "To magnify" means to extol the greatness of something, and the name "magnification" for this hymn comes from the opening words of the most common type of magnification:

Extol, O my soul, <the subject of the feast>.

The irmos usually praises the Theotokos and associates her with the subject or meaning of the feast. See the menaion entry for the hymns of September 8.

Post-festive days of the Nativity of the Theotokos

The celebration of each feast is extended by its "post-festive days", which continue through September 12 (for the Nativity of the Theotokos) and September 21 (for the Exaltation of the Cross). On each of these days, the hymns of the feast are combined with those of the weekday or Sunday.

The celebration of each major feast is extended by one or more post-festive days. For the Nativity of the Theotokos, there are four post-festive days. On post-festive days, we sing hymns from the feast-day combined with those of the weekday or Sunday. On each day, we sing the magnification and irmos of the feast at the Divine Liturgy.

The final post-festive day, called the leave-taking (in Church Slavonic, otdanije), is particularly solemn, and all the hymns of the feast are sung a final time. The leave-taking of the Nativity of the Theotokos is September 12.

Another pre-festive day

September 13 is another pre-festive day, this time for a feast of the Lord: the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. But like every pre-festive day, it also has a commemoration of its own: this is the dedication feast of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, a particularly influential and important church in the history of the Byzantine Rite. (There are a few such dedication-days scattered throughout the church year.)

The hymns for this day can be found on pages 252-253 of our Divine Liturgies book, and an examination of these hymns can show us something of the inner logic of the Byzantine liturgical tradition. The pre-feast has a troparion and kontakion which prepare us for the feast of the Cross:

Troparion of the Pre-feast, Tone 4.  Lord, we offer to you in intercession * the goodness of your life-creating cross * which you gave to us, your unworthy people. * Save our nation and your Church * which implores you through the Theotokos. * For you alone love us all.

Kontakion of the Pre-feast, Tone 4.   Today the saving wood shines forth * from the bosom of the earth. * It is reverently lifted up in the church * by the hands of the bishop. * The whole world prostrates and kisses it with awe. * Save us through your cross, O Lord.

But there are also a troparion, prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn for the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection. These hymns provide us with the Church's image of what a church building is to be:

Troparion of the Dedication, Tone 4.  Lord, Life, and Resurrection of All, * you showed the beauty of the holy dwelling-place of your glory on earth * like the splendor of the firmament on high. * Make it stand firm forever. * Through the Theotokos, accept our prayers * which we unceasingly offer to you within it.

Prokeimenon, Tone 4 (Ps. 92:5,1). Holiness is fitting to your house, O Lord, until the end of time.
V. The Lord reigns, he is clothed in majesty.

Alleluia, Tone 2 (Ps. 86:1-3). Alleuia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
V. On the holy mountain is his city cherished by the Lord. The Lord prefers the gates of Zion to all Jacob's dwellings.
V. Of you are told glorious things, O City of God.

Communion Hymn (Ps. 25:8). O Lord, I love the splendor of your house and the place where your glory dwells. Alleuia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The epistle reading (Hebrews 3:1-4) explains that "Every house is founded by someone, while God is the founder of all." In the Gospel reading, Jesus entrusts Peter and the apostles with authority over the Church, and declares that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:13-18).

Note: Page 252 in the Divine Liturgies book is titled, "September 13, on a day other than Sunday." You will see below why the situation is more complicated if September 13 falls on a Sunday.

A feast of the Lord: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The month of September also gives us the first feast of the Lord in the Church's new year. On September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross commemorates an event which took place in Jerusalem in A.D. 335. On September 13 of that year, the Church of the Resurrection was solemnly dedicated, and on the the following day, the bishop of Jerusalem, Saint Macarius, brought forth for public veneration the Cross of our Lord. The hymns of the feast recount the finding of the Cross by the emperor Constantine's mother, Helen, and its subsequent history. But these historical events are used as a backdrop for the true meaning of the Cross, as a sign of our salvation.

During Vespers, a cross, richly decorated, is placed on the tetrapod for the clergy and people to venerate after Matins on the feast-day. (If Matins is not celebrated, the veneration may take place during or after the Divine Liturgy.) The cross will remain on the tetrapod until the leave-taking of the feast, on September 21.

The Divine Liturgy for a great feast of the Lord has the same sorts of hymns as a great feast of the Theotokos, but it also has special antiphons sung at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy in place of the usual Sunday or weekday antiphons:

On this feast-day, as on the third Sunday in the Great Feast, we sing "We bow to your cross" in place of the Trisagion ("Holy God").

The feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is preceded by a single pre-festive day (September 13, on which we also commemorate the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem), and the post-festive days continue through the leave-taking on September 21.

Post-festive days of the Exaltation of the Cross

From September 15 through September 21, we continue to sing the hymns of the feast, combined with the Sunday or weekday hymns. The situation with the antiiphons is a little more complicated: we sing the first and second antiphons of the feast, but for the third antiphon and entrance hymn we sing the "ordinary" weekday or Sunday antiphon and entrance hymn, but with a different refrain:

Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us acclaim God our Savior. O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to you: Alleluia!

Come, let us worship and bow before Christ. O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to you: Alleluia!

In most parishes, it is customary to sing "We bow to your cross" instead of "Holy God" at the Divine Liturgy on post-festive days.

Festal Saturdays and Sundays

On three major feasts of the Lord:

the Byzantine Rite assigns special epistle and Gospel readings on the Saturdays and Sundays before and after the feast, to help explain their theological and spiritual meaning. Each of these days also has a prokeimenon and Alleluia to use with the readings. At the Divine Liturgy on these days, the prokeimenon, epistle, Alleluia, and Gospel reading replace the ones that would ordinarily be used.

The Saturday or Sunday before the Exaltation of the Cross can fall as early as September 7, or as late as September 13, and so can fall on the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, or on any of its pre- or post-festive days, or on the pre-festive day of the Exaltation. As a result of this overlap, the Divine Liturgies from September 8 to September 13 can be some of the most complicated in the Church year. That is why the Divine Liturgies book contains detailed directions for the order of the hymns on these days, in order that the themes of both feasts can be heard and meditated upon by the faithful.

On these days, as on the less complicated ones, cantors should become familiar with the Typikon, which orders and arranges the services of each liturgical year. See the MCI Online course, Introduction to the Typikon, for guidance and practical examples. Leaflets with Divine Liturgy propers for Sundays can always be found on the MCI Liturgical Calendar.

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke

In the course of the Church year, we read continuously from all four Gospels:

On the Monday that follows the Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross, we begin the continuous reading of the Gospel according to Saint Luke, which appears in the Gospel book as the 18th week after Pentecost. We start reading in the Gospel book at the 18th week, even if the actual numbered week after Pentecost is different. The cycle of the epistles and of the eight tones continues uninterrupted.

Example. In 2019, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) falls on Saturday, so:

This skip in the Gospel readings (which is slightly different each year, and may not occur at all) is called the "Lucan jump."

While this ensures the orderly reading of the four Gospels, it certainly does make life complicated! From now until the Great Fast, be sure to check the annual typikon to make sure you have the correct Divine Liturgy readings for each week. Note that neither the epistle reading, nor the tone of the week, is affected by the Lucan jump; both of these continue without interruption.

Other feast days in September

On September 26, we commemorate Saint John the apostle and evangelist (Gospel-writer) on the date of his death. In keeping with the custom of the Byzantine Rite, this is referred to as his "dormition" or "falling asleep"; according to tradition, Saint John was the only one of the twelve apostles who did not die a martyr's death. He is called "the Theologian" because of the spiritual depth of his teaching. This feast is of "vigil" rank, the highest category of saint's days.

On September 28, we celebrate the memory of Saint Chariton, a monk and founder of monasteries in fourth-century Palestine. He is referred to as "our venerable father Chariton"; in this context, "venerable" means a monastic saint, a monk or nun. This feast is of polyeleos rank (the rank usually assigned to feasts of apostles). Several of the early monastic saints from Palestine are especially venerated in the Slavonic tradition of the Byzantine Rite, probably because our typikon or order of services came out of Palestine, and that most likely accounts for the importance of this particular feast.

For a complete list of saints' days as celebrated in our church, together with texts and links to music, see the online Menaion.

Recommended Reading