What if 2020 has ended and we can enter a new year leaving behind the past?
If you are a philhellene*, and anyone appreciating university, philosophy, and science, should be a philhellene, then this is the New Year. Lovers of wisdom can proclaim 2020** over. How? This is the Orthodox New Year and that finds roots in the splendor of a classical, Christian civilization.***
Rome did not “fall” in the fifth century. Classical education did not vanish during some Middle Age in Christendom. Classical education, not controlled by any church yet run by Christians, continued for almost a millennium.
The parts of the old Roman Empire where Greek culture dominated kept cultural progress going: learning from the East and educating the West. Northern Italy had no need for an artificial Renaissance when they had the continuous education of Greek Christians reminding them of their heritage. When my own ancestors were burning Roman cities, the Eastern Romans kept the heritage alive. Enough seeds were planted that when Constantinople fell in 1453, the scientific revolution already had been made inevitable. Great nations, autonomous from the center, had been created against all odds with all the contributions to the common good they would make.
For all her faults, that Empire stood at the crossroads of the ancient world and so learned from Aksum, Parthia, India, and China. Great ideas, philosophies, and progress from each of these societies could be digested and transmitted. This was no “golden age” to which a modern person would return, but is a critical reason that much that is good exists and one account for why great beauty was not forgotten. Great religious structures are built today, in several faith traditions, that still show the brilliant designs of the Eastern Romans. The language of Arabic was kept alive, in a secular literary sense, in part by the Eastern Christians maintaining that literary tradition (outside the Koran) despite pressure by a ruling power to make a different choice.
September 1 is the New Year of that folk, those Eastern Romans, and that tradition is maintained in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Many schools echo the date by starting the new term and new academic year near this day. We honor, even if we have forgotten why, those that refused to burn books, reject ideas contrary to their own, or narrow down education. We are renewed with nature. As the farming work of the summer comes to an end, recollecting that all culture is built on successful agriculture, we start the harvest while preparing for the joy of Christmas.
Of course, all of us also can celebrate the “New Year” on January 1 (whether Julian or Gregorian calendar). Why limit the party? We need more parties, not fewer, this side of the Kingdom of God. Following this advice, let us, if just for this year, declare 2020 over and begin anew in God.
*One can be a philhellene without hating anyone. One can give the Greeks the credit due to them without denying credit to anyone else (say the Arab communities of Antioch, the sub-continent we call India, and China). Greece, historically and now, punches above her demographic weight!
**Yes. I know there are different ways of numbering years, but why spoil ending 2020?
***One could list the errors and sins of that civilization, but she no longer has political power, so this is less than useful. I glory in her virtues and thank God her vices no longer have power.