I am not going to say that it is a sin to celebrate the beginning of the year with one’s countrymen. Personally, I do not keep the New Year; I don’t care for holidays (holy days) that aren’t actually kept in the liturgical cycle of the Church. In point of fact, there are some reasons for this: it isn’t the beginning of the Orthodox year (Sept. 1) and, given that we already keep different dates for Holy Pascha and (if on the traditional calendar) a different date for Holy Nativity, I’ve become comfortable with not keeping step with the West in the observance of time. If you do observe New Year’s Day, or more realistically, New Year’s Eve, with the West, fair enough. This in itself is certainly no sin; and if anyone does sin in its keeping, I regard them as still more worthy than I who sin all the time. But there are some things that need to be clarified about what is specifically Orthodox practice in the matter and what is not.
First, this New Year begins on New Year’s Eve at midnight with the Eucharistic Fast, which is a strict fast. It is Sunday, the day of Resurrection, and the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, whereby He set Himself apart as as One of us, fulfilling the Divine Law, and whereby in the circumcision of Holy Baptism we set ourselves apart from the world and dedicate ourselves to the New Life of His Economy. The rules of fasting from time immemorial are not generally dispensed so that I can imbibe wine – and most especially not wine. How can I mix the cup of Christ with drunkenness? Fast-breaking is not a “little” sin, either. Nor is sleeping in and avoiding the Cup if I have broken the fast, which only makes it worse since I presume to conceal my sins from God. How easy it is to regard the cup of last night’s dissipation as important enough to command my time and my will, but the Cup of Christ Whom I adore as less important, as not worthy of rising from a drunk bed, though perhaps I can barely stand. That too, the ennoblement of man, I have spurned if I stagger like an ape having giggled foolishly through the night. And God forbid that I should partake of the Cup unworthily, not discerning the Body and Blood of Christ for what it is, failing to adore Him who humbled Himself and comes to us in the Church.
Second, the centerpiece of celebration and most of the discussion and preparation for New Year’s Eve, if not it’s purpose (to be honest), is intoxication. It is a kind of worship of spirits. That might seem a merely cute play on words, but the Fathers have written extensively on the worship with, around, and of libations, and their gods or, rather, the demons that delight in such infatuation. And so they have needed to preach, since the practice of the pagan rites in pagan manner by pagan means have continued to this day. How one prepares for such a night! How one calculates. Setting aside money, dressing up, deciding what to drink first, and choosing liquid delicacies in much the same manner as choosing whores in a brothel. The planning is like the planning of an illicit affair. It is an affair of the flesh.
Third, to become intoxicated with alcohol is to dismiss, lose, be deprived of, depart, and reject grace — grieving The Spirit of God. To lose my sobriety, to fail to be sober even without spirits is to give place to the passions; how much more so, if I invite their ascendancy over my soul. It is a repudiation of Pentecost, and so of the whole Incarnation of Christ, and so of the Holy Trinity. For by the Passion of Christ, we have dominion over the passions, and by His Resurrection we are raised from them. He gives us richly of the Holy Spirit, by whom and in Christ, we ascend with Him to the Father, leaving behind Death’s life of slavery to the intoxicating tremors of corrupted flesh.
Fourth, my friends, whom I always gather around me if I do such things, as though the presence of many makes my sin normal, know with my ‘momentary lapse’ that my Faith is vain, a vanity, a conceit. And let me not lie by claiming that, joining the festivities, I am leading them to Christ. Christ never got anyone drunk. There is no ‘normalcy’ to drinking in the New Year; the confession of our Faith is that sobriety and reason are the normal condition of man. Rather, if I intoxicate myself just to mark the passage of time, I confess that I am as yet unconverted; I am still trying to fit Orthodoxy into the mold of my unredeemed life, rather than vice versa. I spurn the Incarnation of Christ, and I use my friends as fodder for my heretical meal. Indeed all sin is heresy, just as all heresy is sin.
Hail the Bacchanalian Festivals. Come ye pagans, and delight! There the crowds go. We will undo ourselves, and become emotionally naked. We will luxuriate in passions upon passions: silly talk, idle chatter, mindlessness, voracity, dissipation, drowsiness of soul… We will writhe upon the demons’ bed, imbibing sensual potions, pushing mad pleasures into our bodies like foreign instruments (for that is what they now are). We will drag down our friends to our pillow, and make of us all one passion. Come, for there is no God. Or rather, Bacchus, demon of the drunk, is our god.
If I would not make such an ode with my lips, how dare I make it with my life? The test of my belief is not in the keeping of the Faith in general – more or less singing the liturgies, mostly keeping the days and the seasons – which permit no partnership with the celebrations of the flesh, but rather coincide with them to redeem them, so that I must choose one or the other. It is in the keeping of my Faith when I am tested – it is keeping it at the times when those without the Faith do not, in sadness for their loss and in gratitude for the great Gift that I receive, in humility and unworthiness, not condemning those who have fallen from the Ladder, in Whom the Word of God is choked by weeds, but in Grace with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, which are not drowned out in me by the noise of the festivals of my former manner of life. It is Christ or Barrabus; who do I demand be delivered up to me this day? It is the Holy Spirit or demons. There is no neutrality, no admixture as there is in our blended drinks and cocktails. Let me not lie by my way of life. Let me not hide a secret sin and pretend with my prayers, my lessons, and my worship the rest of the time.
I propose that, just as the Church redeemed troublesome pagan observances which might cause Her children to stumble and because of which they might truly fall, their Faith failing at the test, we gather on the Eve of the New Year and share the table with our brethren. Some of us may not feel any distraction because of the festival, but we who are one family in Christ must prefer the weakest even as we love the strongest among us. Let us be found in agape and in prayer, and show forth the True Reason for joy, partaking of the gifts of Nature in the Bright Week of its redemption. For myself and A***, we will so gather, and any who would delight also in our company.
I write this because I have fallen into the pit, committing similar sins in darkness. It is so easy to slide as much as to fall. We must remind each other that Christ is born so that not only by a kiss, but by our manner of living we may Glorify Him.
The Holy Apostle Paul to the Church at Ephesus:
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
Be not ye therefore partakers with them.
For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light:
(For the fruit of the Spirit [is] in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)
Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them].
For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.
But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord [is].
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.