As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Nayrouz, which is the feast of the new year beginning on September 12 in the Coptic Orthodox Church, we cannot help but notice the phrase, “Bless the crown of the year with Your Goodness, O Lord,” which is repeated throughout the hymns of the Church. This phrase is actually a quotation from Psalm 64:12 (LXX; 65 in the Protestant Bible), which reads, “Thou shalt bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness, and Thy plains shall be filled full of fatness.”
But what does it mean? And how does it relate to the Feast of Nayrouz, the new year?
Psalm 64 has traditionally been utilized by both Jews and Christians to commemorate the new year. For Jews, the feast of Rosh Hashanah (lit., “the head of the year”), and for Christians, the ecclesiastical new year, was connected with the gathering of the last of the summer harvest and the beginning of a new agricultural cycle in which farmers would begin planting their seeds for the coming year. This is reflected beautifully in the Coptic Orthodox Divine Liturgy of St. Basil in which there are three seasonal litanies in the following order:
- The Litany for the Blessing of the Waters of the River (June 19-October 19/20);
- The Litany for the Blessing of the Seeds, Herbs, and Plants (October 20/21-January 18/19); and
- The Litany for the Winds and Fruits (January 19/20-June 18)
In the lands of immigration, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church recently offered a dispensation for those who wish to pray a new “combined litany” for all these things, but I personally don’t prefer such a litany, because it obfuscates the clear cycle we see in the dating of these litanies. From summer to autumn, we pray for the waters of the rivers as we plant our seeds. From autumn to winter, we pray that the Lord may bless and protect those seeds. And from spring to summer, we pray for the resulting fruits that will be harvested. The Feast of Nayrouz, or the “Crown of the Year,” is celebrated when this cycle begins anew.
The real beauty of this cycle, however, lies in the spiritual meaning behind it. Psalm 64, which speaks about the crown of the year, also refers to the harvest of all mankind in verse 2, “Hearken to my prayer! Toward Thee shall all flesh come.” This is entirely consistent with our Savior’s Parable of the Wheat and Tares:
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn (Mt 13:24–30).
This late summer harvest, then, can be seen spiritually as the harvest of all mankind, reminding all of us that a time will come when we will be gathered as wheat and the chaff will be separated from the good part of the wheat.
Those three seasonal litanies above can be seen in a spiritual way, the water referring to our Baptism, the seeds referring to what Christ sows in us in our Christian lives, and the fruits referring to what we offer to Christ at the end of days when we stand before Him as our Judge. If we are able to bear fruit, the Psalmist reassures us with these beautiful words of hope:
Happy is he whom Thou didst choose for Thyself and didst take to Thyself; he shall encamp in Thy courts. We shall be filled with the good things of Thy house; holy is Thy temple, wonderful in righteousness (Ps 64:4, 5)
In this manner, the Feast of Nayrouz is a feast of spiritual renewal for every believer. It is a time to bless the waters of our tears of repentance, which renew our Baptism as the Holy Fathers teach; it is a time to entreat Christ as the loving Sower to bless all of the seeds He sows in our hearts through His Church and the Christian life; it is a time to bear fruits worthy of the name Christian and prepare to offer them to Christ. As St. Augustine teaches us,
This is the end of the year, the harvest of the world. Thou shalt bless the crown of the year of Thy goodness. Of crown when thou hearest, the glory of victory is implied. Conquer the devil, and thou wilt have a crown. Thou shalt bless the crown of the year of Thy goodness. 1
Wishing you all a blessed and joyful Feast of Nayrouz.
- Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Book of Psalms: Psalms 1–150, vol. 3, A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford; London: F. and J. Rivington; John Henry Parker, 1847–1857), 268–269. ↩