From The Blog

Mission Monthly – September 2005

“I think it best that a man should have a little bit of all the virtues. Therefore, get up early every day and acquire the beginning of every virtue and every commandment of God. Use great patience in the love of God, with all the fervor of your soul and body. Exercise great humility; bear with interior distress; be watchful and pray often with reverence, with purity of speech and control of your eyes.”

St. John the Dwarf

During the days immediately surrounding January 1st much talk can be heard of making resolutions for the New Year. As with all beginnings, many resolve to better their lives in such areas as diet, exercise, relationships, finances, home organization, time management and so on. I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, however this season is one of my favorite times of the year. The months of December and January are filled with a special “holiday” spirit, but more importantly they are rich with anticipation and celebration of the feasts of Christmas and Theophany. Truly, it is the Church that brings lifeto this beautiful time of the year.

September 1st is “New Year’s Day” for the Church. This year I find myself more aware than ever before of the richness of this holy season. At Christmas, we have the Nativity Fast to help us prepare for and then celebrate our Lord’s Nativity, His Circumcision (together with the feast of St. Basil the Great), and His Holy Baptism. For the Orthodox Church New Year the months of August and September provide a comparable setting of holy anticipation and celebration. In August we have the Dormition Fast, the great feasts of Holy Transfiguration and the Dormition of the Theotokos, and the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. In September we have the great feasts of the Nativity of the Theotokos and the Elevation of the Holy Cross. These particular months certainly have a unique feeling as summer comes to end and a new school year begins, but again, it is the Church that truly brings life to this beautiful time of the year.

It is so easy to allow our senses and feelings to be governed by the more worldly sentimentalities of these seasons—but how aware are we of the holiness of these beautiful times of the year? As I myself experience a growing awareness of the Church year and her holy seasons, I hope to bring the beauty of this ecclesiastical fragrance to the sensibilities and future of this church—for it is truly life-giving!

Now at the dawn of the New Church Year, I may not be one to make “resolutions”, but I am always thankful for new beginnings! I believe each of us echoes this sentiment. As Orthodox Christians this is at the core of what we believe. In Holy Baptism and Chrismation, in Holy Confession and Communion we celebrate new beginnings in the salvific action and activity of the Church. When Jesus said from the Cross, “It is finished”, in terms of our salvation what we must also hear is, “It is begun!” And so it does begin, each new day, each moment, from the time of our God’s Passion, Death and Resurrection until today—as most beautifully expressed by St. Herman of Alaska: “For our good, for our happiness, at least let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this minute we shall strive above all else to love God and to fulfill His Holy Will!”

St. John the Dwarf put into very plain terms the daily task set before us. It has nothing to do with how we may have succeeded or failed the day before or with worrying about what tomorrow may bring. “…get up early every day and acquire the beginning“, he says. And pay attention to what he does not say—that we need to be great at everything right now; no—only that we be consistent in seeking daily a beginning to all the virtues. St. Herman instructs us to make a “vow” with ourselves. What else is a vow but a resolution? As we proceed through the holy season of our Church’s New Year let us consider making some vows to ourselves: a commitment to daily prayer and scripture reading; being present when the Church gathers for worship (a maximum, not a minimum); a better preparation for Holy Communion and a more acute discernment of our readiness to approach the Holy Chalice; the daily practice of virtue; making our homes a godly refuge of love, joy and peace; keeping the fasts of the Church; giving attention to consistent physical activity and moral living; and being truly committed to growing in our awareness of and participation in all the seasons of our Church year. In the world the resolutions of January 1st are a strong indication that people are usually ready to improve themselves. Let us make our vows, therefore, on September 1st as well, as we ask God to forgive our sins of the year past and to bless us in the year to come (from the prayers of the Induction of the new liturgical year). And with thankfulness and sincerity let us be resolved to a daily commitment “above all else to love God and to fulfill His Holy Will!”