It seems that celebrating the arrival of the New Year in America involves an eclectic mix of social, cultural and pseudo-spiritual activities. Going to New Year's Eve parties, watching "the ball" drop, watching "bowl games" and the Rose Bowl Parade and making new-year resolutions all seem to go hand in hand. For a small minority of us, the New Year also means cutting the Vasilopita, "getting Holy Water" on Theophany and perhaps even having our homes blessed. At the risk of sounding like a party pooper, I must say that these things are ultimately of no value whatsoever if the Living Christ does not occupy a central place in our lives and in the life of our parish.
For this reason, I propose the following resolution for our parish as we ring in the New: "Let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God." We hear these words every Divine Liturgy, but to what degree do we live them?
People often offer their ideas for improving our parish. They have suggestions for worship, catechism, the choir, the chanters, the priests, the parish council, the youth, the seniors, the acolytes, fundraising, the Greek festival, the Greek school, and the church building, to name a few. While I believe most ideas are offered with the best of intentions, I also believe that too often we put the proverbial cart before the horse. What I mean is that too often we engage in the "stinking thinking" that assumes we are capable of improving our parish without committing ourselves to Jesus Christ and to living His Gospel.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting we ignore the practical needs of our parish. What I am suggesting is that we put the "one thing needful (cf Lk 10:42)" -listening to Jesus Christ- at the very top of our priority list. And yes, that means putting Him even higher on the list than the almighty dollar. Remember what the Lord said: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Mt. 6:24)." It doesn't get any clearer than that. We cannot serve God, we cannot hear God, we cannot obey God, we cannot even like God- if money is our true master.
Why do I cite this particular example? Because as I write this, there are people in our parish-and people in other parishes throughout the Archdiocese for that matter- who believe that the lack of money is one of the major problems facing our Church. I beg to differ. Our problem is not a lack of money. I say again, our problem is not a lack of money. Our problem is a lack of commitment to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Do we honestly believe that if each of us truly committed his/her whole life to Jesus Christ that in contemporary America our Church would have financial problems?
As Orthodox Christians, we are taught not to allow anything to distract or deter us from our true purpose. Temptations, distractions and even hardships often afflict anyone seeking to do the will of God. Satan has been trying to distract human beings from their ultimate purpose ever since God created them. Indeed, the Greek word for the devil, diavalos, comes from the words dia and valo, which combined, mean to twist or to distort. It is the evil one who seeks to confuse us about and deter us from our true purpose as human beings and as an Orthodox Christian community. Will we allow him to? If we truly commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God, God will be victorious and will help us overcome any challenge.
Commitment is defined as "devotion or dedication to a cause, person or relationship." Therefore, let us devote ourselves and dedicate ourselves to developing a relationship with Jesus Christ and putting Him first in our lives in the New Year and beyond. And may we eagerly embrace the lifelong resolution to truly "commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God."