A New Year's Resolution: Be A Saint!

The silent night is far gone and it is day. The Holy Family were guided by an angel and fled into Egypt because of the wicked King Herod’s desire to destroy Jesus even as a child.  After his death an angel appeared once more to Joseph calling him to take Mary and Emmanuel (God with us) out of Egypt. This fulfilled the prophecy we hear from the Old Testament book Hosea 11:1, ” Out of Egypt I will call my son.” Now God was always with His Son and at all times on every road.  We can see the care given to Jesus and think to ourselves, “my gosh that must be nice, to have an angel appear and let you know where God thinks you should be going and how to keep out of danger.”  All of us have that angel [guardian angels] and God speaks with each of us, staying just as close to us, that is, if we walk with Him and listen to Him. Have we been walking with Christ? Many people question if God is with us in our world today but perhaps the better question is, “Are we with God?”  Does He have a place to dwell here on earth beyond that of a Sunday morning? The Church is not this building alone but you and me living His message when we leave. That is the living Church! And we question why the Church is not growing all the time!  Do our lives share the message of Christos Razdajetsja!, Christ is Born, Christos Voskrese, Christ is Risen and that God is With us!? (S’nami Boh as we sing) God is with us when we strive at fulfilling His will and we only know His will if we slow down and ask Him to guide us and try to hear His voice in our hearts.  

I once wanted to learn how to paint icons. I had many opportunities presented to me, however there was always something off. One person was willing to teach me but listened to heavy metal while painting and I thought hmmm maybe not this year, without judging this person but my heart was not pulled towards this.  Another opportunity came up but later I found out the theology this instructor rendered was not so accurate. All this time I never asked God, “Hey, can You help me find someone to teach me how to paint icons? [with the traditional egg tempera]  Finally, one day at Seminary, I knew I only had 3 weeks off for Christmas break before I would graduate and get married and when would I have time to learn about icons then? So I asked God, “Please… guide me. Help me find someone to teach me iconography.”  And what happened? I find out 7 miles from my home in CT there is an iconographer who offers lessons for pennies and was trained by the late world renowned Ksenia Pokrovsky with the traditional egg tempera mediums.  When we let go and ask God to come into our lives , He does.

Now life is not danger free when we live out our faith as we know in the life of St. Stephen the first martyr. However we saw ..rather he saw, before his death when he looked up, there was the glory of God through the opened heavens and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God!(Acts 7:54-60)  It is a bigger danger to lose our faith, than it is our lives.  Let us take today and rise up and go with Christ. For with God there is healing for a hurting world, He is the strength of the saints and and life of martyrs. He is the peace of those who left so much of this world behind, and he offers the kingdom to us all! Are we going to heed His call today, the call to arise out of Egypt whatever our Egypt we may be and follow the Lord to Nazareth and grow with Him in body and spirit?

St. Paul wants to help us in his epistle to the Galatians (1:11-18). He shared with us how he once was on the wrong road. This account from Paul is almost like a type of presentation where someone comes in who has had a really tuff path in life and then tells us what worked for them. Paul speaks to the Galatians and us today about the road he was on once. Just two days ago we heard our first reference of that terrible road. Paul was a persecutor of the Church!  When Steven was martyred we heard how at that time Saul watched the coats of those who were stoning Stephen to death.   Here however we see what Christ can do with us no matter what road we are on, good or bad, and how far down that road it seems we have traveled!

As baptized Orthodox Christians we vowed to die to our old selves and renew ourselves  when we come up out of the water and have put on Christ!  The Apostle Paul spread Christ’s message to the largest amount of countries and converted the most people in history.  This was not because of his own strength but dying to his will he allowed Christ to live in him. He allowed Christ to grow in him.  For before this, who was Paul but someone who kicked against the goads or rather fought with the Lord and resisted Him like the Jews who had to make up lies when they heard the wisdom from Stephen before killing him.(Acts26:14 and 7:51-60)  When we sin we resist that growth, we dim the much needed spiritual sunlight for our souls. What is that spiritual sunlight we need? The question is not what but Who? Who but the Sun of Righteousness! Only with Christ do we grow properly and only with Him are our hearts truly nourished.

So we know what we must do.  2014 is almost here. New year resolutions are going to be commercialized as always, to get our wallets to offer more money to this gym or that exercise group all in the name of a secular day that commemorates the changing of time.  Not that gyms and exercise groups are poor choices.  Better health and caring for our bodies are good things but what are we going to do with them? Paul could have been the healthiest in his life when St. Stephen was killed infront of him. The only new year resolution that has effects that are eternal start with our soul’s relationship with God.  Everyday is Valentine’s day between us and Jesus.  He gives us more than chocolate.  Was it dark out this morning? Has the sun brought light to this new day once more? …Did we thank Him for it?  Have we thanked Thanked God for enjoying the religious freedom of our country? Have we thanked God for giving us this beautiful Church?

I challenge myself and Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church this new year to become saints.  I’m sure we have all seen those before and after photos of people who went on diets or found Subway.  What if we had a spiritual lens and could see their hearts? Would they look as healthy in each photo? Would they be worse?  This new year, lets take a look at our hearts and ask ourselves: How am I inviting Christ to stay with me in this new year?  Am I still only offering Him straw and room by the ox and donkey or have I given Him my coat?  Have I offered Him a meal? Is there room in my home for Him amidst my many treasures?  Christ is the highest treasure and one to be shared with all that never depletes. If we think this challenge is too much let us hear the words from a monk from Mount Athos who was recently canonized by our Church,   He said, “

“It is a great art to succeed in having your soul sanctified. A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omonia Square*, if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become a saint through meekness, patience, and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence — not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest.”
– St. Porphyrios

The world is very anxious today, chasing after this and that.  With prayer and silence, with patience and seeking the Lord, we will find a peace that is beyond understanding that does not come from the world but God.  May Christ bless each of us with that peace this new year and may we offer Christ the proper homes and hearts where He can move freely to offer it to us. Amen.

By Fr. Jonathan Bannon