We begin a new ecclesiastical year 2001-2002. We also could say a new school year or a new working year, etc. What is certain is that we feel in some way a new beginning in our life. It is September. It is not a very emotional beginning, as is the 1st of January, we do not feel so deeply an addition to our personal age. Our attitude is more optimistic as beginning. We feel more a sense that we have a future to gain and build something that we have not yet achieved.
However, the readers of my Comments and Confessions last month, would have been affected by the memory of our death brought by contemplating the way in which our Lady, the Mother of God, and our Lord himself prepared to accomplish their own deaths in the presence of the Father. Therefore, our attitude at the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, in September, looking towards the future, would be full of good resolutions and aspirations to conduct our life positively in the presence of God. That is according to the commandments and statutes of God.
Our Holy Mother Church fulfilling its duty to educate us, and encouraging us to remain on our toes-that is with watchfulness-puts for our reading, at the Sperinos or Vespers of the first day of September, three texts of the Old Testament: Isaiah (61:1-9), Leviticus (26:3-12, 14-17, 19-24) and Wisdom (4:7-15). Later on the day, at the Divine Liturgy, also our Mother puts another two texts for our meditation, this time, the passages from the first Epistle to Timothy (2:1-7) and from the Gospel of Luke (4:16-22a). If you wish to benefit from them, you have to read them yourself in the quiet of your room:
‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for He has anointed me
to bring the good news to the afflicted, …
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.’
These were words that Jesus used to proclaim publicly to the world his presence and business among us. The Mother Church uses them now to insist that the new ecclesiastical year is, too, a year of favour from the Lord for us. And using the words of the Apostle, implicitly, asks to me and to you, to each one in our heart: what plans are you making to benefit from the favour that the Lord God grants you in this new year 2001-02?
You may ask, why make plans? What plans?
Indeed many people in this country today live inerthially. They get up in the morning, breakfast, work, smoke a cigarette, work, take tea, coffee, drink, drive, shop, smoke again, eat, TV, disco, personal computer, sex, sleep…Some are very well off; others, struggling; and many survive by social benefits. As-Nationally-Orthodox Christians they baptized their children in church on the Sunday, have a party, receiving many presents, of course, however, with no awareness that in the morning there was the Divine Liturgy; they married their sons or daughters in church on the Sunday-have a big reception and a lot of presents and bank-notes hanging on the nuptial gowns- but no awareness that in the morning there was the Divine Liturgy; … funeral service in church, short and quick-the priest is in a hurry, he has so many services!-men dressed in black and unsaved, koliva, memorial services-still no awareness to offer the Divine Sacrifice of the Liturgy, the only complete memorial service! Of course, who cares to offer the forty consecutive Liturgies for the deceased! Not even the priest knows about that holy tradition of the Church! Ah! Yes: when we arrive to church, we make many times, well, we intend to make, the signed of the cross, but, in fact, it looks more that we play the guitar over our chests, in a hurry, as if we have to catch up with so many crosses as we should have made over us but we did not…! This is what we do when we come to church, you see, we are Nationally-Orthodox…! In deed, this is to be inertially orthodox. Isn’t it?
Inertially…? It is an adverb that I have just made to make explainable our contemporaneous behaviour as Christians. That is, our live is inertia. We live an existence in continuous movement of behaviour by the impulse of what we call today’s life. Perhaps, it would be more accurate to describe it as our bodies’ demands. To satisfy these demands we have to work, eat, drink, entertain, laugh, cry and weep, love or hate, like or dislike, etc. To solve these demands we think, study, acquire skills, feel successful, or bear failure and monotonousness. We could say that, in a way, it is a continuous movement of frantic activity in which our heart is simply carried; or we could say that, in other way, it is a continuous rest of monotonous boredom in which our heart floats barely breathing. We live inertially, because we exist in a state of motion or in a state of rest in a straight line of time passing, unless external forces change that state.
For us Christians that external force is the Holy Church. As a mother, the Church has developed a system to shake us, to keep us on our toes. One instrument of the system is the calendar with its feasts. So, at the beginning of September, we are inspired with a future “acceptable to God our Saviour: He wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim.2:3-4). The will of God is very clear: the salvation of each one of us. However, it is up to us to “accomplish” it. You remember our comments of August? ‘We are not asked how to be born, but we are left free how to die.’ Do you remember the words of Saint Anthony the Great? To have communion with God is possible for him who so wishes and understands how it is to be done. That is, asking, praying, interceding for others and, over all, giving thanks to God. The benefits of this activity in our lives will not only be for the Eternal Life, but will be received in this temporal life also, living “peaceful and quiet lives with all devotion and propriety”(1. Tim. 2:1-2).
Quite a project! Isn’t it? To run it we need to make serious plans! This project is not a game and neither an easy run. Saint Paul compares it with the hard work of the athlete, and Christ himself said that the road that leads to life is hard and the gate is narrow (Mt. 7:13-14) while the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious. Later in September, at the end of the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross, that will be the Sunday after the Feast, we shall hear how to plan and enter into this program for Salvation:
“If any one wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk. 8:34).
were saying earlier, at this beginning of a new year in September, that we feel
and sense a future to gain and for building something we have not yet built.
This something is ‘ME’ or my ‘I,’ Do not think I am talking in Freudian
language but in Christ’s terms. The personalities of those grown up
Christians, in general, have lost childhood. And we have to recover it if we
want to be saved. There is not other alternative. Jesus Christ is absolutely
clear and definitive about it: “unless you change and become like little
children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:3). What do
we when we buy an old house, which is more or less in ruins, before we move in
to live in it? We look for an architect, who understands the problems and
weaknesses of the building, made new plans, look for workers and rebuild it up
to a better glory than when it was originally built, that is, we put into it the
last comforts of our day. But the ‘change’ has to be made by us and
it is us who will suffer the ‘becoming.’ If we are Christian men or
women, we shall never live “inertially.” If we live inertially
we are not Christians. It does not matter how much National-Orthodox we are. We
are not Christians because we shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven. These are
the words of Christ.
Through the year the Mother Church warns her children insistently that some of them will fail to enter in the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, on the first day of September using the Book of Wisdom shows us that “length of days is not what makes age honourable nor the number of years is the true measure of life”, however “understanding, this is grey hairs and untarnished life, this is ripe old age” (Wisdom 4:8-9). The Christian cannot be an ignorant. The Christian has to be a man or woman who understands, who knows the laws of God, who keeps His commandments and who puts them into practice. Then God is faithful and will help you on the Way because it is the year of favour from God. In deed it is hard to say NO to our selves, we feel afflicted, broken-hearted, captive when our friends live enjoying the world, its riches and pleasures. However, “this is the year of vengeance for our God to comfort all who mourn,” to give to all who suffer “the oil of gladness,” and they who rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise what has long lain waste and they will restore the ruined cities. Then they will receive double and shouts of joy will be their lot. “For I, The One Who Is, (their Lord God) love fair judgment and I shall reward them faithfully” (the reading from Isaiah).
BUT if you do not listen to me (your God) and do not put all these commandments into practice… this is how I shall treat you:
I shall subject you to terror, consumption and fever making you dim of sight and short of breath. …
…If, in spite of this, you will not listen to me, I shall punish you seven times over for your sins…And if that does not reform you…(The reading from Leviticus) you will become ashes.
Before we shall begin the Great Lent, next February, the Mother Church will bring to our contemplation again the severity of Christ, advising us of His Last Judgement. Yes, my dear reader, it is time now to make plans to avoid that life of inertia, and to embrace positively a conduct of life pleasing to God, who is present every where even in own hearts.
Let us look to the Star of faithfulness, Our Most Holy Immaculate Most Glorious, Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary, also our Mother, whose Nativity we are going to celebrate this month of September, she is the Ladder that connects us sinners with the throne of God. She is also The Gate through which The One Who Is, the God of Israel, Our God, came to us. She is too the house built by The Wisdom, simple, going forwards in the ways of perception and in the fear of God.
Perhaps, a model plan for our future may be based in the Apostolos of 8 September:
“…Out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others. Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus:
Who being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped.
But he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being,
He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on the cross.
And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:3-11).
I see you next month …, God willing!
© Fr. Kyrillos LERET-ALDIR.
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