On the new year3 January 2020
My beloved brothers and sisters,
Of all the wishes exchanged at the dawn of the New Year, the most appropriate for us Christians is the Church’s supplication: ‘May we spend the rest of our life in peace and repentance’. This is the most apt, the most true prayer, that we may pass whatever remains of our life peacefully and repentant.
When the Church says ‘in peace’, it doesn’t mean only external, political peace, but first and very much foremost our inner, spiritual peace, on which the peace of the world depends. Because it’s true that the world won’t find peace unless each of us finds our own peace, one by one, opening up to and welcoming God’ grace.
God isn’t outside the world and doesn’t watch the course of human events from afar. Just as at the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God ‘moved upon the face of the waters’ [Gen. 1, 2] so now, the same Spirit of God is hovering over the world, sustaining and governing it. Not like fate or blind violence, but the divine Word over creation and divine Grace within people. The world didn’t come about by chance, its course isn’t without a goal, and its end isn’t unknown.
The Church talks about ‘in the beginning’ and preaches ‘the ends of the ages’. Holy Scripture, which is the revelation of God in the Church, talks about the beginning and end of the world, not in the language of science, but in the spirit of faith. Saint Paul writes about the beginning: ‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God’ [Heb. 11, 3]. As regards the end, another apostle writes: ‘the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up’ [2 Peter 3, 10].
This end, not as the destruction of the world but as a change and transformation, will take us ‘from the present into the future age’, into a new day without evening, the eighth and everlasting day of creation and of the resurrection.
And when, in its supplication concerning the rest of our life, the Church says ‘in repentance’ this is precisely what it means: that we should be ready, awaiting this end, because we don’t know when it will come. And if not the end of the world, at least the end of our life, which, even though it isn’t the end of the world, is our end as regards the world. Besides, as Jesus Christ said: ‘the night is coming, when no-one is able to work’ [John 9, 4].
Anything we have to do for ourselves and our salvation must be done now, in the course of our existence here, in what we call our ‘life’. This life is a certain amount of ‘credit’, with an expiry date, which is given to us to work with the capital God has given us- His image- in order to attain to His likeness, which will be achieved through our own unstinting struggle and effort.
Many people, not only those outside the Church but lots of those who call themselves Christians don’t think like this. On the contrary they believe that their life is not at all a matter of responsibility and duty, work, labor, generous effort undertaken in order to make ourselves and the world better. But this is why we came into the world, to fix things, starting with ourselves and then expanding our efforts as far as possible into our surroundings.
We didn’t come merely to take from life but also to give. First you give, then you take. Fathers and mothers for their children, brothers and sisters for their siblings, priests for their congregations, teachers for their students, citizens for their local community, politicians for the country.
These days it seems that people’s ideas have changed. Everybody wants rights, they all want to take. But nobody thinks about what they’re giving, what they’re doing to make themselves better and then what they’re doing for other people and their community. Why can’t it be otherwise? We’re not alone in life nor without some place where we live. We’re a community of people in one place and this is our village, our town, our city, our homeland. We’re linked to people and things, so you can’t say that you’re alone, adrift, independent, doing what you like as you please.
The way we’re talking now, at the beginning of the New Year, is the way the Church believes and speaks when it addresses its children. Because the shepherd speaks to and addresses the children of the Church, Christians and the faithful, from this position. And his discourse cannot be other than that of faith, encouragement and entreaty to the people of God.
So, my beloved brothers and sisters, accept what your bishop has felt he was able to say to you today. Accept it, not as formal words spoken simply because they had to be, nor as words meant to make some sort of impression, but as words of life, as the word of God, interpreted with humility and love. Finally, receive the blessing of the Church and pray for us, your priests, so that we can all live ‘the rest of our life in peace and repentance’. Amen.
†Dionysios of Servia and Kozani