THE V. Reverend Protopresbyter Dr. Stelyios S. Muksuris, Ph.D. [BA, MDiv, MLitt, PhD, ThD (post-doc.)], serves the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church in Aliquippa, PA, and is Professor of Liturgy and Languages at SS. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. A native of Boston and a graduate of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, he received his postgraduate degrees and his doctorate in liturgical theology from the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. He is an active member of several academic societies (AAR, SL, SOL, BSC, OTSA), a frequent conference speaker both nationally and internationally, the author of a monograph, Economia and Eschatology: Liturgical Mystagogy in the Byzantine Prothesis Rite (Boston, 2013), and the author of an introductory chapter for a textbook on Christianity, as well as numerous papers and studies in theological journals. He is a frequent consultant on liturgical matters for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh.
Happy New Me! Naturally, you might be thinking what sort of a peculiar wish this is that we make at the beginning of the New Year. We are all accustomed to exclaiming “Happy New Year!” as the clocks strike midnight on December 31st and the year rolls over to the first day of January. The celebratory atmosphere is highlighted by such festive items as colorful hats, scrumptious food, loud music, and dancing, not to mention plenty of champagne and every eye glued to the television screen as the great apple makes its anticipated descent in Downtown Manhattan’s Times Square.
Around the world, as the New Year is ushered in by people from every time zone, the joyfulness is evident. The old year is gladly discarded, with all of the failures and bitterness it brought, and the New Year is enthusiastically embraced, together with the sincere hope of a more peaceful, successful, and beneficial lot for all people. However, we must ask ourselves: Who can secure such blessings for us? Will they nonchalantly penetrate into our lives of their own volition? Will God make them happen, or will we make them happen?
The answer depends more upon ourselves than on any other factor. The grace of God, like a powerful ocean, will flow wherever and whenever the Lord wills, without any hindrance or obstacle from nature’s part or ours. Our responsibility is to capture this grace as it comes our way, to appropriate it for our lives – indeed, to make it our life force that gives us both direction and purpose. However, like an uncontrollable current whose water passes over us unless that water is contained, so is the grace of God. In the Gospels, Jesus characteristically proclaims to the people He heals, “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50). God obviously heals, but always with the infinitely greater intent of making the beneficiary of the healing whole as a person, right with himself, with his peers, and with God. And God never acts without our consent, without us collecting the water streaming from the current. For this reason – and many of you have heard me quote from the Eucharistic Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom time and time again – does God “never cease doing everything until He leads us to heaven,” respecting our free will and giving us opportunities to better ourselves and find redemption and rest in Him. So, while God’s redemptive love and power are a constant, the important work has to be done within our minds and hearts.
Thus, every New Year offers to us the reminder and the opportunity to improve ourselves by renewing ourselves. This renewal essentially entails either doing the beneficial things for ourselves that we’ve never done before, or intensifying those areas of our spiritual lives that are pathetically lukewarm or lackadaisical. For example, if we shy away from asking for forgiveness from others, we should contemplate why we succumb to this negligence and then proceed prayerfully to correct ourselves. It is as simple and difficult as that, to make a decision not because we have to but because we want to, because we love ourselves and care enough to be better than yesterday, last week, last month, last year
The spiritual life, that is, the life in the Holy Spirit, is not a static life but one characterized by daily constant renewal through prayer, contemplation, and the holy mysteries of the Church. The new person in the new year will be one who becomes new every moment of his life; when he becomes filthy, he will seek out cleansing; when he falls, he will rise up; when he loses a battle, he will rally back to struggle for a victory in subsequent battles. Nothing will be impossible for God to work His miracles in our lives; there is no renewal that God cannot effect perfectly. The only person standing in the way of our re-creating ourselves is, quite frankly, ourselves.
So my dear people, let this New Year become for us OUR year of salvation, OUR year of victory, OUR year of rediscovering the inherent beauty and power in our souls. Let this be the most important resolution we make in 2015, to choose to become greater and better and more beautiful images of God in our world. We need not worry about the abundance of grace made available to us; we need only concern ourselves with capturing this grace, with making ourselves available to the grace of God. Happy New Year! Or rather, Happy New Me!
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