PRAYING FOR A NEW YEAR OF GRACE.
By Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos.
Let us give thanks to God as we begin a new Church year on September 1. The summer is ending, schools are opened, and people take up their regular tasks and responsibilities. Welcome the new Church year by praying these prayers:
Almighty God who has established times and seasons,
and provides the rains for the fruits of the earth,
bless the new Church year with Your goodness.
Keep Your people in health, unity, and peace.
O loving Lord, who blesses those who worship You,
and sanctifies those who put their trust in You,
save Your people and bless Your inheritance.
Protect the whole body of You Church
and sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house.
Glorify them in return by Your divine power
and do not forsake us who set our hope in You. Amen.
Recently I came across a story about a lady who suffered from depression. Her psychiatrist asked her if she had any hobbies. She said she loved cultivating African violets. The psychiatrist suggested that she find out when all the baptisms, weddings, and funerals were at her church, and to give to each of the families involved an African violet. She started to do this and soon her disposition became brighter and brighter. By doing something for people, she felt connected and became involved in life again.
The media bring to our attention daily all kinds of trouble which people suffer. Societyâ€™s problems, however, cannot be resolved by any one of us. What we can do is make our own unique contribution for the health and harmony of people around us by individual acts of kindness and helpfulness. A parish is an ideal place where people meet and interact. It provides countless opportunities for people to get to know each other, to help each other, to build up social bonds, and thus to contribute to the health of society in concrete ways.
For Orthodox Christians the parish is not only a valuable social organism but also the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Church as a sacred community is the foundation where we learn and strive together for the salvation of our souls and the salvation of the world. â€śYou are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Godâ€™s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous lightâ€ť (1 Peter 2:9).
Many years ago I served on a study commission of the Archdiocese to reflect on the Churchâ€™s agenda in the modern world. We understood that the Church faced a secular society with bewildering diversity, confusing voices, conflicting values, widespread anxiety, and fear about the future. Behind the chaos and distress was a crisis of spiritual and moral vision which influenced Orthodox Christians as well. What was the Church to do? The commission outlined three abiding goals of the Church that are decisive and relevant in every generation.
1. Personal transfiguration. Lay persons, priests, and bishops–all of us–should be concerned about personal spiritual growth in the way of Christ. Through daily prayer, study, fasting, worship, and deeds of mercy we must strive to grow in faith, humility, and love of God and neighbor. Orthodoxy presents a treasure of beauty, prayers, and teachings inspired by God. Orthodox Christians must not be satisfied with mere religious formalities which cannot stand up to the challenges of modern life. They must internalize and live out their Orthodox faith above all in their own personal lives as the foundation of everything else to be undertaken.
2. Corporate life in Christ. The Church is the family of God. Called to existence by Godâ€™s love in Jesus Christ, the Church is the new community of love. It is here that we are first introduced to the life in Christ, grow up in it, learn more about it, and practice it in a wide range of human relationships. Jesus compared our relationship to Him as that of branches to a fruitful vine when He said: â€śI am the Vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothingâ€ť (John 15:5). We confirm and live our identity through worship and the sacraments, through our common life of love and forgiveness, and through various ministries of administration, teaching, and mutual support. St. Paulâ€™s counsel is timely: â€śWe who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the week, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please Himself. . . Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of Godâ€ť (Romans 15:1-3, 7).
3. Outreach. We honor and respect all that God has created and blessed. We envision ourselves as grateful sharers of Godâ€™s gifts and co-workers of God in His mission to redeem the world. The Church by its very nature is an outward-looking community. Mission and outreach reflect both our faith in Christ and our love for Christ, sharing our faith and love with others, and seeking through words and deeds to draw others to the love and grace of God. One aspect of outreach is philanthropy–reaching out to people who are poor, sick, or lonely. In all these ways Christ as taught us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
I make a special plea to parents to be loving, alert, and disciplined in the nurture of their children. What children see, hear, and do impacts their souls much more deeply then adults. Foundations for a happy and successful life are set in childhood. The most effective parents are those who guide their children by being examples of faith and love.
Regular worship, Sunday school, friends at Church are crucial elements in a childâ€™s life. Children should also be protected as much as possible from excessive television viewing, violent video games, and films that pollute innocent souls. A single film will not destroy a child, but hundreds and thousands of images of violence and sexual immorality over the years take their toll. Countless psychological and social studies have shown that violent programming encourages copy-cat conduct among children. Donâ€™t surrender your children to the winds and currents of a culture in chaos. Children are sacred and given to us as gifts from God. They deserve not only our utmost love and care, but also our careful attention and practical ways of raising them up as faithful Christians and good citizens.
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