Sermon: Another Opportunity
Sermon on the New Year
Father George Papadeas
Another New Year has dawned, and it is normal that we give extra thought to the new time frame. We all make the customary New Year's resolutions, only to have them short-lived. To this there could only be one answer, and this was spoken by the Lord: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41) Our intentions may be honorable, but we so easily capitulate to the espoused routine of life, simply because we do not make any effort to spirituality gird ourselves to follow the Christian course, which holds the fulfillment we all desire.
We hear people say that it is so often difficult to do the right thing, especially in this hard-core, materialistic world where the competition is so great. It may be difficult, but not impossible. The Lord made no sugarcoated promises. He stated that, "the gate is narrow which eads unto life, whereas the gate is wide and the way is broad which leads unto destruction!"(Matthew 7:13-14)
One of the main problems in our life as Christians is that we do not give equal time to the needs of our soul. We often take extra pain to take care of our physical needs. And yet we just don't think very often about our spiritual needs.
There never was a time when the need for God in our lives was so very important. What better time is there than the first day of the New Year to give God the highest priority ? to invoke Him in prayer ? to ask for strength to live a life of meaning and significance. The New Year's Day Divine Liturgy, which should be a must for every Christian has been sadly neglected. It is true that there are the late night activities, but to rise early to be in God's house on January 1st is to be spiritually uplifted as we praise and glorify His Name, praying that He bless us and the whole world, that all will live in peace and harmony.
Without question, the swift current of materialism, and personal enjoyment takes its toll. We have just celebrated Christmas. But have you noticed that as every year goes by, we see fewer truly Christmas-oriented programs, and less Christmas music is heard? Santa Claus has taken over, and people have become absorbed in the exchange of Christmas gifts. It seems that in this commercial world it would be better to substitute Christmas with "Santa Claus Day."
In Greece, the exchanging of gifts takes place on January 1st, the Feast of St. Basil, and Christmas remains dedicated to the birth of our Lord who came that we might be saved.
Many Christian must be brought out of their routine Christianity. They are described by St. Paul in Romans 10:2 as "?having a zeal for God, but without any true knowledge or foundation." God takes a back seat, and we take comfort that He is there incase we need Him. We are not truly involved with Him, and most assuredly do not live up to the standard of St. Paul who said, "I live, yet not I, but it is Christ who lives within me." (Galatians 2:20) St. Paul, in his whole life and dedicated mission, gave proof to this uplifting statement of faith.
We all seek opportunities in life. Yet is there any greater opportunity than that of being united with the Lord? New Year is an opportunity for all people ? young and old ? a great opportunity to regain our soul.
We all seek happiness in life, but happiness does not mean the same thing to all people. People have to come to grips with themselves, and at the same time take life more seriously. When this happens, they will be convinced that happiness does not emit from externals ? from things that we may acquire. Happiness has its roots from deep within our soul. It has to source from the soul.
The proof of this is that as we mature and approach the golden years of life, we realize that the things that seemed so important in our youth are now only incidental, and the things we took for granted, in which we didn't place much importance, are the things that in the end become very precious to us.
There was a popular song in the 40's titled, "The Best Things in Life are Free." Just think about this. The tangibles might bring momentary happiness, but the intangibles give us true and lasting happiness. We will never be truly happy unless they free themselves from the belief that the material things, of themselves only, will bring the desired happiness.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in one of his Christmas messages, reiterated the words of President Washington who said, "?our country long ago had rejected the exclusive dependency on materialistic values."
However, I think that this noble phrase, so idealistic yet applicable andachievable, has long been the victim of the sheer materialism in our present world. Spiritual fulfillment and true happiness have suffered from the fast pace of modern society.
It is difficult to comprehend why people are so willing to follow anybody or anything. Some become so blindly devoted to certain leaders that they remind us of the servants of the past, who, when the master was wounded in battle, were commanded to precede the master in death in order to announce his arrival. The blindly devoted servant would pierce his heart with a dagger believing that he would be fulfilling the command of the master.
Our Lord Jesus does not command us. But He is forever reaching out,inviting us to follow Him. He asks us to unburden our heavy hearts? to deny our old selves ? and to take up our cross and follow Him. Free from the burden of our sins, the Lord assures us that He will give us the strength to overcome life's difficulties. When we have the Lord with us, and truly believe this, no earthly burden will be too heavy to bear.
We must become conscious of the great privilege it is to be known as Christians. And to believe and grow in Christ is a life-long process. Flowers do not bloom in a day nor does fruit ripen on the trees in a week. In the same gradual way, we can ascend the ladder of Christian fulfillment and perfection.
Beloved friends, we must awaken from spiritual lethargy in all aspects of life. We have a great opportunity offered to us with the New Year. Will we take this opportunity to give true substance to our faith? The choice is ours, and if this does happen, then we can say as did St Paul, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor the present, nor the future, nor evil forces above or beneath, nor anything in creation shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is Christ our Lord."
Fr. George Papadeas is a member of the charter class of the Greek Orthodox School of Theology at Pomfret, CT, graduating in 1942 as Valedictorian, and was the first graduate to be ordained to the priesthood. Fr. George continued his studies at General Theological Seminary and Hofstra University. Father George has served the Church in many capacities, including Deacon to Archbishop Athenagoras. He organized the first Greek Orthodox Church of Long Island in Hempstead, NY, served as Dean of the Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York City, and organized and directed Ionian Village in its initial two years of existence. He retired in 1983 at the age of 65. He is presently the priest of a newly-established mission parish in Ocala, Florida. For a more complete biography, visit www.gom-ocala.org/biography.htm.