Entries with tag commitment .

An Orthodox Guide to New Year’s Resolutions

We all need a new start. We hope for the opportunity of a second chance, we dream sometimes of a fresh beginning. Maybe tomorrow we’ll be on track where today we strayed a bit. We like to think that in the future, things will be better: that the next season will offer something we didn’t have today. When it’s winter, we dream of the beach; when it’s summer, all we want is for it to cool off a bit.

 

So it seems natural that when the calendar year starts fresh, we’d want to make a fresh start ourselves. Maybe we want to quit some bad habit, or begin a better one. We hope for better health and finances, we pray we’ll start to overcome the struggles of last year.

 

But more often than not, we realize that the new year is just the day after yesterday and yesterday’s struggles didn’t seem to disappear. We might make lofty promises and strong New Year’s resolutions, but after a few days, we start to doubt we’ll have the will to keep on. How can Orthodox Christians get past the temptation of extremes and then best direct their attention at the start of the new year? What should we keep in mind as we chose our resolutions?

 

1. A resolution needs regular renewal

 

New Year’s resolutions tend to be breakable because we forget the meaning of a resolution. If I make a resolution, I am resolving or choosing to do something; I’m making a commitment. Every Sunday, we make a commitment to Christ as the priest calls us to “commit ourselves, one another, and our whole lives to Christ our God.” We are called to commit ourselves to Christ regularly, throughout the Liturgy, and every week. Just as easy as it is to forget to commit ourselves to God, it is so easy to forget about our resolutions and then give up following through when we prove imperfect. Seeing our resolutions as commitments reminds us that a resolution needs renewal when we are tempted to drop it instead.

 

We can also see a resolution like a vow or a promise. Viewed like this, we might treat our New Year’s resolutions the way that Christ tells us to keep a vow. Instead of swearing by anything on heaven or earth, Jesus says that Christians should let their “yes be yes” and their “no be no” (Matthew 5:37). A Christian should stick to their word, and their word should be a solid enough foundation that they don’t need to swear by anything.

 

So whatever we chose to resolve to do this new year, we shouldn’t do so lightly. We should be committed to doing it and then regularly recommit to keeping up with it.

 

2. Physical, mental, and spiritual health

Many of our New Year’s resolutions revolve around our health. We might want to start exercising to get fit, to lose weight, or just to feel a bit more active. But when we aren’t used to exercising, it can be hard to keep up with it. Similarly, the spiritual life can feel the same way. If we aren’t used to praying and reading scripture, it can easily fall by the wayside as “more pressing and immediate concerns” of life take precedence.

 

This year, we might want to look at all aspects of our health: physical, mental, and spiritual. As Orthodox Christians, we cannot ignore our spiritual lives and focus only on our physical health. But we also can’t neglect the body and the mind in favor of the spirit. If we’d like to improve our physical well-being this year, we should aim to make progress in our spiritual life as well.

 

Along with a healthier diet and exercise, we can have a healthier approach to prayer and reading scripture. If we are setting aside time to walk or run, we can set aside time to sit in silence and pray. If we are eating healthier foods, we can also take in healthier reading by meditating on scripture and the lives of the saints. And, if we can limit unhealthy foods for the sake of physical health, we can also fast with the Church for the sake of our spiritual health.

 

3. One day at a time

 

If we are choosing to commit ourselves to something, and are regularly choosing to continue on with it, then we will already see the wisdom of taking things one day at a time. Instead of focusing on the entire year and feeling the pressure of the possibility of twelve months of failure, we can instead commit to our resolution this week and more specifically today.

 

One way to keep our focus on today is to spend a few moments every night reflecting on our day. How did we do following through with our resolution today? What were our highs and lows of the day? By seeing our lows in the context of our highs, it can be easier to be grateful even for our day’s small failures or imperfections.

 

We are imperfect people who are called into a relationship with a perfect God and it is He who can give us the strength we need to get through today.

 

Another benefit of taking one day at a time and reflecting on what we are grateful for each day is that we will be able to accept the fact that there will be days that we don’t stick to our resolution. We will be able to accept that we weren’t perfect today, but that with God’s strength, we can make a fresh commitment tomorrow.

 

*****

 

Another year has come and gone and now we’re in 2017. As we choose our New Year’s resolutions, we as Orthodox Christians can benefit from seeing our resolutions as commitments that need to be renewed regularly. We can remember to keep the balance in caring for our physical and spiritual health. And, we can take it one day at a time with our resolutions, and not fall into despair even if we fail today.

 

Are you making a New Year’s resolution this year? How might taking it one day at a time help you to follow through with your resolution?

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Three Lessons Friends Can Learn From The Old Testament

Friendship seems to have become a lost art. As we focus more and more on our careers and what’s next in life, our friendships are usually the first things to fall by the wayside.

Cultivating strong friendships is important, especially because they can strengthen us during times of weakness and reinforce our relationship with Christ. While having Orthodox friendships is certainly important, most of our friendships are with people quite different from us. As Orthodox in this country, nearly all of our neighbors and coworkers (who we’re around most of the time) are either from a different faith, or disconnected from faith all together.

And that’s not a bad thing.

In my experience, there’s so much we can learn about ourselves and the world when we make friends with people who are different than us. Scripture itself gives us this lesson through an unlikely pair of friends from the Old Testament: Ruth and Naomi.

I encourage you to read the Book of Ruth for yourself but, in a nutshell, Naomi was an Israelite from Bethlehem and Ruth was a Moabite from another land. Ruth was married to one of Naomi’s sons. This unlikely pair of people were thrust together after the two suffered the loss of their entire family. Unlike her sister-in-law, who went her own way after these disasters, Ruth decided to stay with Naomi, saying:

Entreat me not to leave you,

Nor to turn back from following after you;

For wherever you go I will go;

And wherever you lodge I will lodge.

Your people shall be my people,

And your God my God.

Where you die I will die,

And there will I be buried.

The Lord do so to me, and more also,

If anything but death parts you and me. (Ruth 1: 16-17).                 

It’s a story of loss and redemption. It’s a story of devoted friendship, borne out of differences rather than commonalities.

Here are three lessons we learn from Ruth and Naomi that can help us in our friendships with people different from us.

1. Have no fear

Fear plays a big role in keeping people apart. Differences in class, race, culture, and religion so often keep people from getting to know one another. Stereotypes and misconceptions keep us so bound by fear that we don’t get to know the “other”. So the first thing that Ruth and Naomi can teach us is to not be afraid of getting to know people different from us.

Not only was Ruth a foreigner, but her people (the Moabites) were considered to be enemies of the Israelites. For Naomi to allow her sons to marry Moabite women, she must have learned how to make peace with the differences between them. But that would have started by getting to know them. And after her husband died, Ruth chose to not let their differences in culture get in the way of being there for Naomi.

Both women chose to leave their fear behind, which opened them up to approaching others, not defensively, but with humility.

2. Be humble

The relationship between Ruth and Naomi was formed out of their mutual humility and vulnerability. Naomi was humbled by having to go to the land of her enemies in search for food. Ruth chose to search for food from the fields in Bethlehem to support Naomi. Both of them experienced being a foreigner in an unknown land, but they also experienced the benefits of friendship borne from that humility.

When we seek out friendships with people who are different from us, it is an act of humility because it takes us out of our comfort zone. It creates an opportunity to reach out and to discover another person based on what they value. It leads us to ask about another person and allows us to get to know ourselves in the process. As we better understand our differences, we can better learn who we ourselves are. At the same time, our eyes can open to see what we have in common, too.

And friendships, which take work to start and nurture, are the result of effort and commitment.

3. Be committed

Friendship is different from family in that it is freely chosen. Yet sometimes we view friendship as relatively unimportant because, while freely chosen, it usually lacks serious commitment. The story of Ruth and Naomi challenges us with a higher image: one of lasting, committed friendship.

Ruth was free of her duty to Naomi when her husband died, yet she chose to stay with her mother-in-law. Ruth tells Naomi, "Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried" (Ruth 1: 16-17).

In other words, she’s in this friendship for good. She’s committed.

And the blessings that are borne from commitment to our friendships have the potential to run over into our other relationships as well. Ruth took the harder road and went back with Naomi to a land she didn’t know. And because Ruth went back, she met Boaz. So their commitment to friendship led to something quite unexpected: Ruth and Boaz became the great-grandparents of King David and the ancestors of Jesus.

Commitment makes possible the richness that two people experience in a friendship that has lasted a while. And though friendships can be hard sometimes, if we treat them lightly, or give up on them too easily, we miss out on the joys that can come out of commitment.

*****

Ruth and Naomi present us with a new way of looking at friendship. They let go of their fears and humbled themselves, which made their friendship possible. Their commitment to their friendship made possible not only the redemption of their lives, but also of the Israelites through David, and of the whole world through Jesus Christ.

Do you let fear keep you away from getting to know others around you? How can humility open up a door to better encounter your friends? And are you as committed to your friends as Ruth was to Naomi?  

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit:

"Whither Thou Goest" by Sandy Freckleton Gagon  

St Ruth 

St Naomi 

Ruth and Naomi 

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Commitment to Christ

Everyone is committed to something. Committed to a job, to friends, or to a spouse. We commit to finishing that book we bought last month but still haven’t gotten through.  We (hope) to commit to that new diet or that New Year’s resolution.  Seniors in high school respond to college acceptances and commit to their favorite school.

Some of my friends this year have committed to marrying their special someone by getting engaged. Others have committed to their spouse through the sacrament of marriage. Still others have gotten ordained, having committed their lives to the service of the Church.

For all of us, whether it is to something short term or long term, our commitment means seeing through what we started. With relationships, it implies a certain surrender of oneself to the other, a giving of myself to you.

So with all of these important commitments happening all around me, I can’t help but reflect on who and what I am committed to. I commit to the things I find the most important. I commit to my priorities: family, friends, work, school.

What about my relationship with God? What about my commitment to growing in my faith?

Our priority list can fill our minds with worry and we can forget to put Christ first. In our rush through life’s commitments, we forget to actually be committed to Him. So it’s no surprise to me that in the Divine Liturgy, we’re reminded to commit ourselves to Christ over and over again. Six times, in case we missed it the first five times!

“Let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.”

So let’s take a look at this petition and see the three things it’s calling us to do today.

1. Commit ourselves

The first thing this petition calls us to do is to commit ourselves to Christ. Though we may be tempted to worry about the faith of others, we have to make sure we are committed to Christ before we worry if others are. It’s like when flight attendants say “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Our life in Christ begins with our decision to unite ourselves with Christ first. 

It’s helpful not to over-complicate this: committing ourselves to something is about making a decision, taking a clear and simple action.

If I’m committed to a friendship, I will take the action of calling them, keeping in touch, spending time together. If I’m committed to finishing a book, I’ll have to actually pick it up and make time to read it. In order to commit myself to Christ, I have to put on my oxygen mask through prayer and through participating in the sacraments.

If I am committed to Christ, I have to set aside time to be with Him, to focus on that relationship.

We decide to commit (or not commit) to Christ each and every moment of each and every day. And we can start today, by making the decision to commit ourselves to Him, to follow Christ through our actions and our thoughts. In this way, our commitment to Christ isn’t hypothetical; it’s a conscious decision each moment and is shown in conscious, concrete actions throughout the day.

2. Commit one another

How do we commit one another to Christ? We commit our loved ones – and our enemies – to Christ by praying for them. We commit the poor and needy to Christ by serving them.

Simply put, we commit others to Christ by loving them with humility and trust.

Throughout the Liturgy, there are petitions where we pray for all sorts of people: the sick, the travelling, our government, our Church leaders. But then we’re told to commit one other to God. So besides simply praying for all of these people, we are called to give them up to the care of God. To trust that God will provide all that they need, and how they need it, when it’s His will.

By committing one another to Christ, we give up our right to worry and stress about what is going on around us. We instead turn to Christ, trust in Him, and ask for His will to be done in others’ lives. When we are given the opportunity to do something palpable in the life of a person in need, we ask for God to strengthen us to do His will in that moment.

If I am set on solving someone else’s problems on my own, then I’m not committing that person to Christ. I’m committing them to myself, to my plans, to my will. If I’m telling God what to do in my prayers instead of letting my requests be known to Him and praying only for His will, then I’m not committing others to God. 

I have to let go of control – even and especially in prayer – if I want to commit others to the care of God.

3. Commit our whole life

God doesn’t just want part of me, He wants all of me. He wants me to be as committed to Him as I am to finishing that plate of food on Pascha, or that argument I just have to win. If you’re an athlete, God wants you to be as committed to Him as you are to winning that tournament or that scholarship to play in college.

We’re either all in or we’re not in at all.

I’m always challenged when I hear the words of Christ from the Book of Revelation: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). Who wants anything that’s lukewarm? We want to be on fire for Christ, not smoldering embers left over from our GOYA days. 

So, more than committing ourselves to God (which requires a decision and action), committing our whole life to God requires us to completely rely on Him. I commit my life to Christ when I offer Him all that I do today. I have to pray for God’s will in all aspects of my life (work, school, relationships) and honestly desire to carry out His will when it becomes clear to me.

Committing my whole life to Christ means giving up my right to pilot my life and asking Christ to take over – because I can’t do it on my own. Once I commit my whole life to Christ, we’re in this together for the long run. Like a marriage, commitment to Christ means giving my life to Him and trusting in Him.

*****

The Church calls us to commit ourselves, one another and our whole life to Christ. Any commitment can feel overwhelming if we focus on the end goal. A lifetime commitment could sound intimidating if we forget to live one day at a time. In the same way, our Christian life can feel impossible if we don’t live it out purposefully one day at a time.

Instead of focusing on our plans and our desires for the future, we can choose to seek out God’s will and commit our life to Christ. Instead of worrying about our loved ones, or worrying about world events, we can commit one another to Christ. And instead of second or third place on our list of priorities, we can put Christ first and commit ourselves to Christ our God.

What are you committed to?

Have you committed yourself to Christ today?

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

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