To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Venerable Monastics, and God-fearing Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:
The new year arrives at the great meeting point of the Old and New Covenants. Throughout December, the Church bade us remember the righteous and prophets of the Old Covenant, beginning with Nahum, Habbakuk, and Zephaniah, continuing with Haggai, Daniel, and the Three Youths, and culminating with the two Sundays before the Nativity, the memory of that long and great ancestry of our Savior according to the flesh.
That for which the prophets kept vigil was experienced and proclaimed by the fathers and monks celebrated throughout January: beginning today with St. Basil, throughout this month we remember a throng of holy theologians and monastics: Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, Athanasius and Cyril, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, Mark of Ephesus, and Ephrem the Syrian, as well as Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, Theophan the Recluse, Paul of Thebes, Theodosius and Euthymius, Anthony and Macarius, and Isaac the Syrian.
Thus, December brought us the Prophets as an icon of mankind awaiting redemption, while January presents to us the holy Fathers and venerable Monastics as an icon of mankind responding to the redemption wrought through the Flesh of the eternal Word of God.
Christ has come in the flesh! This requires of us also a categorical response. The saints show us what this response must look like.
The prophets who awaited His coming are our models of watchfulness: they were ready at any time for the visitation of the grace of God. The fathers who expressed this mystery in carefully chosen words give us an example of intellectual honesty: nothing could induce them to waver from the truth that God revealed to them. The monastics who abandoned everything in pursuit of Christ show us an image of detachment: no one but the Lord could occupy the throne of their heart.
But none of these virtues can grow unless they are planted in the soil of obedience and humility. The prophets obeyed the voice of the Lord in their hearts; the fathers obeyed the Tradition they received from the Apostles; and the monks obeyed their spiritual fathers and abbots. We too must learn obedience in whatever context God has placed us in, and our model for this virtue is none other than the Lord Himself.
Today, on the eighth day after his birth, our Savior showed us the path of obedience by submitting to the Old Covenant through circumcision. And in a few days, we will behold the Lord at Jordan as a full-grown man, modelling the path of humility for us when, though sinless, He submits to a public rite of repentance for guilty sinners.
Christ, so the Scriptures say, learned obedience through what He suffered (Heb. 5:8). What is true of the Master must also be true of us His disciples. There can be no genuine deepening of spiritual life without fulfilling the basic Gospel commandments in our deeds and conforming our weak understanding to the doctrinal and moral tradition of the Church. It is not only bishops who must uphold and defend the Church’s teaching; it is not only monks and nuns who must give themselves over to the pursuit of godliness. Through Baptism, we have all entered into the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, and we must all live, speak, and think in a manner worthy of the abudant grace of which we have become stewards.
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
This is my New Year prayer for you: that you be renewed in repentance, in love of truth and godliness, in zeal for watchfulness and prayer, and in detachment from those things which become idols in place of God.
Christ has come in the flesh! In the next twelve months the number 2012 will be a constant reminder of the boundless and universal magnitude of the Incarnation. Let us offer this year to God, making it truly “anno Domini” – the acceptable year of the Lord.
Faithfully yours in Christ,