Before we pray, I should like to introduce our prayers so that when we pray, we do it more effectively, with one mind and with one heart. Year after year I have spoken of the New Year that was coming, in terms of a plain covered with snow, unspoiled, pure, and called our attention to the fact that we must tread responsibly on this expanse of whiteness still unspoiled, because according to the way in which we tread it, there will be a road cutting through the plain following the will of God, or wandering steps that will only soil the whiteness of the snow.
But a thing which we cannot, must not forget this year perhaps more than on many previous occasions, is that, surrounding, covering this whiteness and this unknown as with a dome, there is darkness, a darkness with few or many stars, but a darkness, dense, opaque, dangerous and frightening. We come out of a year when darkness has been perceived by all of us, when violence and cruelty is still rife.
How shall we meet it? It would be naive, and it would be very unchristian, to ask God to shield us against it, to make of the Church a haven of peace while around us there is no peace. There is strife, there is tension, there is discouragement, there are fears, there is violence, there is murder. We cannot ask for peace for ourselves if this peace does not extend beyond the Church, does not come as rays of light to dispel the darkness.
One Western spiritual writer has said that the Christian is one to whom God has committed responsibility for all other men, and this responsibility we must be prepared to discharge. In a few moments we will entreat for both the unknown and the darkness, the greatest blessing which is pronounced in our liturgical services, «Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost» – blessed is the kingship of God.
These words are spoken rarely: at the beginning of services, at the outset of the Liturgy, as a blessing upon the New Year, and at moments when eternity and time unite, when with the eyes of faith we can see eternity intertwined with time, and conquering. The Christian is one who must be capable of seeing history as God sees it, as a mystery of salvation but also as a tragedy of human falleness and sin. And with regard to both we must take our stand. Christ says in the Gospel, «When you will hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled»; lift up your heads.
There is no space in the heart and in the life of the Christian for cowardice, faintheartedness and fear, which are all born of selfishness, concern for self, even if it extends to those whom we love. God is the Lord of history, but we must be co-workers with God, and we are sent by Him into this world of His, in order to make the discordant city of men into the harmony which will be called the city of God.
And we must remember the words of the Apostle who says, whoever will wish to work for the Lord will be led into trial, and the words of another Apostle who tells us not to be afraid of trial by fire. In the present world we must be prepared, ready for trials and ready to stand, perhaps with fear in our heart for lack of faith, but unshaken in the service of God and the service of men.
And when we look back at the past year the words of the litany hit us and accuse us. We ask God to forgive us all that we have done or left undone in the past year. We claim to be Orthodox; to be Orthodox does not mean only to confess the Gospel in its integrity and proclaim it in its purity, but it consists, even more than this, in living according to the Gospel. And we know that Christ comes to no compromise with anything but the greatness of man and the message of love and worship. We can indeed repent because who, looking at us, would say as people said about the early Christians, «See how they love one another!»
Who would say, looking at us, that we are in possession of an understanding of life, of a love which makes us beyond compare, which causes everyone to wonder where it comes from? Who gave it to them? How can they stand the test of trial? And if we want this year to be worthy of God, of our Christian calling, of the holy name of Orthodoxy, we must singly and as a body become to all, to each person who may need us, a vision of what man can be and what a community of men can be under God.
Let us pray for forgiveness, we who are so far below our calling, let us pray for fortitude, for courage, for determination to discount ourselves, to take up our cross, to follow in the footsteps of Christ whithersoever He will call us.
At the beginning of the war King George VI spoke words which we can repeat from year to year. In his message to the Nation he read a quotation: «I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown, and he replied: go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God that shall be better to you than light and safer than a known way.»
This is what we are called to do, and perhaps we should make today a resolution, determined to be faithful to our calling and begin the New Year with courage. Amen