Warning, this post may ramble a little bit
It seems to be an American custom to have resolutions at the New Year: I will lose weight, I will quit smoking, I will exercise “more”, etc. Most of the time these are all good things to try to do, and may even be within the realm of possibility of accomplishment.
I, being a stubborn and a little bit odd person who always seems to be different than everyone else in so many things in life, have never placed much stock in New Year’s resolutions. From the time I was a young boy, I hated temporary things. My heart always told me that it was not supposed to be this way. Resolutions always had a temporary, ephemeral feel to them. The weight loss plan would end by the end of January, exercise habits would not change for very long, and life would go on. This never seemed right to me. I wanted everything I did to be eternal and permanent. The very acts of making resolutions every year just underscored that we are in an impermanent and fallen world, of which I was fully a part, an unwilling and willing participant.
In college, I pursued a path to take me to medical school, in order to become a surgeon. I knew Dr Christian Bernard had some limited success in transplanting hearts, and I thought that if I became a heart surgeon, I could do something good – help a person to live instead of die. However, if I were to extend a man’s life a few years, then he would die. In less than a hundred years, all those who loved him would be dead. In five hundred years, perhaps nobody would even remember that he had lived. This realization was heavy on my soul, causing a great existential sadness.
When, by the grace of God, I found the church, my soul felt the possibility of permanence for the first time. As part of the church, I learned that EVERYTHING I would do should be, and can be, permanent. Good deeds would be forgotten, those I helped would suffer from something else later, and would die, but in some tangible way, everything I would do in the name of Christ would be permanent. It is not the actions that are permanent. The results are not permanent. I learned that what I become is permanent, and if, I had the privilege of helping, enlightening, cajoling, praying for, rebuking, encouraging – anyone else in such a way that they became something permanent, I would be literally being part of the economy of God. I would be, so to say, “speaking” His words, which would never pass away.
This revelation and revolution in my soul has always been a great comfort to me. It has guided everything I have done that is good. It is the reason I became a priest. It has been a distinct privilege to attempt to educate, encourage and help people to learn of, desire, and do those things which really matter – which are permanent.
I have always felt, however, the intense impermanence of my flesh, my tendency towards doing things and expending energy on things that will not last. As I have gotten older, I have become slightly more efficient, and I daresay more that I do today is permanent compared to how I was as a young energetic (and entropic) man in his twenties. I have learned that the major source of impermanence in the world, for me, is precisely me.
It is not what we do that is permanent; it is how we “do” that makes us become permanent. I think this is well expressed by our Lord’s promise:
“For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41), “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” (Mat 10:42)
It is a daunting task to do everything, for every “little one”, in the name of the Lord. How can this be accomplished? There is only one way, and let this be our only abiding and continual resolution, to, in the words of St Herman:
Let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we shall strive above all else to love God and to do His Holy Will!" (http://orthodox.net/redeemingthetime/2008/12/25/from-this-day-forward-st-hermans-day-dec-12-2008/)
I wish to tell my flock that this is all that I want for you, this is the reason I do everything as a pastor for you. If in any way, any one of you loves God and strives to do His holy will, and my poor ministrations have played some small role in helping you attain this state, then at least that part of my life will not have been lived in vain.