My dear brothers and sisters in Christ!
The last day of this calendar year has finally come. The New Year is at our door. For the secular world, but not for the right believers, it is a special time, and its people have gathered in large numbers to celebrate. The secular world has high hopes; its people expect that this New Year, at last, will change their lives favourably. In other words, they do not lay their hopes on God, or the help of the invisible world. They wait for the New Year, they hope for the magic of the New Year's night, lauded in countless works of literature, art and poetry. The secular world is living in anticipation of this night.
But as Christians, we know that there are many people tonight who need our prayers because, sadly, they cannot pray for themselves. So we will spend this night standing at the Divine Liturgy, praying for the secular and Christian worlds together. There are no boundaries for a loving heart. We do not divide people into us and them. We pray for the world because we believe in Christ its Creator and in His presence in our midst. We live for the love of our Lord, and we aspire to reunite in eternity with Him and the rest of the Most Holy Trinity. The Lord is leading us forward. His aim is not to impress us with something new or unusual. He is taking us home.
As we proceed, we pay no attention to the festive dates or their promises of welcome change. Instead, we live by the day. Our mornings start with prayer, and our evenings end with one. Today, we served the New Year Moleben, in which we gave thanks to our Lord for the past year. Like the other Orthodox, we thank the Lord not by giving it the name of some animal from an Oriental calendar, but by dedicating every year of our lives to God and His service.
On my visit to an army unit, some soldiers asked me - should they see themselves as sons of God or His slaves? Most found the idea of being slaves unattractive. Immediately, I replied, “You are smart enough to answer it yourselves! What would you say?" A young soldier stood up. "We are born sons of God, but as we defile ourselves by sin, we turn into slaves, and, sadly, not even the slaves of God.” When we stop being the children of God, we are condemned to servitude, and I would rather not say the name of the master. But we have a calling from the Lord.
Let us follow this calling by spending the remainder of the night in prayer; let us ask Him to take our worldly hopes and give us faith. May we always have the faith that the Lord will not abandon those who put their trust in Him. For the Lord says, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6, 37). And may we not find ourselves in a situation of which the glorious Psalmist wrote, “So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror.” (Psalms 77, 33).
People spend days, months and even years waiting for some magical date. Their days are going by as they are watching. One more year passes, and they keep waiting. Yet no miracle happens, their lives do not change. How fortunate we must be to have chosen, by the good works of our parents and ancestors, a fully different life. It is a life in Christ, Who fills with His grace and spirit our every day and moment. For us, no day is spent in vain, because we not only use our time to do good works, but we do them in the name of Christ.
And so each of our days differs from the days of the unbelievers - who count off their days in a vain expectation, day in and day out. Come their final hours, and they are still waiting; and when they leave this world, they leave in gloom, sorrow and turmoil. They do not know where they are going. Conversely, we leave with the faith and absolute certainty that we are not turning into nothing, but we are on our way to meet our Father, Who had not forsaken us but instead had entrusted us to live on earth and glorify His name. We do not think that God had forgotten His people and disengaged himself from their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Lord is with us every moment. He fills all our deeds and our entire lives with His presence and goodness. The Holy Apostle Paul said, "therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5, 8). The bread of the world is leavened. Ours is unleavened. We have come here at midnight to make our hearts pure; for it is a pure heart that harbours the grace of God. God's goodness has no dwelling in a heart that is impure. Only by seeking purity can we find the Grace of God and know His love; only by making ourselves pure can we let our love grow and illuminate the lives of others.
So let us not keep the festival with the leavened bread. Let us celebrate instead with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Yet, as we raise our prayers to the Lord for the secular world, we will ask Him to keep the peace. We will thank the Lord for all we have, ask him for a future free from strife and disturbance. Glory to the Lord our Father and our Saviour Jesus Christ forever and ever!
Hieromonk Silouan of Optina Pustyn.