Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
In the Service of Prayer for the New Year, we offer the following prayerful petitions to God:
“That He will mercifully accept this present thanksgiving and supplication of us, His unworthy servants, on His most-heavenly Altar, and compassionately have mercy on us, let us pray to the Lord.
“That He will bless the beginning and continuance of this year with the grace of His love for mankind, and will grant unto us peaceful times, favorable weather and a sinless life in health and abundance, let us pray to the Lord.
“That He will drive away from us all soul-corrupting passions and corrupting habits, and that He will plant in our hearts His divine fear, unto the fulfillment of His statutes, let us pray to the Lord.”
By the grace of God, may it be so!
These petitions from the Great Litany of this service should at least move us to a deeper level of reflection (and prayer) than that offered in the rather vapid “Happy New Year!” The New Year, with its unavoidable theme of time, prompted me to go back over an excellent essay by Archbishop Kallistos Ware, titled 'Time: Prison or Path to Freedom?' (This essay can be found in Vol. 1 of Archbishop Ware’s Collected Works—The Inner Kingdom—published by SVS Press). This is a rich essay indeed, in which Archbishop Kallistos asks questions and offers insights that are universal in their application.
“Our experience of time… is deeply ambivalent,” he writes. “How are we to regard time: an enemy or friend, as our prison or our path to freedom? Which aspect do we find predominant in its double-edged impact upon us: anguish or healing, terror or hope, decay or growth, separation or relationship?” [p. 183].
In other words, is time simply “eating away” at the successive and finite number of moments that comprise our lives, sweeping us along toward death and oblivion, or is there purpose and a transcendent “destination” in this movement? Anguish or hope do seem to be very honest responses to such polarized possibilities. And as Archbishop Kallistos suggests, we should use the “time” to think hard on just which direction we are inclined toward with these two poles.
As a Christian and a bishop who combines theological brilliance with a fine pastoral sense, Archbishop Kallistos fills us with a sense of hope as He affirms our faith that Christ is the “Alpha and Omega” of time, as well as the mid-point. In addition to this fundamental assertion, he has a wonderful section in this essay under the heading “Time as the Freedom to Love.” I hope that this excerpt of two passages from this section, will convey something of his wonderful insights about the nature of time and our freedom to love.
“It is in the context of freedom and love that the meaning of time can best be appreciated. Time is part of the “distancing” or ‘contraction’ on God’s side which makes it possible for us humans freely to love. It is, as it were, the interspace which enables us to move towards God unconstrained and by our voluntary choice. ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock,’ says Christ; ‘if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me’ [Revelation 3:20]....
"Time is the interval between God’s appeal and our answer. We humans need this interval of time so as freely to love God and one another; without the interval we cannot engage in the dialogue of love…. Time is thus an all-important dimension of our created personhood, the setting that makes it possible for us to choose love. It is time that allows us to respond to God by our own free content, that enables our love to mature, that permits us to grow in love” [pp. 188-189].
In the fallen world that we occupy, time has become inextricably linked to mortality and death, but it still remains a gift, as do all aspects of God’s creative will, now redeemed by the advent of Christ. Often, we hear—and may even use—the dreadful phrase “to kill time,” either out of boredom or in waiting for something “important” to happen. Yet our Christian vocation is to “sanctify time” as our movement toward the Kingdom which has no end. Every moment counts, because every moment is a gift from God.
Is there a meaningful and worthwhile New Year’s resolution to commit oneself to somewhere in all of this?