In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Thus, brothers and sisters, we are completing yet another calendar year, yet another year of our life and, and are entering into a New Year of God’s goodness, perhaps with conflicting emotions.
But at the same time, above all, we meet it with faith in God’s mercy, which hangs persistently over us. Not everyone has made it to this day. In the past year, in the most unexpected circumstances, I have bid farewell to my formerly closest associates – they seem to have suffered an untimely death. Death has claimed many other victims this year. And we, according to God’s mercy, have been left for some other God-provided mission.
What should we do in this year? And here, brothers and sisters, I want to anticipate the reading of the Gospel that you will hear in our moleben, and remind you of the story of how the Lord came into the city in which He grew up, where He lived from infancy: the city of Nazareth. Up until now this city remains predominately Christian, surrounded by Islam and Judaism. Up until now in this city, the feast of the Annunciation is celebrated by the entire people, and it is amazing, and touching, and joyful to see how parents dress up their children as angels, wearing pink, blue, and white dresses in the streets, with wings, and all rejoice and are glad. The city of Nazareth was long ago given a special blessing of God: to be the home for the childhood and beginning of the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this Gospel it is related how Christ came into this city after another journey through other cities of the Holy Land, and enters on the Sabbath day, on a day that is a holiday for the Jews, in the synagogue, and there offers to share His teaching. And He takes a book, a scroll, opens it in the right place, and reads from the book of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
And the people, who heard these ancient prophetic words, read by the Lord Jesus Christ, listened carefully; no one objected, because everyone knew Him from His youngest years and truly believed that He is anointed and sent for what He read. And all were amazed by the words of grace that were coming from Him mouth. The Lord said: “You see! Now is accomplished that which was preached by the ancient prophets.” And no one objected. For not long before this, when He spoke bitter words to His fellow citizens about how they would receive His preaching, they wanted to stone Him in their fury. But here it touched their hard hearts with the word of the Lord, and they received it.
Nearly two thousand years have passed, since we have read these words on New Year’s. What relationship does this reading have towards us? Do we just remember what was said long ago, so distantly from us? No, brothers and sisters! These words are addressed above all to us. Of course, in the first place, they are addressed to clergy and preachers of the word of the Lord. But you are all anointed, called by the Holy Spirit, and born again in the Baptismal font, giving a vow before God, before the Fatherland, and before your conscience to do that which the Lord commanded. He said: Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized (Mark 10:39) and Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be by any means hurt you (Luke 10:19). What should we do? Look, I will again repeat it: visit the poor… heal the broken in heart… preach forgiveness to the captive and sight to the blind, bring joy to the sorrowing – that is, show the path of a contrite spirit in joy; and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Who are these “poor” to whom the Lord preaches? This is everyone, brothers and sisters, including me, who are weak in spirit and do not want to understand that we are disciples of Christ, that we can tread on the power of the enemy and nothing will hurt us. So should we strengthen our souls and “preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
“Preach release to captives….” Yes, the world is a prisoner to sin. Yes, the world in the prisoner of its passions, its weaknesses, and, above all, its lack of faith in its own strength.
“Heal the broken in heart…” How many people are discouraged in our world, how many poor there are, how many there are who wonder how to make it another day. And they need to be strengthened in spirit. Who can do this? Only those who firmly believe in the strength of the Orthodox Church and in the stability of our Orthodox spirit.
“To set at liberty them that are bruised”… To show the path to those who are bruised “in joy.” Where is this joy? In God’s church, in our Orthodox life!
And “preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Yes, now is the day of salvation, because we believe that the Orthodox Church is has stood firm for centuries in our Fatherland, that all are called to the Church, and that no one is forgotten of God. And if someone enters eternal life through, it would seem, unexpected circumstances, there is in this a special allowance of God. For the Lord takes man at the best time of his life. The Lord God does not need bad things; He does not need his sinful soul; and then, when the soul blooms in joy, when it is ready for an encounter with God as its chief, favorite, and beloved subject of life – then he goes to that other world.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us begin the New Year with what is the year of the Lord for ourselves and those around us: one that is acceptable for salvation. Now is the day of salvation! For “the darker the night, the lighter the stars,” as the poets say; and we add: the more difficult the tests, the stronger the faith.
May the Lord bless those beginning His acceptable year, strengthening our faith, so that we can firmly and strongly believe and hold on to the Holy Orthodox Church and, not growing tired, may speak of it to everyone, and by our example showing the firmness of our confession. Amen.
December 31, 1994.