295. The Last Three of Our New Year’s Resolutions: Pray. Shape up. Be kind.

But before we get started:

The Epiphany, the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, was yesterday, January 6 (new calendar).  In the ancient Church, and still according to our liturgical forms, Epiphany is just as big a celebration as Christmas. Who would have guessed? So if you missed it and you’d like to read about it, see below:

icons by permission of Saint Isaac’s Skete at skete.com.

46. Poor Epiphany – and Poor Us

 

And now, as I always say, to the subject at hand:

Last Friday, in our New Year’s Resolutions, we covered Think, and I trust all of us have been thinking diligently this past week about many things.

Resolution 1:  Pray better. Read the Scriptures.

Speaking of thinking: If any here present think their personal prayer life is what it should be, please comment at the bottom of this Post. Also, be sure to tell God about it next time you talk to Him.

First, let me confess. Now that I’m retired, I have much more time to devote to prayer. But do I pray as well as I should? Do I get to the end of a prayer and wonder whether I’ve said it? Contrary to what I told you a couple of weeks ago, do I hurry through the Lord’s Prayer? On my intercessory list, do I sometimes rattle off peoples’ names instead of praying for them? (OK, so it’s very long list, but how much time does it take to say for each person, “Lord have mercy on N.”? I believe in most cases that is sufficient. God knows what they need far better than I do.) Do I try to focus on Jesus, lay my heart and soul before Him… and then find what I’m thinking about instead is who knows? maybe last night’s TV show.

I know how I must answer those questions.

Courtesy of Saint John the Evangelist
Antiochian Orthodox Church, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania

Now it’s your turn: If you are retired, are you giving more time to prayer? If you’re leading an active life, is there no way you can spend even five minutes more a day in prayer? wake up only five minutes earlier, or take five minutes more before you go to sleep, or whenever? If you’re a young parent or working two jobs and can scarcely keep up with life (in which case you’re probably not reading this Blog!): Can you at least manage to say the “Our Father” or the “Jesus Prayer” now and then? As Father Thomas Hopko wrote, “Pray as you can, not as you think you must.”  Just so you pray.

Why is Prayer the most important of our resolutions? Because to pray is to plug ourselves into the Electric Socket of Life. Prayer gives energy and strength for this life and for Eternal Life. If we’re not close to God, nothing else will finally be right with us.

Also we need direction for life. That’s why we need to read the Scriptures daily. The Psalms, the Epistles, and above all the Gospels tell us how to live, give us wisdom from God Himself. We can read the Church’s appointed lessons for the day, or we can just take a few verses from the Gospels – whatever you choose – and meditate on that for a little while. I think the Christian world today would be a very different place if Christians actually read and absorbed what our Lord Jesus taught, and then prayed over it.

Pray.

Resolution 2.  Shape up!

What precisely should we “shape up”?

Our bodies? Figure that out for yourself.

Our moral lives? Read the Gospels.

Or you might look up my series on the Seven Deadly Sins, beginning with: https://frbillsorthodoxblog.com/2018/10/05/86-the-seven-deadly-sins-1-pride/  And soon I’ll do a series on the Seven Virtues.

Our prayer life? See above.

The world situation, or American politics? Good luck and God help us all. This definitely should lead us to Prayer.

So what’s left? Oh, I know! and here it comes again: Friends, we all need to shape up regarding the Pandemic.

What I’m about to say could be misunderstood, so please read carefully.

I am not speaking directly to any here present who have lost loved ones or dear friends untimely because of the Covid, or for any reason. Here also I hope you will turn to Prayer, and lay it all before God. Tell Him how you hurt. If you’re angry at Him, He’ll understand. He lost a Son too – if only for a little while – as, in the great Scheme of Things, our losses also will finally seem only for a little while, even they do not now. Take it to Him, and let Him get you back together again.

I am speaking here to…

Let’s begin like this: A cousin of mine wrote to me the other day and asked (knowing the answer), “Are you weary of the Covid yet?” I answered: “Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes”. (I was tempted to write it forty times, in the good old Orthodox way.) Yes, aren’t we all?

Here we are back into it again. It feels like half everybody I know or have ever heard of is coming down with it now. I’m weary of hearing about it, and of being nearly shut in again. I want to go out to eat at my favorite restaurants without fear. I want to go to the movies and the theater, and to visit our family, and to church if only I could find one where I knew people are careful about vaccination and masking.

So I’m speaking here to me.

Nor In what I will say here do I mean to downplay the present difficulties. How easy it would be for me to do that –  I’m retired, with nowhere I really must go, writing to you on my laptop, sitting in my recliner before the fire in my warm living room, and I’m not an independent restauranteur having to close up again. I should complain?

Meanwhile, hospitals are full, some beyond capacity again, and our brave health care workers are worked to death again, some literally. No matter how school administors and teachers try to deal with the situation, half the parents will be angry with them. Students either must go to school online with the difficulties that entails, or attend live and expose themselves to Covid. Working parents are stressed, often trying to balance their jobs with the need to stay home to look after their children. Airline flights are cancelled by the thousands, and passengers are stranded. Police forces and fire departments are depleted.

All told, over a million Americans are now coming down with the Covid each day, and officially well over 55 million of us have now contracted it – though a study from Columbia University suggests it may be over 100 million, almost 1/3 of the population. Over 800,000of us have died. Of all the countries in the world, the  US has the fifth highest number of Covid cases per capita. This is because, despite our vast resources, scarcely over 60% of the population have chosen to be “fully vaccinated” – that is, even two shots, without the booster.

It’s understandable that many people are so weary of it all that they’re carrying on as if nothing is happening: “What? Me Worry?” until they get sick, of course.

It’s a mess all ’round, all over the world.

So should our attitude be “Poor, poor us, how we do suffer”?

No way. Please stop and give a thought to how comparatively good we’ve had it.

On the whole (certainly not in every respect), in recent years we in the Western world have lived through one of the most peaceful, most comfortable periods of human history. The generations immediately preceding mine endured World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II – in which over eighty million people died violently – not to mention the Korean War and the Viet Nam War.

People got through the great Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919, (right: Fort Riley, Kansas) isolated and unable to keep in immediate contact with the outside world. They did have US Mail and newspapers (in most places containing news from a day or three before yesterday) and telephone, but long distance calls were undependable and cost a fortune. They didn’t even have radio to entertain them.

Early in the Twentieth Century, childhood diseases were so prevalent that parents took it for granted they would lose a child or two. I remember in the 1950s how terrified we were of polio – and also, by the way,  how parents almost without exception rushed to have their children receive the quickly-developed Salk polio vaccine. (How things have changed.)

In recent times some parts of the world have endured wars on their homelands with whole cities destroyed (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden), the German blitzkrieg against London, civil wars, famines, the Jewish holocaust, genocides. In some long ago generations, plagues wiped out as much a third or half of the population. And more.

Why have I gathered this dreadful list of woes and horrors? To show how relatively easy we’ve got it.

Today we have the ability to almost conquer the Pandemic, if only we’d shape up and get ourselves vaccinated and wear masks and restrain our public activities for a while. We have radios and computers and smartphones and television shows and cable with a gazillion channels and programs and movies to entertain us. You even have this Blog to read! We have email and texting and and phones and Zoom to keep us in immediate touch with friends and loved ones no matter where, so that during the Pandemic I actually have got to know many family and friends better than ever before. Even now as I’m trying to work on this Post, my daughter and I, though 250 miles apart, have been texting back and forth for the greater part of an hour, just for the fun of it. (So if you find errors here, shall we say they’re all her fault….?)

Is the present situation depressing? Of course. We just think we’re out of it, and here we are back in it again, more contagious than ever, and even little children are coming down with it. (May we dare to hope that this time it’s truly less dangerous and will not last as long ss the last time around?) And “are we all weary of the Covid yet?” “Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.”

However, brothers and sisters, we should count our many blessings. Despite all, most of us have had it so much better than so many others.

Day by day we can read what the saints suffered * – and did they complain? So why don’t we join them? Begin with Resolution One: Pray. And then get some guts, work up some courage, get it together, be brave, start thinking, stop fighting, do our duty to God, to ourselves and to everybody, get vaccinated, put on our masks, stop complaining, and Shape up!

  • Go to https://www.goarch.org/chapel/  or https://www.oca.org/saints/lives

3. Be kind.

To quote Father Tom Hopko again: “Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.”

Or to quote the words etched above a Victorian fireplace at my old Episcopalian seminary in Manhattan: “Manners Makyth Men.” (William of Wykeham, 1324–1404, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England)

Or to quote the yard sign we have in front of our house: “Make America Kind Again.”

Actually I think most people are kind to each other, in person. At least that’s my experience.

But then let us loose online! Lord, have mercy. The awful things people can say on Facebook, Twitter and instagram.  (Or at least they used to say bad things there. I gave up on social media long ago.) Read the dreadful comments after most online newspaper articles. (No, don’t.) And the nasty emails we so easily send off to others. Listen (no, again, don’t) to some of our politicians who delight in name calling, trashing other people. I do hope we don’t expose children to these trashers. Children listen, and learn. (You younger readers: Would you believe there was a time not so very long ago when politicians publicly disagreed with each, as they should, but almost never criticized each other personally.)

And I hate to mention this, but have you read the scurrilous things some Orthodox write about other Orthodox? (Again, please don’t.)

I wonder: Has this hatefulness always been within us, and now social media are allowing it to come out? Or maybe did I just grow up in an unusual time when society was more gentle, and now things are reverting to normal? I don’t know.

It doesn’t make any difference. Today the habit of being nasty, churlish, mean-spirited and rude is all over the place. I’m afraid it’s spilling out from politics and our TV sets and from social media into Real Life. You and I, at least, need to make sure we don’t become part of it.

How much does it cost us to be kind? even when we disagree. Certainly disagreements and misunderstandings need to be discussed and cleared up, if possible. There is evil, and there are lies which should not be ignored and covered up. We need to hear and learn from each other. But yelling at one another hinders this. I remember someone once commented in this Blog that something I had said was “stupid”. Perhaps it was. But my immediate reaction was: I’m not going to listen to that guy!

Especially in the Church: If we are nasty, then we drive decent people away, and we attract people just as nasty as we are. Is that who we want our churches to be composed of?

And especially with our loved ones. You know, in some ways it’s safer to “dump” on those who love us, because they’re more likely to tolerate us  and not turn away. Maybe they have no choice. But, oh, brothers and sisters, please think before you let those unkind words spit out of your mouth. They may forgive us, and life will move on. But, believe me, those nasty words will be etched in their minds for a long time, maybe forever. Is that what you really want?

So, our last Resolution: If you’re angry and your mouth is about to erupt, shut those lips tight and keep them shut. Don’t say it. When you’re angry and you’re about to write something nasty: Close that keyboard. Turn off your smartphone. Don’t write it. Or if you’ve already written it, push “delete”. Now! Get yourself a punching bag, and take it out on that.

Be kind.

Next Week: The other great Saint Gregory

Week after next: How can anyone believe something so “impossible”: that the salvation of the world depends on This One Man.

2 thoughts on “295. The Last Three of Our New Year’s Resolutions: Pray. Shape up. Be kind.

  1. Thank you for this blog and the previous one. I think you have provided meaningful and helpful ideas and ways to think about our current challlenging times, as well as the importance you give in sharing your experiences. I felt that your thoughs flowed from a sense of having to speak almost urgently so as to get out some important stuff to think about since the pandemic has taken a turn for the worst.

    Your ways of thinking and acting are similar to my thoughts and behaving in that I have found it challenging be sure in my own mind that I am doing what I believe I need to do to stay safe. At different tines I have attended liturgy particulary when we had restricted attendance numbers and had to sign up. As time went on I have more and more used virtual liturgy because too many of those folks who attended in person did not wear masks or physical distance particularly after vaccines became available. I learned that some people in our church did not think they needed to wear masks or be vaccinated.

    I feel sorry for our priest who has worked to be fair about being strict or more lax, and has known that many folks have left our church to attend another church because some believed he was too strict while others believed he was too lax. I feel it is important to be faithful to one’s parish and not change just because
    you don’t like something or other. Because of my 84 years of age and with bad air affecting my breathing I have decided that my safety was dependent on being able to control how close I am to someone and whether or not they were wearing a mask and also I did not know who was or was not vaccinated. I have more control going shopping than I do going to church.

    With a great increase of covid cases in our area, which has maintained a high per capita throughout the pandemic, a couple of weeks ago, our priest told us that there are folks in our church who are dealing with covid, strep, flu, and a stomach bug and that we should “be mindful of one another”. He continues to have windows open and air purifiers going, and now with cold weather also has the heat on. Our priest is truly dedicated to serving God through stewardship of his flock and shows humility about it. I pray for him as well as all priests.

    I thank you for your service with the blogs.

    1. Thank you, Juliana, for the very thoughtful comment. My belief is that a priest should be true to the Orthodox faith, should not disobey his bishop and should not endanger his people. Those things being fulfilled, then he should follow his convictions and not try to play both ends against the middle. Trying to satisfy everybody, especially at times like these, usually satisfies nobody.

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