14 New Year’s Resolutions for Orthodox Christians
By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
Around this time of year, many people start thinking about ways they can change for the better. While New Year’s resolutions are not particularly a feature of the Orthodox faith, change certainly is, and resolving to change based on times and seasons is certainly part of our liturgical tradition. So adapting the cultural custom
of New Year’s resolutions to become a better Orthodox Christian seems perfectly fine to me. Anyway, here are some suggestions for Orthodox Christians resolving to change for the better in the New Year, things every Orthodox Christian can do.
1. Get serious about coming to church (more). While many who read this are no doubt every-Sunday attenders at church, it is statistically true that only 26% of Orthodox Christians in America come to church weekly (the statistic is drawn from people who are actually involved in parish life, not from anyone who was ever baptized Orthodox). There are probably some good reasons out there, but most of those 74% almost certainly do not have good reasons. If you’re not serious about coming to church weekly, it’s time to get serious. This is eternal life we’re talking about, not a religious club.
2. Come to church on time. It’s kind of an in-joke that Orthodox people are always late to church. But why is that? We too often accept the excuse that we function on “Greek time” or “Syrian time”, etc. but even Greeks and Syrians (and whoever else: insert your preferred culture here) seem to be able to adapt to show up to nearly everything else on time. Why can we show up on time for work, sporting events, movies, doctor’s appointments, etc., but reserve our tardiness for an encounter with the King of Kings?
3. Tithe. Giving 10% to God sounds crazy to a lot of people, but the reality is that it’s actually totally normal for many Christians-even for generations. Orthodox people in the U.S. aren’t used to tithing or even giving some percentage, mainly because many of their forebears across the sea gave to their churches just by paying their taxes. That doesn’t work anywhere in the English speaking Orthodox world. Other parishioners inherited a system based on union dues. Meanwhile, you are probably spending a lot more just on cable TV. Or internet access. Or your smartphone. Or eating out. Or coffee. Or a lot of other things. But the most important thing about pledging and tithing is not about meeting parish budgets. It’s about worship. Your heart is where your treasure is (Matt. 6.21). Where’s your treasure? Follow the money, find the heart. If you’re not up for 10% yet, then try 8%. Or 6%. Or whatever. But go on record, and get disciplined about giving.
4. Pray at home. Even if all you do is say the “Our Father” when you wake up (saying it three times a day is the most ancient known prayer rule), you will notice a change in how you think and feel about your faith. Oh, and parents? It will have a huge impact on your kids. Watching parents pray at home and (in time) joining them in that prayer is one of the biggest contributions that kids can receive toward their long-term spiritual viability. If you don’t bring the faith home, you can forget about it mattering in the long run, either for you or your kids.
5. Sing along at church. The choir and chanters are there to lead you in prayer, not to entertain you or pray instead of you. Yes, it is possible to pray with them silently, but there are few things more spiritually invigorating than singing your prayers. So if you’re able you should.
6. Memorize a psalm. Memorizing Scripture is a great thing for many reasons, but psalms are especially powerful, because they are all prayers. Pick your favorite one to memorize. Lots of Orthodox love Psalm 50 (“Have mercy on me. O God…”). But there are plenty to choose from. Pick a short one or a long one. Just make it your own. Try praying it every day.
7. Encourage your priest. Yes, he should be willing to do his job without getting any encouraging words. And many priests do. You don’t have to shower him with compliments. Just tell him that what he’s doing matters to you.
8. Invite someone to church. Did you know that 82% of the un-churched say that they would come if invited? Did you know that only 2% of church members invite someone to church in a given year?
If your parish is dying (and many Orthodox parishes in the U.S., especially in the Northeast, are indeed dying) don’t you think it’s time you invited someone to church? If your church is healthy, don’t you think it’s time it gave birth to another healthy one? Do you really believe that you’ve found the true faith, seen the true light and received the heavenly Spirit, like you sing near the end of the Liturgy? Then why are you keeping it to yourself?
9. Visit a monastery. You won’t believe how amazing monastic visits are until you go on one.
10. Read the Old Testament. Yes, we should read the whole Bible, but the truth is that most Orthodox Christians are crypto-Marcionites – we don’t know almost anything about the Old Testament. Marcion was a 2nd century heretic who taught that the Old Testament was a book for Jews and had nothing to do with Christians. He was really wrong. The Old Testament is about the thousands of years of preparation before the coming of Jesus Christ. It is what sets the stage for His appearance.
11. Attend an adult education class. It’s actually kind of crazy how uneducated many Orthodox people are in their own faith. It’s been part of our tradition for 2000 years. It’s just that some of us have forgotten. It’s time to bring it back.
12. Volunteer Do something in your parish or in your community that benefits others without giving you any kind of material gain. Your recognition will come from God in His Kingdom. You don’t need it from anyone else.
13. Go to confession. There are lots of Orthodox Christians who go to confession only once a year – or maybe even never. Like people who never go to the doctor, what that means is that you think everything is perfectly fine and you need no help. Literally, it means that you do not think you need the gift of forgiveness that comes in the sacrament of absolution. I don’t know about you, but I’m a sinner. I mean, I sin every day. I have a problem. I’m a sinner. I need to confront my sins directly in confession. And I want the sacrament of absolution that goes with it. I try to go once during each of the four fasts (though I will admit that I don’t always keep my rule very well), and I always dread going before I go, because I don’t like thinking about how I am a sinner. And then I always wonder what took me so long after I go. It’s really a wonderful experience!
14. Read a spiritual book. There are few things that gets us into another story, another way of looking at life, like a good book. And a good spiritual book can help to retrain your mind to become like the mind of Christ. Most of us do not have the mind of Christ. We have the mind of something else. Our minds are filled with distractions, necessities, and the cares of this world. But the extended meditation on what is good and true and beautiful that can come from a good spiritual book can help to change all that. And you know what? That change helps to bring us peace. And that’s something that each of us needs a whole lot more of.