January-February 2021

There are stories from Soviet prisons of faithful Orthodox Christians taking water from rivers and lakes on the feast of Theophany. It is a testament to their faith and God’s grace that the water caused no sickness and did not go bad. It is also a reminder to us that God is everywhere present and, in extraordinary circumstances, that presence can be felt in extraordinary ways.

As we end 2020, we can think back to the extraordinary circumstances that it brought. As the Theophany arrives again, we can be reminded that God is present in the middle of adversity. And, then, we look forward to the rest of 2021 with faith.

In Hebrews 11:5-10 we read:

By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

A common thread of these and other stories of God’s calling is that there is always an element of uncertainty, some discomfort in the calling. Heeding that call means being okay with the unknown and putting our trust in something other than our ability to manage our lives. Or, rather, putting our trust in Someone else to manage our lives.

As technology develops, there is a growing temptation for humanity in general and individual people in particular to control every aspect of life. Loss of that control, as we have experienced it over the last year, can be disorienting, depressing, scary. And we now know from experience that, even as things look likely to return to some sort of normalcy in 2021, that our control is more fragile than we had previously thought. We can react with fear, or we can follow the examples of those whom we saw mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews. We can also take strength from the Epistle to the Romans: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Pandemics present and unexpected things to come cannot separate us from the love of God.

We can also take comfort in Jesus’s own words: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Whether times are good or bad, easy or difficult, He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (cf. 1 Jn. 4:4).

With these encouraging words from our Savior and from St. Paul, may we approach the new year with faith and hope and may God grant us all that we need for our salvation.

With love in Christ,

+Fr. Peter