It’s that time again. Time to make your New Year’s Resolution(s). Unfortunately, far too many of us give up on them within the first couple weeks of the year, and we continue on the same path as before. That is because we have forgotten what a resolution truly is. A resolution is a commitment, which we should never undertake lightly. As the Scripture tells us, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no, for whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
When we fail in these commitments we make, that does not mean we should drop them altogether. Instead, we should renew them, by dusting ourselves off and getting back up to try again. If our yes is yes, then we cannot make it a no just because we slip up!
But what sorts of resolutions can/should we make as Orthodox Christians?
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1. Take care of your body
We must remember that as Orthodox Christians we are human beings with a mind, soul, and body, all of which need care and attention. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. As such, we must always keep them as healthy as we are able.
Nourish your body with healthy foods, adequate exercise, and restful sleep. Seek treatment from chiropractors, doctors, and specialists when necessary. And if you have specific goals in mind here, those are just as worthy of your commitment as any spiritual resolutions you might make this year.
2. Pray every day
Prayer is essential to our spiritual lives as Orthodox Christians. If we hope to cultivate a life of prayer, we need to start somewhere. Even if this means simply praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, or saying evening prayers before you go to bed. Take some time to be with the Lord, to communicate with Him in peace and silence.
Try not to bite off more than you can chew here, otherwise you are more likely to fail early and fall into despondency.
3. Attend Liturgy every week
On average, only 27% of Orthodox Christians in the United States come to church on a weekly basis. (Keep in mind, the statistics we link to are drawn from Orthodox Christians actually involved in parish life, not just anyone ever baptized Orthodox). While some of these miss for legitimate reasons, most do not.
We must remember that the Church is not a religious ethnic club. It is a hospital for the sick. And when we refuse to go to the hospital when we are sick, we put ourselves in danger of perishing. So if you are not going to services weekly, you need to start doing so to the best of your ability. And if you are already attending weekly, try adding another service per week, if a nearby parish offers them.
4. Read the Scriptures every day
Through the Scriptures, we hear the Lord Himself speaking to us. So, each day, try to make an effort to read a portion of the Bible. Some people endeavor to read the Bible from cover to cover within a calendar year, while others follow the Church’s daily readings calendar.
Whatever way you choose to incorporate the Scriptures into your day, make the time to contemplate the passages you read and let God speak to you through His Word.
5. Be still
Our lives are filled with so much noise these days that we could probably count the moments of true stillness we experience on one hand. Most of them either right before getting out of bed in the morning or right after going to bed for the night.
So as part of your New Years’ resolutions, consider deliberately adding some moments of stillness to your day. Find a place where you can be alone with the Lord and simply be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). . You will be amazed at how much peace this can bring, even if you start with one or two minutes a day.
6. Invite someone to church
Many Orthodox parishes in the United States are currently experiencing a decline not only in attendance, but in overall Church membership. The principal reason for this is only 2% of church members actively invite someone to come to church with them.
If we truly believe that we have seen the True Light, that we have received the Heavenly Spirit and have found the True Faith, why are we keeping it all to ourselves?
Think of one person in your life who isn’t in church and make him or her a spiritual priority this year. Pray for this person every day. When the time is right, invite him or her to church with you. We recommend starting with a shorter service, like Saturday Vespers, as this is a bit less overwhelming.
7. Visit a monastery
An important thing to remember is that monasteries aren’t just for monks and nuns. They are for all of us. So if there is a monastery close to you, visit. Pray with them and enjoy the tranquility of the atmosphere. Recharge yourself spiritually and head back out into the world, prepared and rejuvenated.
Monasteries are spiritual havens in our fallen world, filled with people who have proven it is possible to live a truly Christian life. They can be quite inspirational, and can fill you with a profound sense of purpose and peace.
8. Expand your knowledge of the Faith
Many Orthodox Christians are actually rather uneducated when it comes to their own faith. Theology is not just for our clergy; it is for all of us. There are many different spiritual books you can read to learn more about the Orthodox Faith. Find one of interest to you, or start with a book that covers the basics, like Know the Faith by Michael Shanbour. Our faith is so rich, so deep, that you could spend your entire life reading books about it and you would still have more to learn when you were finished!
Another way to expand your knowledge of the Faith is to attend adult education classes or Bible studies at your parish. If your parish doesn’t currently offer something like this, ask your priest about it. Maybe he can start a class series or Bible study to help parishioners learn more about the Scriptures and the Faith.
Tithing means giving 10% of your income to God. This may sound like a lot, but tithing is normal for many Christians in the United States. Orthodox people have fallen out of this practice in the last generation or two, because in Orthodox countries in Europe, Orthodox Christians gave to their churches through their taxes. But in America, our taxes do not support our churches. And we can see the fruits of this tithing neglect in the financial states of many of our parishes.
To make a positive impact at your parish, tithe of your income. When setting up your budget for the month, put aside the first 10% for God.
Instead of spending your money on coffee or cable TV or eating out at restaurants, set it aside and give it back to God. As a small thanks for everything that He has blessed you with. You will be amazed at how good this makes you feel, even if it hurts at first to give that money away.
10. Go to Confession
As sinners, we need to confront our sins and strive to change. And in order to have the strength to change, to work toward holiness, we must receive God’s forgiveness through absolution in Holy Confession.
But many Orthodox Christians only go to Confession once or twice a year. Some never go at all. This year, commit to going at least once during each fasting period of the year (Great Lent, the Apostles’ Fast, the Dormition Fast, and the Nativity Fast). Prepare yourself properly, so you can make the most of that time you spend before God, confessing your sins. It can be scary sometimes, having to face our sinfulness. But after you receive that healing gift of forgiveness from God Himself, you wonder what you were ever afraid of.
11. Keep a gratitude journal
We often don’t realize how many times a day we complain about something. If we are honest with ourselves, we would probably need more than two hands to count the number of times a complaint crosses our minds or passes our lips.
Instead of complaining, we need to learn to be grateful for the blessings God has bestowed on us. And one of the best ways to foster this gratefulness is by starting a journal. Every night at the close of your prayers, reflect on the things you are grateful for that day and write them down. Try to think of at least five things; if you can think of more…by all means, write as many as you can!
12. Forgive, and ask for forgiveness, daily
This ties in with number 10. In order to receive forgiveness from God, we need to forgive those who have sinned against us. And we also need to ask forgiveness of those whom we have hurt.
This can be difficult to do, depending on what we have done or what others have done to us. But our Lord tells us we must forgive others if we expect our Heavenly Father to forgive us (Matthew 6:15). This year, work on forgiving others and yourself.
Take things one day at a time
The important thing to remember before committing to a resolution is to take things one day at a time. There is wisdom in this. Remember: we are imperfect people who are called into a relationship with a perfect God. And it is He who can give us the strength we need to get through each day.
There will be days you don’t stick to your resolution. Days that you miss the mark or fall short. But you can now accept that you weren’t perfect today. And with God’s strength, you can renew your commitment and try again tomorrow.
Keep Reading: 8 Ways To Enrich Your Spiritual Life