St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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One Resolution That Would Make A Difference

I don’t know if you have noticed but in recent years there seems to be less emphasis on New Year’s resolutions. I always thought they were a silly idea, anyway. If you want to change, you make up your mind, figure out a way to do it and go ahead. You don’t need to announce to the world that you are going to make these changes. The idea of resolutions is counter-productive, anyway; you say you are going to accomplish this laundry list of things and then, one by one, they wither away by mid-January and all you are left with is a guilty feeling because you failed once again. Most of us cannot accomplish more than one thing at a time, and so the even the idea of a list can be daunting.

TIME Magazine last year published the list of ten top failed resolutions. As you might imagine, most of them had to do with health or body image. Lose weight. Work out. Drink less. Eat less. Quit smoking. Be less stressed. A few had to do with personal goals: volunteer somewhere; travel more; save money; spend more time with family. You get the picture. We have all made these resolutions once or more. We have all failed at them, sometimes miserably.

So here’s to an end to New Year’s resolutions. In their place, how about sustained contemplation of how to live this year? How about not inventing new resolutions, but rather forming an intention to live with one value that will make the world a slightly better place because you were in it?

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica was a Serbian Orthodox monk who lived throughout most of the 20th century. He was imprisoned first by the Nazis, then later by the Communists, lived his days under harassment and in the shadow of fear, knew both the hope of Yugoslavia and the horrible end of the regime of Tito and the breakup of the Yugoslavian union with its ensuing wars. A frail and small man, he was sought out by literally thousands of people as a spiritual guide. He reposed in 2002 and his funeral was attended by many of his spiritual children who traveled great distances across Serbia to be present. He continues to guide us today through his works, only recently translated into English.

Elder Thaddeus had one overarching spiritual rule. It was his resolution. It sounds simple but it holds deep and wide significance for our lives. It is this: our thoughts determine our lives. “Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture,” he says. “If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.” Bear in mind that these comments are from a man who suffered greatly at the hands of godless authorities, who knew fear and anxiety, depression and oppression first hand. Throughout his life he followed the advice of another famous monk of the 7th Century, Isaac the Syrian, who said, “Make peace with yourself, and both heaven and earth will make peace with you.” This he personified, and many people found peace through his prayers and counsel. He understood far more deeply than most of us that to pray for another person is to take upon yourself the suffering that person is experiencing. By this one resolution in favor of thoughts that are calm and non-judgmental, Elder Thaddeus evoked change in himself and others, but he always recognized that this was not his own achievement. It was God at work in him.

published January 2012