A Happy and Blessed New Year to All!
The Church brings us into the New Year with the commemoration of Saint Basil the Great. He was born in 330, in Caesarea of Cappadocia. After completing his initial education there, he was transferred to school in Constantinople, then to Athens where he studied several subjects, including philosophy and the sciences. Returning to his homeland, he decided to live ascetically, was baptised by Dianios, the local Bishop, then tonsured a Reader. The holy man wished to acquire a greater knowledge of God, so decided to travel to Egypt, Palestine and Syria in order to experience and meet the ascetic fathers located there; with the desire to learn from them.
Saint Basil, on returning back to Cappadocia, gathering other monastics, settled down near his mother and sister, distributing his wealth to people in need. He invited Saint Gregory the Theologian to join him (having studied with him in Athens) and they both lived and struggled together, practicing abstinence and dedicating themselves to Biblical study and fruitful work. In 362 Basil was ordained to the diaconate, and in 364 to the holy priesthood by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. Saint Gregory, referring to his friend's service to Bishop Eusebius and the local Church, describes Basil as 'a good advisor, a righteous representative, and expounder of the Word of God, a staff for the aged, a faithful support...'
Eusebius passed away in 370, and blessed Basil was chosen to succeed him. After his consecration as Bishop in June of the same year, he stressed the importance of his clergy following Christ's example of offering all services; wealth, strength, efforts, and gifts to our poor and disadvantaged neighbours. Basil ensured the Church (as well as he himself) remained humble and poor, in order to offer wealth and housing for those homeless, impoverished and suffering people of society. His continuously relevant writings on Social Justice, emphasise the fact we are called by Christ, through the teachings of the Holy Gospel, to sell our possessions, distribute our wealth to those in need, striving to create a society based on giving and offering to our fellow man. This is of course grounded on the conviction that all human beings are equal, and are able to help one another, with God's help and boundless love.
Christ's Church then invites us, on the second day of the New Year, to commemorate the Saint and Wonderworker, Seraphim of Sarov. Saint Seraphim, through his ascetic and prayerful example, emphasises that the Christian's aim should be the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. He writes that 'only good deeds done for Christ's sake bring us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.' Therefore, through faith in Jesus Christ, Who was born into this world to save us, and Who, through acquiring the grace of the Holy Spirit, brings into our hearts the Kingdom of God, we are offered the way to eternal salvation. Prayer, for Saint Seraphim, is the 'instrument for acquiring the Grace of the Holy Spirit;' not necessarily because he feels it is more powerful than other means, but simply because it is always possible for everyone. From the rich and the poor, to the noble and the humble, strong and weak, as well as the righteous and sinful. 'You may judge how great the power of prayer is, even in a sinful person, when it is offered whole-heartedly,' Saint Seraphim writes.
We are thus encouraged, at the beginning of this New Year, in fervent prayer, to offer ourselves to our fellow suffering man, helping those in need; beginning 2016 with these humble and holy examples of both Saints Basil and Seraphim, in our struggle to share the Gospel of love and peace to those around us, leading to our acquisition of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. Amen.