“I must do the works of Him who sent me while it is day.
Night comes and no one can work.” (John 9:4)
People are accustomed to greet one another with joyful faces when they cry out “Happy New Year!” even if that cheerfulness is frequently exaggerated through excessive eating and drinking, boisterousness, and even moral indiscretions that would be considered indecent.
But this is never the case for people who take their lives seriously, for those who recognize that a sacred and noble calling rests upon their shoulders: to serve people and to serve the cause of eternal good. New Year’s Day should not be a day for carefree revelry and cheer, but rather a sacred and consecrated moment when all of the powers of our spirit are in tension as we leave behind the old year and enter the new.
For the Christian New Year’s Day is a day of prayer and spiritual reckoning, when we hold ourselves accountable to God and to our conscience. At year’s end, businesses close their books and report their financial situation to the higher institutions to which they are accountable. Individuals should do the same thing. Each person should report to God and to one’s own conscience what that person has undertaken during the past year that is permanent and lasting, and not fleeting like the year gone by. The New Year’s greeting should remind us that the old has passed away and cannot be retrieved. Therefore we must immerse ourselves into that past to search for the positive aspects of our life and work, to find what is defective so that we might repair it in the future. We only have the right to celebrate when the financial report of our soul is in order; when, as time swiftly passes by, we have undertaken good works that have lasting meaning for ourselves, for our people and for our church. Only in this way do we have the right to look upon our New Year’s celebration from a higher, more sacred perspective than superficial partying and revelry, which unfortunately has become the norm for us Armenians, as it is for most people. I don’t at all mean to advocate a gloomy life. But life should not lose its dignity in such sacred moments that have weighty consequences for our future.
So what enduring and permanent things can one recover from the past year? The Savior gives us the answer: “I must do the works of Him who sent me while it is day. Night comes and no one can work.” What gives time its value is work. As time passes by, what is truly beneficial is the spiritual good that one has attained through work. To obtain material profit enormous effort is required. How much more effort is required to obtain spiritual wealth and lasting blessings? Time passes quickly. The world is progressing along its path through the universe according to the Lord’s plan. It is up to us to make the best of it “while it is day. Night comes and no one can work.”
In Christianity, work is a something sacred and laziness is one of the deadly sins. Work must be one of the guiding principles of a Christian’s life. Work is the mark of life and action. But not all work is life giving. There are efforts and deeds that give birth not to eternal good but to evil. The works endorsed by the Savior are the triumphant works of spiritual life and light. When one’s life consists in a succession of these kinds of efforts that are pleasing to God—in other words, “the works of Him who sent me”—then those efforts generate new spiritual years and seasons. The standard for evaluating the past year must be from the perspective of how much our efforts have benefitted our own salvation; and how much we have promoted the development of the religious, moral, spiritual, civilized life of the Armenian people. Each person must labor, as much as possible, and with all of one’s abilities, but always with the awareness that his or her achievements are like a drop in the ocean. For “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” [Luke 17:10]. This is how every faithful person of the Armenian Church must think and act, whether priest, vartabed, lay man or woman.
Let the new years come and pass by. We will part from them silent and mute. But when we contemplate the signs of the dawn of the coveted religious and spiritual life, only then will we feel that time has not passed us by in vain. Only then will we shout with joyous cries and call out, “Happy New Year!”
Karekin Vartabed Hovsepian
Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian (1867-1952) was one of the titans among the Armenian people in modern times. Before being elected Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia he served as Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America during the turbulent years following the assassination of Archbishop Ghevont Tourian in New York in 1933. Born in Artsakh, Armenia, he earned graduate degrees from the best universities in Europe, encouraged the Armenian troops on the front lines of the Battle of Sardarabad, chaired the Department of Archaeology and Art History at Yerevan State University, led pioneering archaeological expeditions in western Armenia, published learned books on the art of medieval Armenian manuscript illumination, and inspired countless people through his preaching and teaching. Through it all Hovsepian tirelessly summoned his flock to rise up from pettiness and division, and to embrace the dignity and richness of Christian life as embodied in Armenian art, culture and history and above all, in the Church. This New Year’s message, originally published in 1899, is edited and translated from his 1947 book of sermons entitled, Դէպի լոյս եւ կեանք [Toward Light and Life].
Translated by Daniel Vartabed Findikyan