At the beginning of a new year, many people make resolutions to improve their lives by adopting healthy and positive habits. By making a clean break from the past and getting a fresh start, they hope to make these good new habits permanent. While the New Year is not a feast day in the Orthodox liturgical calendar (the Church New Year is September 1), there is nothing wrong with making resolutions now or at any time. After all, to feel the need for making resolutions is to recognize that we have room to grow. In other words, the making of a resolution can be the beginning of repentance and renewal. The very meaning of the New Testament word for repentance, metanoia, means “change of mind.” We understand this change of mind to be a return—it is the act of turning our mind and hearts away from sin and returning to God. Along with any other New Year’s resolutions, this year, we should all add an effort to grow closer to God.

The most vivid New Testament parable of repentance is the Prodigal Son. Once the son came to himself and realized he was living in sin, he arose out of the mud, cleaned himself off and returned to his Father—resolving to leave his sin behind. And this is the proper nature of any resolution. When we resolve to lose weight, for example, we understand that we cannot continue to persist in the same eating habits. With courage, we resolve to make the positive dietary and exercise changes while at the same time avoiding the bad habits that got us into trouble in the first place.

Repentance requires similar resolve. With repentance, however, we rely not only on our own effort, but we depend greatly on the grace of God to help us. True repentance is an act of cooperation between God and us. In addition to resolve and cooperation with God, repentance requires courage, the courage to let go of our sins, to set them aside, and the courage to go to our Father Confessor to ask for help. Our mind and our body have an equal share in repentance—the one is needed to direct the other. The well-intentioned actions of the body attract the grace to allow the mind to stay focused on Christ and to persevere in its aversion to sin.

St. Nilus of Sinai exhorts us to “always remain in a state of repentance, the foundation of our salvation, for we know not the day or the hour at which the Lord will come.” This indicates that repentance is not just something that we do during Great Lent or before a major feast; it needs to be a way of life. Our return to the loving embrace of the Father is a journey that is taken one step at a time. Unlike other resolutions, where we might give something up for a time, our efforts in repentance must be sustained. As we find ourselves at the beginning of this New Year, let us put repentance—a resolution to return to the Father—at the top of our “To Do List.”