Archpastoral Letter on Great Lent 2001
February 25, 2001
"0 God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" St. Luke 18:13
To the Very Reverend Protopresbyters, the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Monastics and the Pious Faithful of our Diocese,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Fathers and Faithful:
The season of the Holy and Great Fast is now overtaking us, like a king's herald bringing us the. Good News of victory and freedom. Unlike commonly held first Impressions, the season of the Fast is not a time of constraint and inhibition. It is a time of liberation and release from cares, a time of extraordinary blessing and grace.
Coming as it does during the last frozen months of winter the Fast is not a time of harvest. Rather, it is a time of preparation, of planting, and of sowing -that we may receive our due measure in the proper season. The Fast is an abundant source of nourishment, and by this, I do not signify the various healthful foods that have become part of our Holy Orthodox Tradition during the fasting seasons of the Church.
Indeed, it is the abstinence, the privation, the self-denial, the self-control, the self-restraint, the moral courage, the perseverance and all the rest of the virtues that this holy season call for -these are the very things that create spiritual bounty in our lives. It is a paradox, a spiritual mystery.
But if we make ourselves poor, the Lord Himself will enrich us in His Heavenly Kingdom. If we grieve for our own sins and shortcomings, The Holy Spirit, the Good Comforter and Paraclete will comfort us. If we treat others with meekness and gentleness, we shall be satisfied with the good measure, pressed together, shaken down, and overflowing with all the fullness of God. If we are merciful with others, God shall be merciful with us. If we purify our hearts and minds and spirits, God shall reveal Himself to us, not only in the grandeur of the Divine Services, but in the secret, hidden treasure, chambers of our hearts, in the Mysteries that are beyond all speech and language. If we are willing to be persecuted for righteousness' sake, to be called wrong -even when we are right, to be defamed and ill-spoken of- even when we are blameless, to have evil returned for our goodness -then we shall know a happiness, a blessedness, a jubilation that comes only from above, from the Father of Lights.
Yes, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord, we shall know all these blessings, all these Beatitudes in due time, if we begin at the beginning the Church establishes for us. Our starting point -where we commence the race of faith that we call the Holy Fast -is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. And our race is not launched with the sound of bell, pistol or cannon. It begins with the most basic prayer, the most necessary utterance that the human soul can muster in the presence of the Living God Who made Heaven and Earth:
"0 God, be merciful to me, the sinner!"
This is the signal cry that commences the Fast. This is the bell that announces a fair and honest contest. This is the only sound that validates our intentions. Unless the soul begins at this summons, then the race is begun falsely. The intentions are dishonest. The results are a fraud. And there can be no prize in a race so falsely run.
Listen to the voice of the cheat the hypocrite, the Pharisee:
"'0 God, I .give You thanks that. am not like other people - greedy thieving people, wrongdoers, adulterers -or even
like that publican. I .fast twice a week... I tithe -ten percent of everything that I possess."
A voice that thanks God in this way is not a voice of gratitude but of turpitude. A voice that marks down the sin of everyone else, even pointing out their faults in public, is not a voice of praise, but the shrill bleating of a hollow hypocrite. A voice that praises one's own deeds is only compiling a list of deficiencies that will be read aloud on the Terrible Day of Judgment.
Brothers and Sisters!Let this voice never be heard coming from our lips!
Rather, let us stand back, away from the prideful and the self-obsessed. Let us not so much as lift our eyes to Heaven. And let us beat our breasts with contrition and shame for our sins and shortcomings and say:
"0 God, be merciful to me, the sinner!"
This is the cry that leads to salvation. This is the voice that finds compassion and mercy. This is the prayer of the one who will leave the temple of their body justified, in the day when their soul will be required of them.
This saving utterance can be prayed in so many ways, in words and in silence; first and foremost through the Holy Sacrament of Confession. When we confess our sins, as the Evangelist John tells us, God is righteous and just to forgive us our sins, because the Blood of Jesus Christ washes us clean through and through.
The Holy Fast is the time for Confession par excellence. It is the time when we can refresh the field of our soul by preparing the soil, working it through humility, contrition, godly sorrow and a good confession.
But we can also fulfill this prayer in silence: when we forgive others who have wronged us; when we abstain from gossip and evil language; when we choose not to join in condemning others and choose to acknowledge only our own faults. Someone once said [and rightly so]] that a Saint is someone who sees only his own sins.
How many ways are there for us to seek God's mercy and acknowledge our sinfulness?
This Lent, my beloved Christians, let us strive to discover more ways than we have in the past. A race often has many rules; the various fasting canons and schedules of Services from the contingent of rules that govern the Holy and Great Fast. But we cannot run the race righteously if we run from a false start.
Brothers and Sisters, let us run the race to win, to secure the prize of salvation! Let us begin at the beginning, with a good confession and admission of our faults. Let us humble ourselves before the One Who made us, confident in His love and trusting in His mercy. In this way, we may yet attain to the blessedness of the Saints in His Kingdom, and the glory of the Resurrection.
As we begin this season of the Great Fast together, the In these Holy and Great Forty Days, let us think and let us pray sincerely, and consider the shortness of our years and turn back to God even though we may not hope to turn again -and let our cry come unto Him
With every blessing to you and your families for a pure, blessed, and spiritually rewarding Holy-Great Fast, I remain
Most sincerely yours in Christ,