Archpastoral Letter on Great Lent 2011
Prot. N. 202 - March 6, 2011
Very Reverend Protopresbyters, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, and dearly-beloved faithful of our God-saved Diocese:
GLORY TO JESUS CHRIST! GLORY FOREVER!
"Open to me, O Giver of Life, the gates of repentance, for early in the morning my spirit seeks Your holy temple, bearing a temple of the body all defiled. But in Your compassion cleanse it by Your loving-kindness and Your mercy."
Matins Stichiri of Repentance
Once again we are about to embark on an amazing spiritual journey, for at sundown this evening we will begin the sacred season of the Great Fast. But our Holy Mother Church has already begun to prepare us for it well in advance. Even before the Triodion itself began three weeks ago, on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, when the above verse was first sung at Matins, we already heard the theme of the approaching season. It was on the Saturday before the Theophany that we first encountered the message. That great man of God, the Holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John revealed it to us as the entranceway into the Kingdom of God. He loudly proclaimed to all who came out to hear him: "REPENT, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2). On the Sunday after Theophany, we hear our Lord continue in the same vein with the very same words, "REPENT, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17). That is not simply the theme of Lent; IT IS OUR GOAL. This is what we are setting out to do!
From the pages of the spiritual literature of our Holy Orthodox Church, we hear this awesome example of repentance brought about through great humility:
The Bishop of a certain province once fell into great sin. The next day was a Feast Day, and he was supposed to liturgize at a Church that was celebrating its Patron Saint and to which the whole city usually went.
As soon as he entered the church, he went up on the amvon, revealed his sin in front of the crowd, took off his episcopal stole (omophor), gave it to his deacon, and with great contrition loudly said, so that all could hear:
"After such a sin, I can no longer be your Bishop. Choose someone worthy."
He started to leave. However, the people, who loved him, prevented him from doing so.
"Remain in your post and let the sin be upon us," they all shouted with one voice.
Moved by the love of the people, the Bishop once again ascended the amvon and said:
"If you want me to stay in my post, which I hold unworthily, you will do as I tell you."
He ordered the doors of the Church shut and only one small exit to remain open. He fell to the ground in front of the exit and shouted to the congregation for all of them to heed him:
"Anyone who dares not step on me, when leaving here, will have no place with God."
The Christians, in order not to lose their Bishop, obeyed. One by one, as they left, they stepped on him. When the last one had passed by, a voice from heaven was heard, saying: "Because of his great humility, his sin is forgiven."
Thus it is, great or lowly, young or elderly, educated or illiterate, whatever station in life, all of us have need of repentance. In the early Church, this was the manner of confession as revealed in the above incident. While many people may ask for a general or group Confession today, they have no idea of what this really means; it does not mean to confess silently as a group, but rather to declare your sins before the group! WHAT GREAT HUMILITY THAT TOOK! This concept ought encourage those who shy away from Holy Confession to be more willing to approach this Holy Mystery with less fear and concern. We must all be grateful for private confession, considering the alternative!
True repentance is much more, however, than simply an enumeration of our sins, whether in our daily prayers or in sacramental confession, and then by saying some prescribed prayers of penance. True repentance - "metanoia," - is a "turning around," a change of life for the better, the putting off of the old man and putting on the new. In Holy Scriptures, everyone who came into contact with the Lord Jesus, and repented, came away a totally different person. Consider Zacchaeus! He was despised by his fellow Israelites because of his greed and dishonesty, but having met Christ, he changed his lifestyle completely. He promised to make considerable restitution for his sins. The Bible is full of numerous such examples of transformed lives.
St. Gregory Palamas, in his sermon "On the Precious and Life-giving Cross," reminds us: "After our First Parents transgressed against God through the tree in paradise, sin came to life, but we died, submitting, even before physical death, to the death of the soul, its separation from God." Every time we sin, we separate ourselves from God. Through the Tree of the Cross we can once again be reunited to God! This is the goal of our repentance: to be reunited with God!
This fasting season provides us with the tools to do precisely that. Through fasting, prostrations, profound repentance, prayer, Scripture reading, additional attendance at Divine Worship, Confession and Communion, almsgiving, and any other good and holy activity we might undertake, we return to God as did the Prodigal Son. My prayer for you is that you take advantage of this great opportunity afforded us, and that you are able to mend your own personal relationship with our loving Saviour during this special and unique time of year.
With my prayers for you and your families that you take up your Cross of repentance and bear it well throughout these holy days and grow in spirit and experience a meaningful, uplifting, and spiritually-beneficial Great Fast, I remain
Most sincerely yours in Christ,
This Archpastoral letter is to be read in every Parish of the Diocese after the Gospel Reading in lieu of the sermon on Sunday March 6, 2011.