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His Eminence
Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan of All America & the Diaspora
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church

"By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there, we hung up our harps, though our captors there asked of us the lyrics of our songs and our despoilers urged us to be joyful, saying, 'Sing for us the songs of Zion.' But how could we sing the Lord's songs in a foreign land?" (Ps. 136[137]: 1-4).

Cheesefare Sunday - February 18, 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Slava Isusu Khrystu! - Glory to Jesus Christ! - Gloria a Jesucristo!

With these verses from the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures, the church brings us into the time of the Great Lent - the season of repentance - the spring which will lead us to the blossoming of life in Christ's Resurrection.

Many of us may be unfamiliar with the above psalm, or not aware of its liturgical use. We might ask, "I attend the Divine Liturgy weekly, but never remember hearing these verses. What do they have do to with the Lenten time?"

Besides the Eucharistic Liturgy, which is of highest regard for the obvious reasons, the church has many other services that comprise the liturgical day. During the period of Great Lent, it becomes increasingly important that we observe these times of prayer, because it is in them, that we find the great wealth of spiritual wisdom and scriptural references that give us the inspirational tools we need during the journey of Lent.

After its long historical development, that scanned a period of at least seven centuries, Lent remains for us today, a time of renewal, refreshment and an annual spiritual pilgrimage. It is both a time of exile and wandering and a journey with a specific destination.

Psalm 136[137] is a song which remembers the Jewish people's period of exile in Babylon. The words bring to mind the feelings they had while taken away from the Lord's promised land - the place where they freely worshiped the true God and were happy in God's presence. The Psalmist indicated that even thought they were asked from their captors, they felt the songs of Zion - of Jerusalem, too joyous and therefore inappropriate to sing in a time in which they were separated from the land of their God.

With this psalm, sung at Matins (morning prayer) on the three Sundays preceding Great Lent, the church introduces us into this time of renewal and reminds us of the spiritual exile we experience when our sins take us away from God's presence and cause us to wanter in a state of captivity to our vices and human weaknesses. Precisely for this reason, Lent is a time when we must wander in the desert of reflection and examination of self, so that we may make a turn toward the direction of God and the observance of his commands.

At every Lenten Sunday Matins, in place of the normal texts which follow the recitation of the 50[51]th. Psalm (a psalm of repentance), special "lenten troparia" are used. In these, the themes expressed on the Pre-Lenten Sundays, humility, our repentance and God's forgiveness and the "final judgment' are depicted.

"Open to me, the doors of repentance, O Giver of Life, for my spirit rises early to pray in your holy temple; for my bodily temple is all defiled; but you, O Good One, purify me by the kindness of your mercy."

Like the Publican (tax-collector), we come to God's temple, humbled by our many faults and failings and have no other recourse but to rely on generosity of God's mercy for us.

"Lead us on the path of salvation, O Mother of God, for we have tainted our souls with grievous sins, and have wasted our life in laziness; but by your intercessions, deliver us from every impurity."

As in the case of the Prodigal Son, we have wasted our lives, our time and our talents with things that have not been of wise use for us. We need to direct our steps back to our heavenly Father - to the path that leads to good things for our souls. We ask the Mother of God, who is always ready to pray for the salvation of sinners, to help us by her prayers, to purify ourselves from everything which distracts us from God.

"When I think of the multitude of my sins, I ponder the fearful day of judgment. But trusting in the kindness of your goodness, like David I cry to you: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy."

The third troparion reminds us of the scene of the "Last Judgment" presented to us on Meatfare Sunday, when "the books shall be opened and the deeds of all brought to light" (Kontakion - Meatfare Sunday). Jesus tells us that what we do or do not do, on behalf of others' needs, will ultimately be that upon which we are either redeemed or condemned. Perhaps this is the most important reminder of Lent - to make our lives such that we live in a constant state of the awareness of the "other" and respond accordingly, in harmony with this Gospel passage. During Lent, like the Psalmist (traditionally believed to be David), we cry to God for mercy in regards to the many times we have fallen short of the obligation to help others, and to work for justice, acceptance and tolerance of those in need of our compassion.

The wandering of Lent in a contemplation of our sinfulness, asking for God's forgiveness and mercy, attempting to change our lives for the better, puts us on the straight path towards God's happiness and towards salvation. Like the Hebrew people in exile, we long to see again, the promised land of Zion - that place where Lent's destination will take us. Well by the time of the middle of Lent, the Cross is placed before us for veneration, to remind us of the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to re-live yet again, the saving events of our Lord's Passion and Resurrection. However, only by setting our lives "right with God," can we worthily participate in the remembrance of the Paschal Mystery.

Lenten repentance ultimately brings us to the Sacrament of Repentance, when we make use of the contemplation of our failings and weaknesses, to seek out God's forgiveness in a formal way through the confession of our sins. While confession is always available to the faithful and should be used regularly, it is particularly during Great Lent that we all must partake of the healing, thearaputic value that comes from this Sacramental Grace. As Lent was once primarily a time of preparation for the baptism of the catechumens, so today, it is a time when we prepare to partake in what the church calls the "second baptism" - the Mystery of Repentance in which our souls are once again washed clean of every impurity.

We begin Great Lent with a special prayer, found in the Slavonic Trebnyks, that sums up all of the journey that we are about to embark on. It concludes by mentioning the goal and destination of this season - the confession of sins and communion in the Divine Mysteries of Christ. A similar prayer is also found in our books, to be recited at Lent's conclusion and destination - before the Life-giving Tomb of our Savior. This prayer lists the various wonders we have witnessed during this sacred time and once again mentions the practices of the Paschal confession and communion.

Passion Week, that solemn time after the conclusion of the Lenten 40 days, is the most appropriate time to partake of our Easter confession. There in our parish church - God's temple, which during Passion Week is transformed mystically into the holy city of Jerusalem; there before the depiction of our Lord's Body, placed in the Sepulchre, we stand in the confession of our sins, washed clean through his precious Blood shed for us on the Cross once and for all, to release us form the bondage of sin and death. If we have spent the time of Lent wisely, we will feel the redemption afforded us by Christ's sacrifice and death and experience the new life and refreshment of his radiant Resurrection.

I encourage all of you to take advantage of this annual Lenten journey. Spend time in prayer and reflection, sacrifice your time, talent and energy by fasting, performing good works, especially in behalf of the poor and all those who are needy, spiritually and materially, contribute to the support of the good work of the church and improve your attitudes and use your voices on behalf of justice for the marginalized, those who are suffering persecution or prejudice and those whose basic human dignity has been tarnished or deprived.

While you, beloved faithful, ponder these things, carry them in your hearts to God's temple and attend the liturgical services offered in your parishes and deaneries. Through the communal prayer of the Christian assembly and participation in the sacraments, our Lenten efforts will be strengthened and more successful. As an addendum to this letter, certain Lenten practices, services and prayers will be published, in order to help all pastors and faithful make this year's observance of Great Lent and Passion Week, once of the most spiritually fruitful throughout our Metropolia.

As we begin the Great Fast, according to our venerable custom, we ask forgiveness of each other, to enter into the season with a clean conscience. I ask you to forgive me, your archpastor, for my own faults and weaknesses which may have offended anyone at anytime and offer my own peace and forgiveness to all of you, entrusting all of us to the great mercy of our God who forgives us. Let us pray for each other, as we journey together on this Lenten pilgrimage.

With my blessing and love in Christ,

Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan of All America & the Diaspora
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church

"Brethren, while fasting bodily, * let us also fast in spirit:* let us loosen every bond of injustice, * let us tear apart the strong chains of violence; * let us rip up all unjust assertions; * let us give bread to the hungry * and welcome the poor and homeless to our houses * that we may receive from Christ our God His great mercy." (Sticheron in Tone 8, First Wednesday of Great Lent).

Go to Lenten Regulations and Prayers