Pastoral Letter for Great Lent 2002
Council of Hierarchs of the
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church - Sobornopravna
Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Devoted Monastics and Religious, Seminarians, Cantors, Pani Matkas, and Beloved Faithful of our Metropolia: May the Peace, Mercy and Loving-Kindness of Our Lord Jesus Christ Be With All of You During This Great Lenten Season!
March 17, 2002 - Cheesefare Sunday.
"Let us begin the time of this bright Fast, giving ourselves over to spiritual struggle. Let us sanctify our souls and purify our flesh. Let us not fast only from food; let us also abstain from every passion and cultivate spiritual virtues. And let us faithfully persevere in this, so that we may be worthy to see the holy Passion of Christ our God and the joy of his holy Resurrection." (Vespers, Evening of Cheesefare Sunday)
At long last, the season of Lent has arrived in our church. The great distance between the calendar dates of Easter this particular year demonstrates just how much our lives depend on the calculation of time. Time, while created by human beings to mark the passage of our lives, nevertheless indicates just how much Almighty God works among us each and every passing day.
The season of Great Lent is the ultimate recapitulation of time. During this sacred season, we will each go through an examination of our lives and hopefully arrive at some conclusions as to how we can better make use of the time that God gives each of us, for the growth of our spiritual lives. That is what Lent is for - more than any other period of the church year, it is a time to reflect on the things we do during the whole year, and place them in perspective, change what is not so beneficial to ourselves spiritually, and concentrate more deeply on the ways we can become better Christians.
Traditionally, Lent is the time when we use external signs, such as fasting and prayer, to purify what is internal, the life of the soul. There are many ways we can accomplish this spiritual goal. Fasting is what keeps our minds fixed on deeper things and helps us not to forget the reason for our efforts. Prayer increases and betters our relationship with God, because without a solid prayer life, we cannot grow in our knowledge of the great love that he desires to pour out on all of us. Almsgiving or charitable deeds reminds us that we are not isolated in our spiritual journey, but rather that every action we do, every decision and each word we speak, effects others around us. By reaching out and going beyond our usual circle of family and friends, to the world in which we live, we can strengthen the witness of faith that our Christian lives are designed to portray.
It is this last aspect of our traditional Lenten piety - that of charitable deeds, that perhaps more than anything else, will have the greatest influence on how all the other parts of our spiritual lives mature and develop. Our Lord reminds us of the importance of how we treat others in the Gospel read on Meatfare Sunday. This parable of Jesus - that of the "Last Judgment" is meant to be a micro-lesson in the Christian life. "As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me" says the Lord to us as we prepare to enter Lent. As we know from the Gospel passage, the reverse is also true, for as long as we fail to reach out and meet the needs of others, we fail to live up to the standards that God has set for us. If we neglect others, we neglect Christ himself, but if we do the best we can to make a difference for others - visiting those who are lonely or ill, helping those who are in need, giving and sharing what we have with those less fortunate, to the best of our ability, keeping kindness and love for others as a priority in our lives, then we wi;; have become cooperators with the will of God and co-workers with Jesus Christ.
"Behold we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be handed over and crucified." Lent also is ultimately a journey to Jerusalem along with Jesus. The church keeps this period of fasting, prayer and good works as a time of pilgrimage. We recall the last months of Jesus' life, when he, very much aware of what was to come, took the time to prepare his friends for his passion and death. This must have been a very close and sentimental time for Jesus and the disciples. The Gospels tell us that for the most part, the apostles were unable to understand the warnings that Jesus kept bringing up about the future. They could not fathom that their Master would willingly go to Jerusalem where danger awaited him. They tried to persuade him not to go there, but in the end, they were resigned to accompany him to whatever fate awaited. The ministry in Galilee, the numbers of people who came to believe in Jesus and his mission, the miracles and sermons, the message of the kingdom of God and its implications of messiahship all made the Jewish authorities very nervous about the growing popularity of our Lord. They began to plot against him and an appearance in Jerusalem at Passover time could only mean trouble for Jesus and his followers.
But, Jesus from the beginning of his life, was to be "about his Father's business" and this meant fulfilling the mission to the end, including his suffering and death. It was already dangerous for Jesus to return to Galilee and so he and the disciples spent a duration in the territory of Caesarea Philippi, north of Jerusalem before beginning the descent into the Holy City. "Dice were rolling" as the saying goes and the stakes were high for the band of disciples and our Lord. Nothing however could stop the flow of time, as the crucifixion of Christ drew near. It is this historic segment of time in Jesus' life that we reflect on and live again, during the period of Great Lent. Beyond our own spiritual renewal, it is the journey to Jerusalem with our Lord that we focus on.
Along the way, the liturgy of our church reminds us of key parables and teachings of Jesus that bring to light the urgent message of God's kingdom. Parables such as those of the wedding banquet, the wise steward, the wise and foolish bridesmaids, Lazarus and the rich man and much more, bring into focus the most important teachings of Jesus about God's reign that is dawning. Each week of Lent, if we read the hymns of the office, a wonderful array of spiritual wisdom emerges, helping us to focus on those teachings of Jesus that point towards eternal life and how we are to prepare ourselves for it. We are called to imitate those characters in the parables whom God favors. We are to become like the poor man Lazarus, who did not have earthly riches but was full of that which gains for us eternal happiness. Like the wise bridesmaids, we must be ready to receive the Lord who is coming. Like the woman who anointed Jesus with oil, we must place Christ first in our lives, above any earthly treasure. We must have the humility of the Publican and the courage of the Prodigal Son, for it is through an emptying of ourselves that we receive the grace of God and his promise of salvation.
So, brothers and sisters, let us make a pilgrimage with the Lord to Jerusalem, just as we do each and every year. Let us read the signs along the way and stop to listen to the lessons to be learned. Let us stay close to Jesus our Lord who goes again to the Holy City, to be sacrificed for our salvation. We must give him the support of true disciples and friends. We have to concentrate on what is important for eternity - on what can help us ultimately to be sons and daughters of God. Our churches, each and every parish become the places where the drama of the passion will unfold. We must be ready to spend time there, thinking and praying, not abandoning our Lord in his moment of truth, but remaining faithful friends and children, refreshing our souls with the wisdom of the Gospels, seriously and devotedly. We need not travel far to make the trip. Through the divine services, Christ is present in our midst, and we will see the drama unfold. Let us not miss the opportunity to participate once again in these important and grace-filled holy days.
We ask you to give your whole-hearted support to your pastors and parish churches during this Great Lent. Participate in the services, study classes and charitable activities that each church will hold this year, as every year. If we attend church only on Sundays, we will miss the beautiful and spiritually enlightening Lenten services that call to mind all that Lent is for. There is no Lent without Lenten devotion and activity. We must all develop a balance of personal prayer and fasting with communal liturgies and outreach, that will make our Lenten journey a rewarding one and our celebration of our Lord's resurrection a truly joyous event. Apart from the effort of the Lenten practices, there is no reason to celebrate on Easter. Spiritual happiness comes but at the price of dedication and faithfulness to what the our Lord and the church asks of us. Let our response be a dedicated "yes" to all that Christ teaches and asks of us in relation to his church and to his brothers and sisters, one and all. Only in this way can we reach the goal of Easter morning and the joy of the empty tomb of our Lord, knowing that our work in regards to Lent has been beneficial to us in making God's kingdom a greater reality here on earth.
With the request of your continued prayers for us and for the work of our Metropolia, we assure you of our kind thoughts and regards, asking Almighty God to bless each and every one of you, your families, parishes and loved ones.
In the Love of Christ-God, who gave of himself so that we may share in the life of God,
Archbishop of New York
Eparch of All Canada
Archbishop of Cleveland
Eparch of the United States & the Americas
Archbishop of Washington
Titular Bishop of Maramaros
Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland
Archbishop of Toulon
Eparch of France, Spain & Italy
Archbishop of Berlin-Brandenburg
Exarch of Germany
Go to Lenten Regulations.
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