Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for Great and Holy Lent
Feb 23, 2006
Great and Holy Lent
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we begin the season of Great and Holy Lent, we embark upon a spiritual journey replete with abundant opportunities for spiritual growth in Christ. This forty-day period is a time for intensified prayer and fasting. It is a time whereby the Church invites us to seek the forgiveness of our loving and compassionate God, to distance ourselves from sin, and to remain steadfast along the path of righteousness toward His heavenly Kingdom. In the words of the hymnologist, it is a time for each of us "to enter the inner chamber of our soul" (Hymn from Tuesday Matins, Week One).
As a time for inner reflection, we approach Holy Lent with a spirit of anticipation, for we look forward to our growth in Christ that this period occasions. At the same time, we acknowledge that the act of looking inward is a task that requires great courage. To look inward in a manner that is truly honest requires serious labors of the mind, heart, and soul. It requires us to be willing to encounter our own shortcomings, faults, and habits by which we separate ourselves, intentionally or unintentionally, from the love of God. More than this, it requires us to correct our faults through our commitment to genuine repentance, to metanoia, which is a complete turning of our minds toward wholesomeness and union with God. We engage upon this exercise not with feelings of grief, but rather with feelings of reassurance, knowing that the grace of God has the power to eliminate our every infirmity and to restore any level of distance that we may have placed between ourselves and our loving Creator.
Our task of approaching our shortcomings with honesty and courage is fortified by prayer and by our exercise of fasting throughout Holy Lent. As a discipline of spiritual askesis, fasting accords us with the ability to offer our prayers to God with sharpened focus and power, to probe more deeply into the inner recesses of our hearts, and to rid ourselves of excess entanglements that interfere with our ability to come closer to the Lord. Thus, fasting is a spiritual discipline aimed at abstaining not simply from certain foods, but ultimately from sin itself, from any obstacle that blocks our communion with God.
Additionally, Holy Lent is important for us because it prepares us spiritually for the special period of Holy Week, when we venerate Christ's saving passion and crucifixion, and His victory over death through His resurrection. As such, Holy Lent is a time to appreciate more fully the unending love of God, which has permeated history since the dawn of humanity and continues to work miracles within our contemporary world. This act of appreciating more fully God's love for us complements our prayer, our commitment to repentance, and our exercise of fasting. It also enables us to respond accordingly with acts of love and philanthropy toward others, remembering that "by loving one another do all people know that we are disciples of Jesus" (cf. John 13:35). Viewed in this manner, the period of Holy Lent is not only a period of quiet solicitude to pray for our own reconciliation with God; it is also a time to renew our Christian identity as people of compassion, to intensify our efforts to pray for the peace of the entire world, and to aid our brothers and sisters everywhere in need, particularly in light of so many tragedies brought on by natural disasters and armed conflict, which our world has painfully witnessed in recent months and years.
My beloved Christians,
As we embark upon this most sacred season of our Holy Orthodox Church, I pray that we may all look toward Holy Lent as an opportunity for renewed spiritual growth in Christ. Through increased opportunities for prayer and worship, increased opportunities to receive the grace of God through the Holy Sacraments, and intensified efforts at spiritual askesis and almsgiving, we embark upon a journey for our building of faith and our nourishing of love for one another. May God provide you with strength during this journey of Holy Lent, so that each and every day along it you may "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America