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 and Afternoon 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 embark upon the sacred period of Holy and Great Lent, we approach the salvific Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, entering into a season filled with resplendent opportunities to prepare ourselves for the sacred and exhilarating celebration of His Resurrection. Our journey throughout these next few weeks is, thus, of extraordinary significance for our spiritual lives. During this time, our occasions for prayer and worship are greatly increased, and our fasting efforts are deeply intensified. As we cultivate these important Lenten disciplines, we become the recipients of a magnificent myriad of spiritual fruits.
Foremost among these fruits is the restorative peace of God that fills our hearts when we focus upon Him. The peace of God leads us to overcoming all the barriers that potentially stand in our way of attaining a closer communion with Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul describes the peace of God as a peace "which passes all understanding," and which "keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (4:7). Such peace becomes available through daily prayer and communal worship, which are intensified during the Lenten period. In turn, our relationships with others are enhanced, for only with a peaceful heart may we cultivate love, trust, and mutual respect among our neighbors. Thus, the Lenten season is a time for enhancing our relationships not only with Christ, but also with others from all walks of life; it is a time to grow in the peace of God, an ever-present reality that binds all of us perfectly and willfully to His inexhaustible love.
With the peace of God also comes great spiritual liberation: the Lenten season is a time whereby we may gain deeper insight into our deeper selves; it is a period whereby we cultivate the strength to know ourselves truly, to acquire honesty with ourselves, and to develop the courage to practice repentance as a means of constant transformation and purification of our innermost selves.
In addition, the Lenten season aims at nurturing within our hearts the important virtue of askesis--spiritual struggle in the pursuit of godliness. Here, our practice of fasting is especially vital. The purpose of fasting extends far beyond a superficial abstinence from certain foods; it is a discipline that has as its principle aim our overcoming of all worldly pursuits or material desires that divert our attention away from our spiritual communion with God. Its purpose is to strengthen our capacity to focus constantly and consciously upon God, to "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33) before all else. By defining God as the chief priority in our lives, we restore to our minds a proper view of reality in which He is the One who ultimately sustains us with our every need.
The Lenten season now at hand is rich with many spiritual treasures and fruits that have the power to liberate our souls and restore our relationships with God and with others. During this sacred period, let us commit ourselves to drawing nearer to God through prayer, worship, and fasting, so that our faith in Him may continue to grow, and our hearts may be filled with His abiding love and peace. May this love and peace be with you and your families during this Lenten season as we approach the salvific Passion and the glorious Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America