March 18, 2013
Holy and Great 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 Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, 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,
This prayerful and reflective season of the year, Holy and Great Lent, is a time when we are led to a deeper level of contemplation of our relationship with God as we engage with the great spiritual resources of our Orthodox faith. One of these resources is the witness of the Saints, which guides us in living in repentance, prayer, humility, and love. Through the cherished record of their holy lives and great deeds in the service of Christ, we are inspired by the Saints to draw near to God, to be filled with His power and presence, and to seek above all things, the fulfillment of His will.
Among the Saints are a group of holy people who were called by God to preach repentance, justice, and mercy--the Prophets. During this season of Great Lent, we encounter the message of the Prophets through readings and commemorations, and especially in their role of preaching the restoration and salvation that would come through the Incarnation and Passion of Christ. At the Vespers of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Great Lent, we sing: “The divinely inspired Prophets preached You in word and honored You in works…. They renounced the whole world for the Gospel’s sake, and in their suffering they were conformed to Your Passion which they had foretold.”
When we examine the message of the Prophets in the context of Great Lent, we find several themes that guide us in examining our lives and our commitment to God. First is a persistent call to be faithful to God as He is faithful to His people. The Prophets were sent by God to the people of Israel to remind them of their covenant relationship with Him. They preached of all of the wondrous things God had done, and chided the people for their unfaithfulness. They condemned immorality and injustice, and called for a return to mercy and holiness.
Second, the message of the Prophets emphasizes our need for repentance and for God’s forgiveness. Over and over again, the Prophets exhorted the people to turn from their sinful ways and seek the forgiveness of God. Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity (Hosea 14:1). They warned of the consequences of forsaking Him, but spoke of the healing that would come through forgiveness. Isaiah proclaimed, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
Third, the Prophets preached about the priority of justice in all relationships. Micah stated, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) These exhortations came at a time when kings and judges, religious leaders and the wealthy were ignoring the plight of those living in suffering, of the poor, the widows and orphans. The Prophets called everyone to turn from greed, selfishness, and the exploitation of the weak to relationships grounded in truth and marked by holiness and righteousness. Isaiah preached, “Learn to do good; Seek justice; Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless; Plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).
The final theme in the message of the Prophets is one of hope in the restoration of communion with God. Many of the Prophets foretold of great tragedies and struggle that would come because of the sins of the people. But messages of judgment were followed by words of hope. Speaking a promise from the Lord the Prophet Hosea said, “They shall return and dwell beneath My shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:7). Isaiah proclaimed, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).
In this holy season of Great Lent, these themes guide us in reflection on our lives and our relationship with God. This season of prayer is a time for us to return to God, to be faithful to Him as He has been to us, and to renew our commitment to follow His will. It is a time of repentance, as we examine our actions, attitudes, and priorities, and approach Him with genuine and contrite hearts, seeking His forgiveness. It is a time to reflect on all our relationships with others and on our responses to human need, and ensure that justice and mercy are shown. Finally, in the midst of serious contemplation, deep repentance, spiritual struggle, and earnest prayer, Great Lent is a time when we keep our hearts and minds focused on Christ. Through His life and Passion, through His presence and offering for our salvation, our hope will be renewed and our joy restored in the light and life of His glorious victory!
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America