March 2, 2009
Great and Holy Lent
“Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast….”
Vespers of the Sunday of Forgiveness
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,
On this first day of Great and Holy Lent, which our Holy Orthodox Church designates as “Clean Monday,” we are called to intensify the manner by which we contemplate our lives. Through the sacred services and commemorations of the Church, and through prayer, fasting and sacrificial gifts of service and resources, we participate within a complete environment of holiness and reflection so that we may examine our relationship with God and the spiritual state of our souls. Through repentance and obedience to the will of God, we strive to return to that which was lost. Through struggling with and confronting our earthly temptations and passions, we travel along the path to salvation. Through renewal and commitment to holiness, we return from the exile of the Fall to Life-giving communion with our Creator and Redeemer.
The hymns and commentaries of Great and Holy Lent often refer to this effort as a journey. One of the analogies used to help us understand this spiritual pilgrimage is that of the Hebrew people and their journey from bondage in Egypt to the land of promise. Their commitment to the will of God, His provision for their freedom, and His presence with them throughout every step of their journey began with faith. By faith they began the journey that would lead them home. This journey was not easy. The Hebrew people struggled to remain faithful to God. Sin and disobedience resulted in forty years of wandering in the wilderness, with many never reaching the Promised Land. But for those who remained faithful to the covenant, the promise was fulfilled.
Like the children of Israel, we too are called to have faith as we set out on a journey that we know is not easy. The days and sacred services of this holy season lead us to the Holy Week, to the Cross of our Lord whereupon we venerate His crucifixion, the supreme act of sacrifice and love by God for us. At the same time, we enter this Lenten journey today with hearts filled with faith, hope, and love; because we know that the destination of this journey, after the spiritual intensity of the Holy Week, culminates with the glorious Resurrection of Christ and His complete triumph over sin, evil, and death.
Today, as we embark upon this great Lenten journey, these forty days of the Great Fast, let us be mindful of all of those before us who also wandered in the wilderness. Let us not squander this beautiful opportunity for repentance and renewal; but rather, let us remain faithful to our calling to holiness and continue on our journey ahead. May our good and gracious Lord grant us all strength for this journey, and may this season of Great and Holy Lent be a blessed time for all our Greek Orthodox communities as we direct our steps towards an encounter with our Lord, Who is waiting for us with His open arms on the Cross, ready to embrace us with the brilliant light of His Resurrection.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America