The Beginning of Great Lent

OCA Chancery
Syosset, New York

March 10, 2003

To the Venerable Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America

Dearly Beloved in the Lord:

On Monday, March 10, Orthodox Christians around the world enter the season of Great Lent and embark on the annual journey to Holy Pascha. Far from being a time of spiritual gloom or self- deprivation for its own sake, Great Lent offers us a welcomed respite from the hectic pace of life “in the world,” a blessed oasis at which we partake of the One Who, as “living water,” cleanses us from the dark stain of sin and fills us with “the life of the world to come.” And while there are indeed those who see the lenten discipline of prayer and fasting, of almsgiving and repentance, as burdens or who reduce Great Lent to a series of rules and regulations, nothing could be further from reality. As we sing at Matins on the first day of Great Lent, “Let us joyfully begin the all-holy season of abstinence! Let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage! So, clothed in a garment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life!”

Repentance-that interior transformation of mind and heart, of vision and direction-stands at the very center of our lenten journey. We, like the prodigal son, stand at the doors of repentance, seeking forgiveness from our heavenly Father, Who unconditionally accepts us in our desire to be reconciled with Him and with those against whom we have sinned. It is our heavenly Father Who sent His only-begotten Son into this world to call us to repentance and to raise us from darkness into the never-ending brightness of His Kingdom. He makes it possible for us to delight in freedom from those passions which, while well within our control, all too often take control of us. In fasting we regain control not only of that which goes into our mouths, but, more importantly, that which proceeds from it. “As we fast from food,” we sing during Forgiveness Vespers, “let us abstain also from every passion.”

Emptying ourselves of such preoccupations, we find the freedom to discover the very image of Christ in others, in “the least of the brethren” and even in our enemies, and to respond to them as we would respond to the Lord Himself. We offer our time, our talents, and our treasures-our very being-to those whose lives are filled with burdens far greater than our own. By giving alms, we reveal “the brightness of love” to those who hunger and thirst for a sign of hope while soberly acknowledging that, at any moment, their plight could very well become our own. We seal all that we do during this blessed time with “the splendor of prayer,” rejoicing in the knowledge that God indeed answers us as He sees fit and equips us with all that we need to continue our journey to Pascha-and beyond.

“Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit, may we persevere with love,” wesing on the eve of Great Lent, “and so be counted worthy to see the solemnPassion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual joy to behold His holy Pascha!” Whatcomfort we receive in being afforded yet another opportunity to discover thatthrough prayer and fasting, through almsgiving and repentance and the pursuitof virtue, we might delight in “the Light Which is never overcome by darkness.” Ratherthan imposing burdens upon us, Great Lent frees us from those things which weighus down, physically as well as spiritually. It challenges us to empty ourselvesof all that would cast a shadow on accepting Christ’s invitation to become “lightsof the world.” And it brings us, here and now, into the very brightnessof that Kingdom which, while yet to be fulfilled, is already revealed to thosewilling to see it.

As we journey together to the glorious Resurrection of Christ, may we not lose sight of the joy that comes from repentance. Together, let us sing, “Cleanse me in the waters of repentance, and through prayer and fasting make me shine with light!” Having been freed from “the works of darkness,” let us “put on the armor of light,” so that together we might share in that eternal victory which brings us from darkness to light, from earth to heaven, and ultimately, from death to life!

As we enter into the grace-filled days of Great Lent, I ask your forgiveness. May the blessings of these days and weeks of prayer and repentance bring us all to know the fullness of joy in the Risen Lord.

With love in Christ,

Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada