Temptation and Celebration
The Gospel readings in this last week before Great Lent begins take us to the end of Lent, Holy Week and Gethsemane. This is a reminder that all our approaching Lenten fasting and services are meant to draw us deeper and deeper into the reality of Christ’s sacrificial love “on behalf of all and for all.” It’s a reminder too that if we endure temptations during Lent, Christ endured them first. He didn’t want the cup that was given him. He would have preferred to avoid it, and yet he was willing to say, “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
This wasn’t playacting. He was in great inner turmoil. “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). He was distressed. He wanted his closest disciples by his side and was sad when they couldn’t stay awake with him. He had no special powers that made all this easy. And it is precisely because He was going through this as a human being that He can be our Savior. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
But we are not in Lent yet. As Archbishop Justinian said last Sunday at Saint Nicholas Cathedral (Moscow Patriarchate) in New York City, the Orthodox cultures that have best preserved the traditions of fasting also excel in celebration. So while gradually retooling our bodies, hearts and minds for the coming of the Lenten Spring, God grant us a joyful celebration of Cheesefare Week.
Holy Synod Starts Today
Yesterday the members of the Holy Synod started to arrive for their Spring session. This will be the first full meeting of chaired by Metropolitan Tikhon. The agenda is very full and there are lots of troublesome issues, but for the bishops—who spend their lives on the road travelling their dioceses—this is also an opportunity to be with their brothers, the only others who know exactly what it’s like to be a bishop. They will be discussing “episcopal and clergy matters” (which being interpreted usually means problems), hearing reports, reviewing plans for the Youth Department and the new Continuing Education Department, and interviewing bishop-candidates. Whatever thorny matter is at hand—and they will deliberate with frankness and vigor—when I see them in meetings, in Vespers and at Liturgy, at meals and in conversations it’s clear that there is a sense of familiarity, good humor and warmth as they share this life and work together.
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Incidentally, this past weekend at Saint Nicholas Cathedral during the Liturgy I was looking up at a huge fresco opposite me of Saints Alexander Hotovitsky and John of Kronstadt. I learned that Saint John of Kronstadt helped raise funds for the building of the cathedral by its rector, Saint Alexander Hotovitsky, with the blessing and active interest of Saint Tikhon of Moscow, who was then the bishop in North America. In 1905-08 Saint Tikhon lived in the bishop’s apartment that is still being used today and where Archbishop Justinian welcomed us for coffee after the Meatfare Sunday Liturgy and meal.