To the Venerable Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America
Dearly Beloved in Christ:
“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel”
It is not by coincidence that the Gospel reading for September 1, the beginning of the ecclesiastical new year, closes with these words, spoken by Our Lord, Jesus Christ as He embarked on His public ministry. And given the times in which we live, these words could not serve as a better reminder of what we as Christians are called to do in this world.
It is precisely in the call to “repent” and “believe” that we find the very essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In a word, repentance — that essential change of heart and mind, of direction and vision — sums up all to which we as Christians are called. To repent means to “put away the old man,” tainted by sin, and to “put on the mind of Christ,” as Saint Paul reminds us. And just as Christ emptied Himself when He took on our human nature, so too we are called to empty ourselves of sin, of temptation, of every obstacle that would stand in the way of our recognition of and participation in the Kingdom of God - that Kingdom which “is at hand,” yet fully revealed to us through the Body of Christ, His Church.
Repentance presupposes belief in the Gospel. It presumes that we not only read and study the living words of Scripture, and that we recognize in them the Living Word incarnate, the One Whom the written words reveal. Without belief in Christ as “the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners,” there can be no repentance, no change. And without repentance, there can be no recognition of the Kingdom of God, already present in our midst and freely given to those who willingly accept the invitation to repent and believe.
Dearly beloved in Christ: We live in a time in which the very essence of the Gospel is being challenged on a number of fronts. The inspired written word of God is increasingly interpreted in ways that not only dismiss repentance and belief, but also offer a vision that is patently contrary to the Good News preached by Our Lord and Savior. Instead of focusing on the Kingdom of God and the essential call to repentance, there are those who turn to the Gospel to affirm and condone their own beliefs, their own actions, and in short, their own kingdoms. The very revelation of the One Who makes all things new has been distorted and disfigured and dismissed, replaced by a Gospel that is neither “good” nor “news” - one in which fulfillment is not found in the Kingdom of God, but in human wants and desires and sin.
As we begin the ecclesiastical new year, we are reminded that our repentance, our belief in the Gospel, our recognition of the Kingdom in our midst and our anticipation of the Kingdom yet to come are crucial in sanctifying and fulfilling time — our times in particular. If we call the world to repent and believe, we must be do so by our own example. If we challenge the world to accept in the words of Scripture the incarnate Word of God, we must do so by our own acceptance and vision. And if we are to renew our commitment to Christ at the beginning of this new year, we must do so by discerning His will and living according to His precepts, not those of the times in which we live. This is the “narrow path” of which Christ speaks, the “way” which, while rejected by this world, leads to the life of the world to come.
With heartfelt love, I invite you to make a firm commitment to the Gospel of Our Lord, to repent and believe, to delight in the Kingdom of God, and to be bold and faithful witnesses to that which God has revealed for the life of the world and for its salvation. Discern God’s will, and live it. Proclaim in your words and deeds the love and forgiveness He so generously offers to those seeking fulfillment in His Kingdom. And above all, remain faithful to His revelation and abiding presence in these times — times which have marginalized the Gospel at best while dismissing it as irrelevant at worst. The times in which we live demand our faithfulness to and love for the Gospel. May the beginning of this new ecclesiastical year mark our renewal, as individuals and as the Body of Christ, in our common work of proclaiming the Good News in its fullness to a world that increasingly seeks fulfillment apart from the Kingdom of God.
Invoking God’s blessing and assuring you of my prayers, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada