28 February 2012

Why the Great Fast (Lent)?

The Great Fast began Sunday, with Forgiveness Vespers. It is traditionally an anticipated season for Orthodox Christians, a period of renewal, for rediscovering the basics of our faith. Great Lent — as the Great Fast is often called — has been described as a tithe of the year, forty days set aside to redirect personal energies toward God, praying that “lessons learned” will carry over and sanctify the remainder of the year.

Furthermore, the Great Fast is a time of repentance, a time for profound change of heart, mind or will, in light of sins acknowledge and Truth revealed. Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote that Great Lent, “is indeed a school of repentance to which every Christian must go…in order to deepen his faith, to re-evaluate, and if possible, to change his life. It is a wonderful pilgrimage to the very sources of the Orthodox faith, a rediscovery of the Orthodox way of life.”

There is a quiet joy also associated with the upcoming season. It arises from recovering – as did the Prodigal – a sense of our identity as children of the Heavenly Father. Joy stems, as well, from anticipating Pascha, “the Feast of Feasts.” During Forgiveness Vespers we sing, “Let us begin the fast with joy! Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts!…Let us rejoice in virtues of the Spirit and fulfill them in love, that we all may see the Passion of Christ our God, and rejoice in spirit at the holy Pascha!”

And yet, with these thoughts in mind, it is probably true to say that for many people the Fast is experienced as more of an intrusion, rather than as something to which we look forward. Are we not tempted to think early in the spring that, “My life has just returned to normal after Advent and the holidays. I just got settled into my routine and now the Church is asking me once again to make changes for forty days. Why?” The question itself indicates the answer. Implicit in this “why” is a comfortable acceptance of life as usual, a quiet, unconscious denial that there is anything about the old routine, our normal existence, that absolutely has to change, or more to the point, be redeemed. This passivity – spiritually speaking – this consent, indeed surrender to the way things are, is a strong reason for why we have Great Lent, for why the Church consecrates a specific season for rediscovery and repentance.

Life is occasionally referred to as a rat race, a fast track that drives us during the day: school, work, family and social responsibilities, etc. We enter the track but cannot seem to find the exit. Eventually we become accustomed to being pushed along by life’s momentum. Its force affects our ideas about many issues, the capacity for clear thinking, and thus our ability to give ourselves completely to Christ. It redirects and narrows our thoughts so that this world becomes the primary focus as we try to survive life’s pace. The Church, God’s Kingdom on earth, is even asked on occasion to accommodate itself to our constricted vision. The net result: life controls us, rather than we having any sort of grasp on life. We become enslaved to the very thing that we cherish most, and life is cheapened because, going with its flow, we more often than not perceive the surface of things, rather than their true depth of meaning. And what is worse, when the Church is asked to accommodate itself to human weakness, we deprive ourselves of that which is given to free us from the bonds of passions and a superficial life.

This is where the Great Fast comes into the picture. During the Great Fast we are invited, for forty plus days, to step off the track that everyone is on. We are encouraged to make changes to our usual routine that will yield profound revelations if done in the correct spirit. Over the course of Great Lent we gradually begin to see that life – real life – consists of more than mere existence and the grind of daily responsibilities. In Christ an entirely new and abundant life shines from the grave; a life which does not negate, but fulfills and refashions the old. It provides a fresh set of lenses through which we see — actually see, maybe for the first time — the people and world around us, even God Himself. “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation of Saint John/Apocalypse 21:5)

Lent opens our eyes to a new dimension of the old routine, to a depth of existence that makes life worthwhile and not merely a rat race. We begin to appreciate family, friends, work, school – everything – in a new light, the light of Christ. We better understand the words of the Psalmist who declared that the Creator Himself can be perceived in all that exists: “The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims His handiwork” (19:1). As faith and insights grow, so also does our ability to discern priorities. Many things that seemed important prior to Lent, may appear quite superfluous after preparing for and experiencing Holy Week. We start to possess different priorities after feeling the power of the Paschal greeting, Christ is Risen!

But to achieve this, the Fast and its requirements are essential. Sacrifices must be made and for the right reasons, with proper goals in mind. We have to make conscious efforts to change our patterns of behavior for the better so that at least momentarily we can break free from life’s momentum and refocus on Christ. The Church, through her liturgical services provides us with an essential experience and framework for this to happen. The rites, prayers and readings direct us towards repentance and offer a taste of God’s Kingdom already in our midst, to be revealed fully at the end of time. I encourage everyone to enter the Fast with faith, love and determination. Make the necessary efforts. Let us learn from the One Who “ever awaits our conversion,” and “desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

27 February 2012

Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for Holy and Great Lent 2012

Protocol 24/12

February 27, 2012

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,

As we begin this season of Holy and Great Lent, we do so in anticipation of the blessings we will receive as we commune with Christ through the special services, observances, and disciplines of our Orthodox Christian faith. We embark on a journey of faith, with the destination of the joy of Pascha before us, knowing that abundant spiritual treasure awaits if we are committed to intensifying prayer and fasting and service to others in charity.

We have begun to prepare our hearts for the impact of Great Lent during the Triodion period and our reflection on repentance and forgiveness. Our resolve to follow the services and disciplines is strong, but we also realize that we face many challenges in navigating the course of the season and realizing the great potential that it has to offer in our relationship with God.

In the days ahead, we will have responsibilities and commitments to fulfill. We may have a family that will need our care and provision. Each day we will have tasks to accomplish, work to do, and obligations to meet. In addition, we know that new challenges will arise and pressures will appear that will make the journey difficult. Our resolve to strengthen our faith through Great Lent will be tested. Many things will compete for the attention of our hearts and minds, challenging us to be faithful to our commitment to deeper communion with God.

In the midst of daily life and during this sacred and solemn season, we must remind ourselves through prayer and reflection that we do not make this journey alone. The services we attend are beautiful and holy times of worship in the presence of Christ and in the company of our brothers and sisters. The disciplines of fasting and giving are disciplines of grace that connect us to the love of God and allow that love to transform us and be offered through us to others. Thus, our resolve and commitment in Great Lent should be strengthened by knowing that His presence and His grace are always with us. We make this journey in Christ. He is the source of the spiritual power we need to remain focused on the meaning of this season. He is also our destination.

As we begin this journey together, I encourage you to keep your eyes looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Each new day reaffirm your resolve to participate in the services and disciplines of Great Lent as you live in the presence of Christ and experience His love for you. May we also remember that making this journey with Him, through the examination of the soul, through self-denial and obedience to the will of God, and through the suffering and pain of His Crucifixion, we will be with our Lord in the glorious light and life of His Resurrection.

With paternal love in Christ,

†DEMETRIOS

Archbishop of America


 

26 February 2012

Archpastoral Message of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah

Monday, February 27, 2012
The First Day of Great Lent

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, the Venerable Monastics, and the Christ-loving Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America.

Beloved in Christ:

“Enter again into Paradise!” So the Holy Church sings in the kontakion at Lent’s mid-point. At a time of year that coincides with college students’ “spring break” – an occasion for riotous and prodigal indulgence in the pigpen of the passions – the Church offers us a very different image of paradise. Fasting, vigil, silence and prayer, denial of self and generosity to others: these are the labors by which we are invited and commanded to regain our true, paradisal home.

In the three weeks that have led us to this great and solemn first day of the Fast, the Church has set before our spiritual eyes themes of exile. When our ancestors in the faith were led to captivity in Babylon, they wept; they hung up their lyres and said, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither” (Psalm 136:4–5). The Prodigal Son, at the eleventh hour, was given the grace not to forget his father’s house, and so he set his feet on the path of return. Our father Adam and our mother Eve chose exile and hardship for themselves and all their descendants through their disobedience, and yet they – and we with them – are shown the way home: we see the doors of repentance thrown open, and our loving Father in heaven keeping watch for our return with open arms.

In Holy Scripture, Jerusalem, the heart of the Promised Land and seat of the Temple, typifies the dwelling place of God among men. When the time came for our Savior to be received up, “He set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Making his way to the earthly Jerusalem, He was advancing toward suffering and ignominious death. Yet, “for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Cast out of the city, suffering outside the gate, He sanctified the people through His own blood. Therefore, the Apostle tells us, we also must “go forth to him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:12–14).

The exiles in Babylon refused to forget Jerusalem. Yearning to return to the land given by God to Abraham, they would not make themselves at home in Babylon. The holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Youths obeyed the dictates of their conscience, even in the face of harsh recrimination from a legal system hostile to righteousness. When opportunity arose, they did not shrink from speaking the truth to those who opposed it and, against all odds, God rewarded their faithful witness (v. Daniel 3 and 6).

If we wish to return home to our Father’s house, we first must face the fact that, no matter where we live, we are exiles. This means that if we strive to follow Christ, if we endeavor to pray and fast, to avoid idle talk, to silence our thoughts and find stillness in our hearts, to love our neighbors and our enemies, and to speak the truth without judgment to a crooked and perverse generation, then we must expect to suffer the same mockery and hatred from the powerful of this world that Christ suffered when He walked the earth. For He is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” and He gives us the grace we need to prepare for the abuse that awaits us, whether at the hands of men or from the devil and his angels. We must ready ourselves for the fight by laying aside “every weight and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). Great Lent is a strenuous period of training that makes us fit to persevere in a long and arduous trek home.

But the ascetic struggle of Lent is truly a foretaste of Paradise! The world pretends to offer happiness, but this is deception; in reality it gives us only a foretaste of hell. For too many Christians, though, the spiritual senses have grown so dull that the hellish pleasures of the world are more attractive than the Edenic delights of the Church and the Kingdom. We have lost the memory of Paradise; we have forgotten the spiritual Jerusalem; we have made for ourselves a comfortable home in this foreign land. So how then can we make a commitment to follow Christ to Jerusalem? What will motivate us to continue walking along the hard and narrow path to our true home?

“Do you want to be made well?” Our Savior addressed this question to the man who was paralyzed thirty-eight years (John 5:6). A similar question could be asked of us: “Do you want to go home?” The answer is not a foregone conclusion. “Do you want to return to your Father’s house? Do you want to leave the pigpen of the passions? Do you want to be washed clean, filled with light, robed in dignity, and transformed with the glory of God?” Whether we know it or not, we respond yes or no to these questions every day of our lives, every hour, every minute. One moment we may set our face toward Jerusalem – to the cross that awaits us there, and to the joy and glory that come only through the cross – but the next moment we go running back to our comfortable passions and delusions. We waffle and vacillate, reassuring ourselves that before time has run out we will surely have made an irrevocable commitment to Christ.

And we hardly spare a thought for the alternative – it is too fearful to face. The captives in Babylon, the Prodigal, even Adam himself – for all of them, exile came to an end; they returned home; they entered again into Paradise. But last Sunday we were warned of the perilous alternative to repentance: unending exile from God and those who love Him. For no one, neither man nor angel, nor even God Himself, can force us to return from the foreign country against our will. God’s arms are opened wide to embrace us – but He gives us the freedom to turn away. His face is warm with love and mercy – but we may close our eyes. Then nothing will be left for us but darkness, confusion, and never-ending despair.

In our Father’s house are many dwellings, and Christ has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. He will come again and take us to Himself, that where He is, we may be also. We know the narrow way He has trod. He Himself is the way, and the truth, and the life (cf. John 14: 2–4). If we are with Him, we have nothing to fear! At the last and great Day, at the end of the age, we will behold the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband (cf. Revelation 21). With joy we will enter in to celebrate an eternal Pascha – God with us and we with Him. He shall wipe away every tear from our eyes, and at long last we shall be home.

With every blessing for a peaceful and holy Fast, and with love in Christ,

+JONAH
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada


25 February 2012

HOW-TO: Preparing for Great Lent

The center of the liturgical year in the Orthodox Church is Pascha, the celebration of Christ's Resurrection. It is extolled in the services as the Feast of feasts and Triumph of triumphs. Justifiably so, for as the Apostle Paul declares, if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain (I Cor. 15:14). Through His redeeming Passion, Christ freed us from the tyranny of death and opened for us the door to Paradise and eternal life. This is the goal of our life-long spiritual journey, a journey from death to life, from darkness to light. It is a long journey and we travellers get weary; we get distracted and wander off or even lose sight of the road. To help keep us focussed, the Church every year compresses for us this journey as it prepares us to greet the Feast of Christ's Resurrection, which is a foretaste of that eternal Pascha.

We usually think of this preparatory time as the period of Great Lent, but in fact it begins three weeks earlier with the Sundays of the Publican and Pharisee, the Prodigal Son and the Last Judgment. Since we are not fasting yet, we tend to pay less attention to these preparatory Sundays than we do to the Sundays of Great Lent, and yet they are very important, as they give us a map, as it were, of our lenten journey.

Already a week before the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, which opens The Lenten Triodion, we hear intimations of the approaching period of lent. The Gospel reading for that Sunday relates the story of Zacchaeus, "the chief among the publicans," a rich tax-collector despised for his extortionary practices. He must have been a hard man, but the voice of his conscience had not been completely stifled, for he came to realize that he had taken the wrong path in life. But what could he do? Perhaps the great teacher people were talking about could help him. When he heard that Jesus Christ was to pass by, he climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to catch sight of Him over the crowd, for Zacchaeus was "short of stature." Any self-consciousness or concern that he, such a public figure, would be laughed at and scorned, was overcome by his intense desire to see the Lord, his desire to get help in order to set his life aright. And what happened? Jesus Christ not only acknowledged him, He came to his house. Zacchaeus' heart expanded in the presence of this Love, he resolved to make amends to the people he had wronged; in a word, he was on his way to a new life. As we approach the fast, we must have this same desire, the same state of mind as Zacchaeus. If we genuinely desire to catch sight of the Lord amidst the worldly vanities, God will visit us. We must simply have the desire to receive Him in the home of our heart.

The Gospel for the following Sunday tells us the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Both were in the temple praying. The Pharisee prayed, God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. Meanwhile, the Publican beat his breast, crying out, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! The Pharisee did well to tithe and to fast; he was undoubtedly a decent man, an upright citizen. Any virtue he possessed, however, was poisoned by his proud and arrogant attitude. He was self-satisfied and expressed no desire to change. As we enter upon the lenten struggle, we must beware of such complacency, of being satisfied with keeping the "rule" of the fast and judging those who do not. Such a prideful attitude can ruin all our good efforts. Rather, we should imitate the Publican. Here was a man who may have, like Zacchaeus, led a bad life and seen the error of his ways. He was trying now to please God, but found himself constantly falling into his old habits and giving in to temptations. He saw that he had no righteousness in him, that he was a helpless sinner in desperate need of God's mercy. "Lord," he cried, "help me!" Such humility invites God's grace. The Publican may not have fasted as the law required, he may have neglected other ordinances of the law, but his humility raised him above the legalistic pharisee, and he returned home justified.

The next preparatory week begins with the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. We should all be familiar with the parable, found in St. Luke's Gospel. How does it apply to us, to our spiritual life? The younger son was bored at home. He took his inheritance and went off into a far country, where he squandered what he had on riotous living. How often do we find ourselves enticed by the ways and the pleasures of this world, our hearts indifferent to the things of God, our minds wandering "in a far country" as we stand in church? The result? We become spiritually parched, like the prodigal son who experienced "a severe famine" in the land of his sojourning. Finally, when he was reduced to feeding swine, i.e., when he was in desperate circumstances, "he came to himself." He saw what kind of person he was; he realized he had deeply wounded his father, and he was willing to admit his error and ask his father's forgiveness. The fact that he had to travel a long way, without money, to return home demonstrates his strong resolve. We must have the same determination and show similar exertion in departing from sin and self-indulgence, and in making our way back to God and our true homeland which is in heaven. And with what joy the father received him-coming towards him when his son was still a great way off-, with what readiness he forgave him, just as God will greet and forgive us if we come to our senses, repent and have the determination to act upon our repentance.

We cannot, however, take God's mercy for granted, and the Church makes this clear to us the following Sunday, when it speaks to us about the Last Judgment, reminding us that God is not only a loving Father but also a righteous Judge. In the appointed Gospel reading, we hear about how the Son of Man will come at the end of the world to judge all men, when He will divide the righteous from the wicked "as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats." Each man will receive recompense for his deeds: those who have done good-who have shown compassion on their neighbor, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the needy-will inherit everlasting life, while those who have neglected works of charity, who have not shown love to their neighbor, will go away into everlasting punishment.

It is not enough to repent in our thoughts or with our feelings, or even to express it in words. the fruit of real repentance is a change in our way of life. During the Vespers for that Sunday, we chant:

Knowing the commandments of the Lord, let this be our way of life:
Let us feed the hungry, let us give the thirsty to drink,
Let us clothe the naked, let us welcome strangers,
Let us visit those in prison and the sick.

Then the judge of all the earth will say even to us: 'Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.' On the very threshold of Great Lent, we commemorate the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. Here is an example of what happens when we do not fast, when we do not repent. Shall we remain outside the gates of Paradise, weeping in the darkness of our sins, far removed from God, or shall we hearken to the voice of the Church inviting us, urging us to "set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat," that cleansed by fasting and the works of repentance, we may be led back into Paradise, into the everlasting joy of our Resurrected Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The services for these preparatory weeks, beginning with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, are compiled in a special book, The Lenten Triodion, the "Book of Three Odes," so-called because the weekday canons at Matins during Great Lent contain not the usual eight or nine canticles or odes, but, as a rule, three. At the Sunday Matins, after the reading of the Gospel and the 50th Psalm, special stichera are chanted: "Open to me the doors of repentance, O Giver of Life." These stichera are sung through the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent. A special feature of the preparatory Sunday services is the chanting of Psalm 136, "By the rivers of Babylon," after the usual Polyeleos sitchera, "Praise ye the name of the Lord, Allelluia!" It was sung by God's chosen people in their exile in Babylon and reflects our bondage to sin that has taken us far from our heavenly homeland. These weeks also include a special commemoration of departed Orthodox Christians "from all ages," when we particularly pray for the souls of those who did not receive a church burial when they died, who died suddenly or violently, without opportunity for a final repentance. On the eve of this Saturday for the Dead, before the Sunday of the Last Judgment, we hear in church hymns from the funeral service.

On Wednesday and Friday of the final preparatory week, unless there is a major feast, the Divine Liturgy is not served, and on vespers for Wednesday we hear for the first time the lenten prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, "O Lord and Master of my life . . ." The season has come.

For most of us, the dominant feature of Great Lent is fasting from certain foods. Here, too, these preparatory weeks lead us gradually towards stricter abstinence. Following the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, the usual Wednesday and Friday fasts are not observed, that we might not boast in keep in he fasting "rules," and as a reminder that fasting is only a means, an aid on the path to salvation; it is not a ticket to heaven. The next week we return to the wise moderation of the Church's discipline, observing the usual Wednesday and Friday fasts. It is called Meat-fare Week, because at the end of that week, on Sunday, we stop eating meat for the duration of Great Lent.

The following week, Cheese-fare week, it is customary to eat "cheese fare," i.e., milk products and eggs. With the exception of meat, it is a fast-free week, although it is desirable to observe the Wednesday and Friday fasts until evening. Cheese-fare week is popularly regarded as a week of entertaining and indulging in the butteriest foods. But, as noted above, the church services for this week recall the fall of Adam and Eve-the result of indulgence. On Cheese-fare Saturday, the Church commemorates "all the righteous who shone forth in the ascetic life"-in fasting and prayer. It is a week to use up what dairy products we have in the house before Great Lent, to begin paring down our food intake, not to stuff ourselves as if we were going to starve for the next forty days. We enter Great Lent with the rite of forgiveness following vespers on Cheese-fare Sunday. Clergy and laity ask one another's forgiveness, and then the priest blesses everyone for their journey through the Great Fast. Strengthening ourselves with the desire of Zacchaeus, the humility of the publican, the resolve of the Prodigal Son, sobriety at the thought of God's righteous judgment and the lesson of Adam's expulsion from Paradise, we are well equipped "for the noble contest of the Fast."

"Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover." Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness.

Sources: The Lenten Triodion, Faber & Faber, 1978; Put' k Paskhe in Pravoslavnaya Beseda, Moscow, 1991 No. 2; The One Thing Needful, Archbishop Andrei of Novo-Diveyevo, St. John of Kronstadt Press, 1991; "Ot Pokayaniye k Obnovleniyu" by Archpriest Valery Lukianov, in Pravoslavnaya Rus, Jordanville, 1994, No. 3.


Note: This article was taken from Orthodox America, Issue 131, Vol XIV, No. 7, March-April, 1994


12 February 2012

The Sundays of Great Lent

Each of the Sundays of Great Lent possesses special meaning for us as we journey through the Lenten season to Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through our awareness of these days and our participation in the liturgical services of the season, we are instructed and inspired to continue our journey with Christ to the Cross, and ultimately to victory over sin and death. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great will be celebrated on Sundays during the Fast.

Forgiveness Sunday (February 26):
Great Lent begins on a Monday. The eve of this day is known as Forgiveness Sunday. The way to resurrection and life, the path to Christ’s eternal victory over death, begins with forgiveness. God will not forgive us our sins, and raise us from the dead to eternal life, unless we forgive the sins of others and work for their salvation as well as for our own.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ clearly teaches us the importance of forgiveness: ”If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6: 14-15).

Sunday of Orthodoxy (March 4):
On the First Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. This is an historical feast commemorating the restoration of icons — which had been banned for years from the Churches — to their rightful liturgical use in the year 843 A.D.

The major emphasis of this feast is the victory of the true faith, the victory which always ultimately triumphs. Having completed the first week of our Lenten efforts, we are reminded that Christ, the perfect image (icon) of God the Father, calls us to personal victory by restoring within ourselves “the image and likeness of God” in which we were first created (Genesis 1:26).

The icons of our Lord, the Theotokos (the Mother of God), and all the saints are images of true humanity, signs of our eternal calling and vocation. They tell us that we are all called to be living icons and imitators of Christ, bearing the likeness of God as gracious vessels of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas (March 11):
The Second Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to St. Gregory Palamas (14th century). He was a monk on Mt. Athos — a spiritual bastion of Orthodox Christianity — and later became the Archbishop of Thessalonica. Once again we are reassured, as we contemplate this man and reflect on his teachings, that we can indeed attain salvation and behold the “Light of Wisdom,” by becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

St. Gregory clearly teaches that by cooperating with the God who makes all things possible, we can attain eternal life. Thus, our Lenten efforts are confirmed, our resolve is strengthened, and we are filled once more with the light of hope. Historically, theologically, the support of Palamas’ teachings is seen as a Second Triumph of Orthodoxy.

Sunday of the Cross (March 18):
On the Third Sunday of Great Lent we venerate the Life-creating Cross of our Lord. The Kingdom of God comes only through the Cross. Life follows death; Resurrection follows Golgotha.

St. Paul mentions that, in the worldly sense, the Cross is a sign of foolishness, signifying for many only death and sorrow. The faithful, however, look in faith and hope beyond the suffering brought about by the Cross, discerning the loving victory which it truly proclaims. At the Sunday Matins service we sing, “Behold! Through the Cross joy has come into all the world.” The Cross is a sign of victory and the landmark of paradise. It is inseparable from the Resurrection. For this reason we sing on this Sunday: ”Before Thy Cross we bow down and worship, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.”

The Cross is not only a victory for Christ, “the captain of salvation made perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10). The Cross is a victory for us as well. As we approach Pascha, it stands as a reminder for us to take up our crosses and worthily follow Christ in His suffering and, ultimately, in His eternal victory (Matthew 10:38). On the Third Sunday of Lent the Cross is placed before us in the center of the Church, adorned with flowers, for inspiration and encouragement.

Sunday of St. John of the Ladder (March 25):
On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent we commemorate St. John of the Ladder (7th century), author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent and abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai. In his spiritual classic St. John outlines the steps essential for attaining communion with God, steps which remind us that the way to the Kingdom constantly challenges us to engage in spiritual warfare.

”Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6: 10-13).

St. John is also commemorated during Lent as a model of ascetic effort.

Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt (April 1):
The Fifth Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt (4th & 5th centuries). St. Mary was a harlot who, having recognized her sinfulness, sought to bring about an essential change in her life. She ran from her sinfulness and devoted the remainder of her life to placing God’s will above her own. In her person we recall Christ’s words: ”Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).

The end is drawing near, yet repentance is still possible, even for the greatest of sinners. We see how the harlot repents and is forgiven. There is no sin so great that God will not forgive it; there is no amount of sinfulness which can condemn you if you are willing to repent and to merge your vision with that of our Lord.
”The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Psalm 103: 8, 11-13).

Palm Sunday (April 8):
Great Lent ends on the Friday following the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt. The next day is Lazarus Saturday which is followed by Palm Sunday. These are days of festal interlude, leading us into Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we greet Christ as King, anticipating the glory of Pascha (Easter). We hold branches in our hands as we sing, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” At the same time we look ahead to the road to Golgotha upon which Christ invites us to join Him. While we sing praises with our lips, our lives must not cry out with the angry mob: ”Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

With this in our minds and in our hearts, we enter the days of the Passover of the Cross — the great and holy Pascha of the Lord — the Resurrection.



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