Forgiveness Sunday, February 26, 2017
Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
Christ is in our Midst!
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 behold His holy Passover.
(Stichera from “Lord, I have cried” of Forgiveness Sunday Vespers)
Today we enter into the forty days of Great Lent in preparation for the great feast of Pascha, the great celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. Great Lent is a period of intense prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time when we focus our lives on reflection, meditation, repentance and penance. It is a time of both spiritual and physical cleansing and purification. We step into the desert of trial where we encounter spiritual warfare.
Great Lent is a time when we fight not only against the evil one and the passions with which he tempts us, but we fight against ourselves. We fight against our desire to follow our own will and submit ourselves instead to the will of God, to His desire that we be holy as He is holy.
The season of Great Lent is a privileged moment in the Church’s liturgical year when the People of God reflect prayerfully and serenely on their relationship with God, with the Church, and with each other. In her spiritual care for Her children, the Church recommends and offers to us the traditional penitential and ascetical practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as fitting ways to help us grow in the life of grace and holiness.
The forty days of Great Lent offer us a spiritual opportunity to reflect also on the mercy of God which has shown itself most fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus is the face of the father’s mercy, and from his wounded side, the crucified Christ has poured upon us, His disciples, an ocean of mercy and has opened for us the fountain of salvation.
As I have always done in the past, so I do today and that is to encourage each and every one of you to immerse yourselves in the spirit of this holy season of repentance, penance, purification and preparation. Most especially I encourage you all in prayer, fasting and works of charity. By doing these things, we bring into our lives the joy of a living Christian faith and manifest ourselves as true disciples of Jesus Christ and as children of the Triune God, into whose life we have been made a part by baptism in water and the Spirit.
I fervently encourage you all to be especially mindful of almsgiving and works of charity during this holy season. By performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as signs of our gratitude for the mercy God has bestowed upon us, we can, with His grace, help to transform our homes, parishes, places of work and the communities in which we live into places where people can personally experience an encounter of mercy and be motivated themselves to extend God’s love and compassion to others.
Great Lent is a season replete with rebirth, new beginnings and new growth. Too often, however, we want to race to Pascha without fully embracing the Lenten process that leads there. Great Lent reflects the forty days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness, tempted by Satan, in readiness for a ministry destined to end, by earthly standards, in tragedy. Few of us can relate to the level of sacrifice and commitment that Jesus displayed during His forty days in the desert, yet Great Lent provides us with an opportunity to deepen our spirituality by engaging in intense prayer, fasting, and penitence.
With tears of both joy and repentance, let us set out together this day to seek Christ who heals all men and restores what was lost. Even though we are sinners, God’s love for us never fails and His mercy is available to all those who are truly repentant and are resolved to change their ways. Let us resolve to no longer walk in darkness but rather walk in the light of God’s truth and the Gospel of life.
The time is now at hand, beloved, to enter upon spiritual warfare and gain victory over the powers of darkness and evil; to rid our lives and our communities of all that separates us from God and would destroy us. With the Word of God and His love and mercy as our weapons, let us step onto the battlefield of life and fight the good fight. Let us together set ourselves upon the path to heaven, where we shall behold the glory, beauty and majesty of God.
As we enter into Great Lent, we enter into the wilderness where we shall be tested and tempted by the evil one. It is a time of purification and making ready. When we emerge from the wilderness of Great Lent we should be stronger spiritually and physically; our faith should be more vibrant and filled with longing for the Lord. Our forty days in the desert wilderness are truly a path to salvation and new life, one in which we shall serve the Lord faithfully and more attentively as His disciples and servants.
Let us not falter in our Lenten pilgrimage but strive to complete it with vigor and determination. We do not make this journey alone, but with the help of one another and most certainly with God’s grace and strong arm as our sure defense and protection. And if you do falter, do not despair and lose hope. The Holy Spirit will provide whatever you need to succeed. God knows the hearts of us all and if your intentions and efforts are sincere, God will receive them gladly as a pure offering and He will bless the fruit of your labors.
Over the next forty days, let us ask God to cleanse us in the waters of repentance, and through prayer and fasting make us shine with the light of grace and holiness so that we, together with the men and women disciples at the tomb, may joyfully cry out, “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!”
As we embark upon the season of Great Lent, let us encourage one another with our prayers. Let us make the most of our Lenten journey so that we may be worthy to see Christ’s glorious resurrection on the third day.
My prayers are with you all and I ask your fervent prayers for my unworthiness. May you all have a blessed, holy and spiritually fruitful Great Lent.
With love in Christ Jesus, I remain,