Archpastoral Letter on Great Lent 2004
Prot. N. 160
"I will arise!" St. Luke 15:18
To the Very Reverend Protopresbyters, Very Reverend, and Reverend Fathers, Monastics, and the pious faithful of our Diocese,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Now we arise! Now we commence the season of the Great and Holy Fast, a time of repentance and sanctification, a time of testing and purification. The days and weeks that have come before, the period that the Church calls "Triodion", have prepared us well for our Lenten Pilgrimage. For we have heard what I believe to be the greatest of all the parables of our Lord, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
There is no more perfect icon of repentance, no more exquisite image of godly sorrow. It is the fullness of the Gospel compressed into some 500 words in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke, but these are words of life and of spirit, even as the Lord Himself said (St. John 6:63 ).
If we attend to these words, and press them into our hearing and understanding, into our souls and hearts, into our mind and imagination, these words can make of our Holy Lent a true journey back to the House of our Father, where we shall partake of the Mystical Paschal Banquet of the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world and the stain from our souls. And it all begins with our will, our desire, what we really want out of life.
The younger of the two brothers thought he knew what he wanted. He wanted it all, and he wanted it now. He demanded of his Father:
"Father, give me the part of the fortune that belongs to me , (vs. 12)
Did the Father hold anything back from him? And does God hold anything back from us? God has put even the breath of life into our nostrils, making it possible for us to enjoy His glorious creation. Who are the ones who waste this precious gift? Who are the ones who destroy what the Creator has ordained to be? The answer is in the mirror for us to behold. Let us look into the mirror of the Prodigal Son:
The younger son gathered all his things together and went abroad into a distant land. And there he squandered his fortune, leading the life of a reckless prodigal. ( vs. 13 )
You see, my friends, God loves us so much, and honors our freedom as His children, that He allows us to run away to distant lands and squander the fortune of His blessings. We are all prodigals, wastrels; and like the Prodigal Son, we too reap bitter harvests.
But there is always a chance of return, and time of repentance. Like the Prodigal, we awake one day "sick and tired of being sick and tired." We come unto ourselves ( vs. 17) and ask ourselves:
"How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread to eat! And I am going to starve to death?"
And why should we starve -either spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, or even physically? There is more than enough of the Bread of Heaven to satisfy our hungry souls!
Let us say with the Prodigal Son: "I will arise!"
Let us raise ourselves from the mire of our sins and say: "I will arise!"
Let us stand again in the dignity of the image and likeness of God and say: "I will arise!"
Let us say to our Heavenly Father together with the Prodigal Son:
" Father , I have sinned before Heaven and in your sight and I am no longer worthy to be called your child. Make me as one of your hired servants. " (vs. 18,19)
Then and only then, beloved brothers and sisters, can we find our way home. Then and only then will the path that leads to the door of our Father's house become bright with the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Then, we shall see the Father coming towards us, even when we are a long way off, because God is always looking for us, as the Lord assures:
But while the Prodigal Son was yet a long way off, his father saw him. His father, overcome with emotion, ran out to meet to him. And His Father embraced him and kissed him on the neck. (vs. 20)
This is the Mystery of Repentance,. This is the Sacrament of Holy Confession. This is the embrace of the Father. This is the welcoming kiss of love that awaits every person who returns home.
And note well! In the Sacrament, there is no shame; for while the Father accepts your confession, he will never accept your degradation. Listen to the Gospel:
Then the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned before Heaven and in your sight and I am no longer worthy to be called your son -" but the father called to the servants, "Bring out his finest robe and put it on him! And put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet! And bring the fatted calf; sacrifice it! And let us feast, yes, blaze with joy! For this m). son was dead, and is alive again! He was lost, and now is found. " (vs. 21-24)
See how the Father cuts off the final phrase, "Make me as one of your hired servants." He spares us humiliation, because He accepts our humility .And behold what gifts repentance brings: the first robe of Baptism is placed on us again; the ring -the pledge of the Holy Spirit is bestowed again; we are shod with the sandals that symbolize our freedom in Christ ( as opposed to our slavery to sin); and we are admitted to the feast of the fatted Calf, who was sacrificed for the life of the world, the Holy and Divine Liturgy.
My beloved Brethren, during these holy days of Lent, let us all gather ourselves, come unto ourselves as once did the Prodigal. Let us raise ourselves from whatever mire we find ourselves in, and head home to the House of our Father .
Let us arise !
As we begin this Great Fast together, the following fasting regulations are to be observed by our faithful:
1) Monday, February 23, 2004 (Clean Monday), the first day of Lent, is a day of strict abstinence; likewise, Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday, namely April 9 and 10. On these days, no meat or dairy products may be eaten.
2) All Wednesdays and Fridays during this entire season are days of abstinence from meat.
3) Meat and meat products may not be eaten during all of Great and Holy Week, April 5 through April 10.
4) For the evening Presanctified Liturgy, a minimal three-hour fast from all food and drink ought to be observed before the reception of Holy Communion. (Normal fasting from midnight is still practiced before the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great.
5) Where the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated on Great and Holy Thursday, the three-hour fast is required.
These are the minimum requirements for observing during this season. But for those of a stronger body and more willingly spirit, again I whole- heartedly recommend the penitential practices of a sterner quality which the time-honored traditions and customs of our Holy Orthodox Church have handed down to us.
With my prayers for you and your families that you experience a
meaningful, uplifting and spiritually beneficial Great Fast, I remain
Most sincerely yours in Christ,
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in all Diocesan Parishes in lieu of the regular Sermon at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, February 22, 2004