Archpastoral Letter on Great Lent 2005
Prot. N. 165
To the Very Reverend Protopresbyters, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Monastics, and the pious faithful of our Diocese:
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Fathers and Faithful:
I greet you in the Meekness of the Bridegroom Christ, Who calls us, in the depth of our hearts, to follow Him during this Great Fast, and to not betray Him.
In this annual season, we closely follow the events of the Passion of Our Lord, and we are frequently met by the disturbing picture of Judas the Betrayer. We are told, in the Gospel of St. Matthew (26.15), that he received thirty pieces of silver - about a half year's wages, almost $15,000 in today's funds - as payment for delivering his Lord into the hands of the enemy.
When we hear this, we quickly protest, and we say "We would have done much better."
And if we say such things, and mean such things, we would be right. We truly could have done much better. This is the challenge of the Great Fast, which we are entering. We are called to turn aside from the path of Judas.
But taking the path of loyalty is not so easy. It is more difficult than making easy intentions and empty promises like "Oh, I would never do such a thing." It turns out that "doing such a thing" as did Judas is the easiest thing to do. It is easy because the Enemy is always interested in purchasing the services of betrayal. He is more than happy to pay the thirty pieces of silver to anyone who wants to play the part of Judas. There is always the symbolic value of the silver coins: some temporary benefit, some little satisfaction after sin and passion.
Of course, it must be said here that after the little satisfaction, there is always the bleak despair of Judas, if not the noose at the end.
It is the path of the Great Fast, and the struggle of Lent, that is the difficult work of doing better than Judas. This liturgical season of repentance is all about attaining the Great Day of the Resurrection - but on the way, we must reject all the attractive offers of betrayal. To do better than Judas, we must turn aside - persistently - from the thirty pieces of silver, in whatever form they might take.
When did Judas actually betray Jesus? Not after he became possessed, but long before - when he freely chose to embrace his self over his Lord ... when he chose anger over love ... when he chose his pride over faith and trust ... when he chose his opinions over the Word of God ... at each moment of free decision, Judas could have avoided his destiny as the son of perdition instead of denying the Son of God.
The treachery of Judas was never forced upon him. Every betrayal, like love, is freely chosen.
The same is true for you and me. It is time, in these Forty Days, to choose freely love and grace, over the blood money of Judas' silver.
The Enemy will always pay his "Judas-pawns." In a sense, every sin brings its own sniveling reward, and for a time, at least, crime does pay. The coins rattle and the silver clinks at every mere intention to sin.
But the payment is counterfeit, and the pleasure is discovered to be but a mirage. The satisfaction of sin is but a short-term gain, leading to an anguished long-term loss.
For anger, the thirty pieces of silver is the short rush of a tantrum well done. But then comes the heavy awareness of all the heart-wounds and despair left in the wake of hot words that were better left unsaid.
This Great Fast, do not yell. Do not fight. Pray for your enemies instead.
For gluttony, the thirty pieces of silver is the pleasure of fullness and luxury. But then comes the bloating and the hangover of too much on the plate and empty bottles, the dull headache, the loss of spirit, and the sinking feeling of living on bread instead of the Word of God. After all, when Adam ate of the Forbidden Tree in his gluttony, he became heavy with naked shame, and hid from his Lord Who called out, "Where are you? Who told you that you were naked?" (Genesis 3.8-11).
This Great Fast, do not obey your thirst or hunger. Embrace simplicity and poverty instead.
For lust, the thirty pieces of silver is the wildness of a beast uncaged, and the entertainment of fantasies and regained youth. But then comes the regret of broken friendships and the adulterous ruin of marriage.
This Great Fast, renounce self-gratification. Enter chastity instead.
For pride, the thirty pieces of silver is the luxury of self-pity, and the mental applause at every opinion, and the remembrance of every one of life's disappointments. But then comes the descent into a prison of self, sinking into the shackles of depression.
This Great Fast, fight dejection and turn aside from self-esteem. Step outside of yourself, and accept the Lordship of Christ and His Church instead.
Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver. At the end, the he found that the payment was not near enough. Was his soul not worth much more than this? Were not the love and grace he received from the Lord worth much more? He gained the whole world - his hellish world of self - but he lost his soul.
Your soul is worth more than thirty pieces of silver. Do better than Judas. Deny the Devil his due. Follow Christ away from your self.
Join with us in the meekness of Christ this Holy and Great Fast. Follow and be loyal to Him.
Assuring you of my Archpastoral supplications on your behalf in these Forty Days, I remain
Most assuredly yours in the Grace of Christ,
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in all Diocesan Parishes in lieu of the regular Sermon at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, March 13, 2005