Archpastoral Letter on Great Lent 2002
Prot. N. 146
To the Pious and Devout Clergy , Monastics And Faithful of our God-saved Diocese:
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Before one can take rest, one must first labor. Before the reward comes the sacrifice; before the feast, the fast.
My beloved faithful: the Holy and great Fast draws near to us, and it is time for us to draw near to it. It is a season that the world cannot accept, because the world sees only the visible need and not the invisible promise. The world looks at our fasting, our intensified prayer life, our self-restraint, and says: "Why this waste?".
But this is the same question that the disciples themselves asked when the Lord was preparing for the Cross. Here is one report of the incident:
" Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman approached Him. She was holding in her hand a sealed alabaster flask full of exceeding ly expensive and precious myrrh. Then she poured out the myrrh over His head as He was lying down. When His disciples saw this, they became annoyed and angry and grumbled: 'Why this waste? This myrrh could have easily been soldfor a great sum and the money given to the poor. ' (St. Matthew 26:-6-9)
How could the Disciples reject the offering of the woman? How could they deny their Lord this one indulgence, seeing that by His providence it fulfIlled an even greater purpose than anyone could have imagined?
The woman came to cleanse her sins, but she became more than a repentant sinner. She became a Myrrh-bearer, the only one of the Holy Women who was successful at anointing the Lord before His Burial. She came to the Lord having spent all her riches for this one moment, but she purchased an everlasting memory and a permanent place in the history of our salvation. For the Gospel continues:
"But Jesus, aware of their grumbling, said to them: 'Why are you making trouble for the woman? The deed that she has done is truly something beautiful for Me. Indeed, you always have the poor with you, but Me, you do not always have. What she has done, by putting this myrrh upon My body, she has done to prepare Me for My burial. Amen, Amen, I say to you, wherever this Gospel will be preached in all the universe, what this woman has done will be spoken of as a memorial to her"' (Matthew 26:10- 13).
She spared no expense, no effort, not even the degrading by the Disciples themselves in her eager and genuine pursuit of her own salvation. She was willing to be ridiculed, abused and even rejected, all for the sake of her Lord. She is the veritable icon of repentance and humility which shows to all of us the way to spend this Lent.
By anointing the Lord before His Passion, she linked herself to Him and joined in His Passion. She offered her utmost to Him, and in turn, He offered His very Life for the life of the world. Her offering of the "exceedingly expensive and precious myrrh " became the means by which she received "grace upon grace".
Thus it is, beloved faithful, that this Lent, we shall have a rare opportunity to follow in her footsteps, and together -in spirit and unity of heart and mind -offer the same gift to the Lord.
As I prepare to join His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople for the duration of Holy Week, I am fully aware that I carry the thoughts and intentions of all the faithful of the Diocese. During this Holy Week, together with the Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne, we shall consecrate the Holy Myron -the Chrism -the continuation of that first "exceedingly expensive and precious myrrh " offered by the woman. This time, the woman is the Church, the Bride of Christ, adorned as then with repentance and a fervent heart. But this time, the Holy Mixture is not to anoint the body of the Messiah as He prepares for His sublime Sacrifice; it is for us, who are the Body of Christ. Just as in the Holy Liturgy, truly! He is the One Who offers and receives.
So as we prepare during Holy Week the Sacred Chrism, by J which the Holy Spirit is conveyed at Baptism and Chrismation,
and by which we consecrate our churches, let us all offer from our hearts and souls and minds that which gives a most pleasing fragrance to God: repentance born our of humility and self-acknowledgment. Let us not worry about the "waste" that others mayor may not ascribe to our actions. Perhaps we shall be ridiculed; perhaps we shall be maligned. Let the same love that impelled the sinful woman to the house of Simon the leper be the sole and guiding force behind our actions, so that the Church- the whole Church -which is the House of God may be filled, as the Evangelist John says, "with the fragrance of the myrrh", with the fragrance of our good faith, with the fragrance of our love, with the fragrance of our good deeds.
With every blessing to you and your families for a pure, blessed and spiritually-rewarding Lent, I remain
Most sincerely yours in Christ,
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in all Diocesan Parishes in lieu of the regular Sermaon at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, March 17, 2002