JORDANVILLE: February 20, 2007
GREAT LENTEN EPISTLE OF HIS EMINENCE METROPOLITAN LAURUS, FIRST HIERARCH OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OUTSIDE OF RUSSIA
Reverend Fathers, Dear in the Lord Brothers, Sisters and Children:
I send my heartfelt greetings to all of you on the arrival of the salvific period of Great Lent, the time designated for our inner self-examination. The Holy Church summons us towards this, that we purify ourselves with augmented prayers and fasting, that we illumine ourselves with the reading of spiritually-beneficial books and approach our God and Creator, our Heavenly Father and Closest Friend, Who invites us into His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Love, Peace, Mercy and Light.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says: "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). And also: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).
So, dear in the Lord fathers, brothers, sisters and children, in order that our prayers, labors of fasting and repentance be pleasing to God and that they gain for us the absolution of sins and the renewal of our inner strength, we must be at peace with our neighbor.
In fact, how could our prayers, fasting and repentance be a pure sacrifice before God if they emerge from hearts that are filled with hatred against others? We must read the Lord's Prayer often: "Our Father… forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors." By keeping enmity within our hearts, how dare we utter these words of the Lord's Prayer? Would not our prayer then remain a hollow sound? Would we not be lying brazenly before God? We often hear the exclamation during divine services: "In peace let us pray to the Lord; Peace be unto to all." These words demand of us that we approach prayer having first made peace with everyone, so that we stand before God without anger or malice. Or, when the Holy Church prepares us for the worthy participation in the Divine Liturgy, she also reminds us of reconciliation and love as necessities for our fruitful communion with God and each other in the Mystery of Communion. "Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." In the ancient Church, in witness to this mutual love, Christians who prayed during Divine Liturgy kissed one another; now this is performed only by the priests within the altar, while all others, as they hear this exclamation, must establish love and peace for all within their souls. How dare we, fathers, brothers and sisters, perform or pray during Divine Liturgy with hostility in our hearts, and approach Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ our Savior, Who, as He was crucified, prayed for His enemies? We will truly enter into communion with God only when we expel from our hearts wrath and wickedness.
St Anastasius of Sinai recounted the story of one monk who led his life in sloth and disregard for monastic rules, who during his final moments felt special spiritual joy. The other monks were amazed at this and asked him what brings him such joy. The dying monk responded thusly: "I watched as the holy angels shredded the lists of my sins, for though I lived carelessly and slothfully, I never condemned anyone, never remembered the evils of others."
And so, reverend fathers, brothers, sisters and children, as we remember the testament of our Savior, the call of the Holy Church, and as we immerse ourselves in the spiritually-beneficent Lenten time by taking the example of the Holy Fathers, let us strive especially to prevent enmity, hatred and anger amongst ourselves, and instead let peace, love, trust and other Christian virtues eternally abide among us. Let us try in our earthly lives fulfill in deed fulfill the instructions of Apostle Paul to the Christians: "let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26), "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18), "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21), and may the Lord help us in these holy days.
Once again I greet you all with the Great Lent and prayerfully wish every one of you reconciliation with God in His image, which is reflected in our neighbors. Let the purified heart of each one of us become the Life-Bearing Tabernacle from which the Resurrected Lord will shine forth. Let everyone see in our eyes and in our lives this Triumph of Christ over evil, over sin and over everything horrible in this world. Greeting the Pascha of Christ in this way will be the finest way to preach the truth of Orthodoxy. In this bright state, I hope, we shall approach the canonical actions which will serve to the reestablishment this year of peace and unity within the Local Russian Orthodox Church.
May this be within the souls of each one of us. Amen.
With love in the Lord, I beseech your prayers,
+ Metropolitan Laurus,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia