NEW YORK: March10, 2011
Great Lenten Epistle of the Primate of the Russian Church Abroad
In that Thou art compassionate, O Christ, I pray [Thee]:
By true fasting and repentance bring to life a soul done to death
by the fruit of transgression; and grant that I may always walk in the
straight and good paths of Thine honored commandments,
that having obtained Thy divine glory, with all who
love Thee I may glorify Thy goodness in all things, O Jesus.
-Sessional hymn after the Second Kathisma on Monday of the Second Week of Lent
Beloved in the Lord Archpastors, Pastors, Monastics and Laity!
Once again we enter a special period in church life—Great Lent. All of us, burdened with life’s struggles, in the rhythm of modern life, cannot help but “travel in the distant land,” and may God grant that we be as wise as the Prodigal Son who returned to his father, having understood his poverty and inability for an independent, cognizant life because of his sins. But we are often so burdened by temporal life with all of its bothers and complications that we forget our very purpose on earth.
The Lord, desiring the salvation of each person, having spent forty days in the desert in fasting and prayer, showed us the importance of these labors. Lent is a special time in the life of the Church and of every one of her members, a time when we are called upon to concentrate on pondering our life, recognizing our faults and the feebleness of the human intellect which is not illuminated by the light of Divine Truth, and destined for death. During Great Lent, we must regain sobriety, directing our lives onto the track of God’s commandments, and this is helped by the length of the services and their special repentant mood. Every Great-Lenten song is filled with humility and the recognition of the sinfulness of human nature, with prayer to God, the Mother of God and God’s holy saints, prayer that we sinners will not die but, purified, obtain Eternal Life.
As we proceed through Great Lent, which is great not only in its length but in its austerity, we must not fall into despair, for as we pay heed to these same repentant Great-Lenten prayers, we also hear the firm voice of hope and reliance on the mercy of God. Indeed, this Lenten period is not a time when we must assume the likeness of a sufferer, or like the Pharisee, praise our own Lenten podvigi, for Lent is a tool and a means by which we once again regain clarity and boldness of mind, remembering that we Christians are only travelers on this earth and that we strive for our Heavenly Fatherland, strive towards our Father! We must pray to God, humbly beseech Him that we worthily pass through the period of Great Lent.
Every week of Great Lent provides us with an example of growth in spiritual life: the Week of the Triumph of Orthodoxy shows us the correctness of the chosen path, the victory of the Church of Christ over the devil; the second week is devoted to St Gregory Palamas, which shows us the path towards Light, and so to the true path; the Veneration of the Cross emboldens us in the middle of the difficult but salvific road; St John of the Ladder, remembered during the fourth week, presents us with the Ladder upon which upon which, girded with purposeful desire, we will no doubt ascend on the path of our spiritual growth; St Mary of Egypt, as a bright lighthouse shows us that even in depths of dishonor, we can be elevated towards God even in our earthly life, so long as we have patience and genuine repentance in the sins we have committed.
The crown of Great Lent, the fore-image of future life, is the Greatest of Events in the whole world, the Bright Resurrection of Christ, the Pascha of the Lord! It is this great celebration of the spirit over flesh that we must behold over the course of this long but salvific Forty-day Fast, remembering that as we proceed properly along the path of Great Lent and preserve piety within our souls throughout our entire lives, we will be bestowed with undying life through the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad