My dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
“The arena of the virtues has been opened. Let all who wish to struggle for the prize now enter, girding themselves for the noble contest of the Fast; for those that strive lawfully are justly crowned.
Taking up the armor of the Cross, let us make war against the enemy. Let us have as our invisible rampart the Faith, prayer as our breastplate, and as our helmet almsgiving; and as our sword let us use fasting that cuts away all evil from our heart.
If we do this, we shall receive the true crown from Christ the King of all at the Day of Judgment.”
I greet you with love and humility in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now that we have entered into this special and blessed time in our lives, Great and Holy Lent, I give thanks to Almighty God. In His infinite wisdom and mercy He has granted unto us all, unworthy as we are, yet another generous gift of time that we may find our way to salvation.
Today we begin our Lenten journey, a time of spiritual struggle, intensified prayer, more liturgical services and a stricter rule of fasting. All of these tools provided by our Holy Orthodox Church are intended to prepare our hearts for the commemoration of the suffering and death that our Lord willingly accepted for our sake: “the Cross, the spear, nails, death itself,” and the glorious victory of His Resurrection where our deliverance is fulfilled and the power of death is slain.
As we enter Great Lent, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. In this holiest period of our ecclesiastical year, we should honestly examine our relationships with our families, our parish families, friends, neighbors and co-workers, and the Church in general.
After all, a fast without mutual love and forgiveness is “the fast of demons.” Part of our salvation in our daily lives is practicing love and forgiveness. Forgiveness is truly a glimpse of the Heavenly Kingdom in our sinful and fallen world. Only a with God’s grace and a repentant heart can we return to unity, love and harmony.
Great Lent involves hard work: on ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, our relationships with those around us. Our Lenten discipline of fasting, prayer, and charity is given to us not as a burden or a hardship but rather as a way of restoring us to a right relationship with God, our neighbors, and ourselves. The Church invites us to transform our lives and to receive abundantly both peace and joy. Lent is an opportunity to renew our souls, minds and bodies, by entering more fully into a Christ-like life.
Therefore, as we begin our Lenten journey together, I am asking for your forgiveness, as in turn I forgive any of you as your Hierarch, and I call upon you through prayer and fasting to uplift each other and forgive and be reconciled. I ask you especially to pray for your Bishop, who has so many struggles personally with the clergy, parish councils, the Faithful and the world.
With these thoughts, I pray that this period will be a time of reflection, a time of renewal and time that will allow us to be spiritually transformed, as we truly celebrate His Resurrection in our own hearts and lives. With my paternal blessings and love, I prayerfully wish you a blessed Great Lent, as together we seek forgiveness and salvation.