we are now posting to our website the various communications that our friends and customers have always enjoyed.
A Lenten letter below
A Brochure of suggested Icons, books, CDs and gifts for the season
Great Lent Newsletter and Donation Appeal 2008
Early Lent Newsletter and Donation Appeal 2008
My Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
As we look towards the beginning of this Great Lent we are struck with the mystery of love, with the mystery of forgiveness, and with the mystery of ascetic struggle with our own sins and imperfections that separate our minds and hearts from the Living God Who manifested to us as Jesus Christ Incarnate and continually sacrifices Himself through patient and severe suffering in this Holy Season. His life is our book of life and how to prepare to live in blessedness when we leave this world. In that book we see how He calls us to live in this world: in repentance for our sins and many faults and in lively expectation of His Kingdom coming near to us. That is why He began His public teaching with these words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And here we see the inextricable link and innate oneness of His Death on the Cross and His Glorious Resurrection. Together, for actually they are just two aspects of one continuous action of Christ for our salvation, they bring the Kingdom of God tangibly near. Together they also bring the contrite and the necessary humbled grateful state of heart in us when we fast, pray, and give alms this Lenten Season so that we are open to that Kingdom which can know no end. Great Lent is the best preparation to live in Heaven.
So what are these three mysteries? Let’s consider them one at a time, but ending with love for that is the greatest of all mysteries, for God is Love. Why do we fast and why do we struggle with our many sins? When Christ lived on earth He Himself fasted, even for 40 days, and we have a clear tradition in the Church of ascetic or active struggle in each generation of Christians since those days. When He was asked why His Disciples did not fast, He said that they would when the Bridegroom was taken away from them, and so they did after He died. When we fast we begin to control the root passion of the desire to get and do what we want and when we want it. This habit of self-gratification and self-will is the foundation of addiction to sin and its following justification. Every time we graze in the refrigerator, or snack continuously throughout the day, we are reinforcing our greed, gluttony, and lack of self-control; and this reinforcing makes our desires ever harder to control. Essentially, the rise of the pattern of lack of restraint makes us unfit for the Kingdom, for we need to become more consciously like Him and He was never passionately addicted to anything.
Prayer is the very best means of connecting us with God’s mercy and strength to struggle with our sins and then enter an elevated and holy way of thinking and living until we can attain by His Grace “the fullness of the stature of Christ.” We were created in His Image and Likeness, but have to regain what was sullied by sin and the love of pleasure and self-will in our life. Both prayer and fasting are like a mirror. When we do them more consistently, we become aware much more clearly of that part of us that doesn’t want to be measured and self-controlled, and its consequent habitual will to seek what we want, even if it isn’t our best choice. We can then see more clearly our sins and desire for sins like little wrinkles that appear when we get closer to the mirror and look more intently. How can we repent when we are unaware of our sins? This is impossible. The first step of repentance is to see more clearly our sins. Prayer and fasting bring this into bright focus. It is this contrition of heart in seeing our sins and being pained by it that opens the heart to change. When we are open and pray earnestly for help, He comes to change us. Our efforts open the door to repentance, let us struggle to keep the door open.
Forgiveness is the next mystery to behold. Why forgiveness? On the Sunday before we enter the blessed time of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, all of the Faithful come together after Divine Liturgy and ask mutual forgiveness of each other at the end of the Vespers that begins the Lenten Season. Most often this Sunday is called Forgiveness Sunday for there is a focus on forgiving others to prepare for this time of increased struggle with our own sins. There are several things to consider here. First, we need to be forgiven for the many sins that we have made against God and our neighbor, whom we need to learn to love to fulfill the two great commandments. Second, we cannot truly receive forgiveness except by giving it first. This is clear teaching in the Church, for Christ said as we forgive, so are we forgiven. Here is a wonderful thing, by constantly asking forgiveness and seeking this forgiveness, we become softened and humbled to a blessed state of heart open for Christ to fill with all good things. Forgiveness also brings us down from our high horse of thinking that we are better, for this is pride, the root and foundation of all evil. When we see that we need forgiveness (and this is a continuous and expansive vision in truth) then we quickly gain sympathy for others who are ill like us, and stop judging and blaming, and start to look at our own illness and concentrate on changing ourselves by God’s Grace. Forgiveness is a fresh breeze upon the heart, and the preparation for love.
What can we say about love? This mystery penetrates every aspect of this Creation, for it was made in love by Love Itself, which is a mystery of the Holy Trinity, for God is Love. We must think often about this Love that is so freely given to us, for to learn to accept ourselves and be encouraged to make efforts to conform ourselves to Christ, we must accept His unconditional Love that defines our personhood, for He made us. This is our security that underlies a healthy sense of self-worth, not the unhealthy pride which is its substitute. What makes us so worthy and special (but not more than others) is this defining Love of God for us and His creative act that made us and loves what He has made and sees that it is good. When we are secure in this fact, then we can face the great work of change from the distortion of His Image in us into a fallen person now who doesn’t want to repent, or is incapable of real change. Since Jesus Christ is our only Saviour, only He can change us. Since He is a person and so are we, and we need His help to change, this comes about by developing and living in a more complete and loving personal relationship.
Our job then is to cooperate and work with Christ to let Him restore us to His Image and Likeness in the fullness of the Communion of the Saints. This cooperation is what we can bring to our relationship and our repentance. It is necessary, for without it, God will do nothing against our will, so we cannot repent. This blessed change is the repentance and life of a Christian, and we are invited into the process. Let us do so with gratitude and love. When we are more like Him, then this manifests by an increasingly generous heart, for He is most generous and tender-hearted. Alms-giving is the practical means to increase this generosity in us. That is why Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) What we give to others will have an end in time, but what we receive from Christ in a generous heart will live forever.
That was a lot to say and to consider. Please pray for me as I am a very small and frail person.
God bless you and keep you in His Holy Name,
Keep us in your prayers and love,
Your Brother in Christ,
Father Simeon, Abbot and Archimandrite
and the Monks of St. Isaac of Syria Skete
and the Nuns of the Convent of St. Silouan