Protocol No. 229
ON THE OCCASION OF
HOLY AND GREAT LENT
B A R T H O L O M E W
BY THE MERCY OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
NEW ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH,
TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH, GRACE AND
PEACE FROM OUR SAVIOR CHRIST, TOGETHER WITH
OUR PRAYER, BLESSING AND FORGIVENESS
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
"Time has come for the beginning of spiritual toil, the victory against
demons, the fully armored self-restraint, the grace of Angels, our
outspokenness toward God?".
The period of Holy and Great Lent interrupts the dullness of our routine;
it is the ultimate time of spiritual struggle.
One more arena of toil opens up in front of us. This is an Arena where
not only the body strains, but also the spirit. It is a great Arena, in
which all of us can and must participate, unequivocally. This "arena of
virtues", as holy hymnography describes it, does not have tiers. It does
not allow for spectators. It only provides tracks for contenders. Its
judges and spectators are watching from heaven above, namely, the Lord,
the establisher of good struggles of Faith, and the Saints, who have
already taken part and excelled in these struggles and have received
their winning wreaths and trophies. They stand to watch our own efforts,
to admire our own accomplishments.
We have essentially entered this arena of spiritual struggle already from
the moment we were baptized. It was then that we dismissed Satan and his
works and clothed ourselves with our Lord Jesus Christ, as with a robe as
white as snow, Whom we promised to follow throughout our life.
Selfishness and our attraction to life's vanity, in conjunction with the
incessant "war" which the devil works against us with "simple
all-encompassing sin," render us many times lethargic; as a result, we
abandon our exercise in Christ and sink into obliviousness of
indifference. Following that path, though, leads us astray from the
source of life, Christ, until we are completely separated from Him. This
is exactly what death is all about. Eternal, horrible, true death.
Because as much as Christ is Life, true Life, eternal Life, that is
exactly how much estrangement from Him is death, deprivation of Life, Joy
and Light - total loss of everything.
Thus, the Mother Church, exercising wise care, established the period of
the Fast so that we may all remember our duties emanating from our holy
Baptism, and may understand that we are by definition contenders and
athletes taking part with the grace of honor in the various sacred
exercises: forgiveness of one another, fasting, prayer, charity, patience
in sorrow and hardships of life, perseverance in pain, and the offering
of brotherly love to one another.
Fasting relieves the body from not needed weight and juices and empowers
prayer, humbles the sense of one's worth, and opens up the gates of
repentance. Physical "repentance" strains and exercises the body, but it
also constitutes a clear demonstration of our self-knowledge that we are
sinners and fallen people, and that in repentance we ask God humbly to
bring us back to life. It is a confession and prayer in which the body
partakes as well.
Charity sanctifies fasting and makes our prayer more agreeable to our
Merciful God. Our patience in illness, pain and sorrow leads us to the
footprints of the holy Martyrs and secures for us tremendous gifts and
wreaths from our Lord. Our act of forgiving all who have harmed and hurt
us in any way, and our love for all, seal our genuineness as Christians
and render us emulators of Christ. The frequent study of the Holy
Scriptures, the teaching of the Fathers and the lives of Saints give our
spirit necessary food, which we need so that we fight well and until the
The "appropriate hymn" of piety which we are urged to repeat many times
during our struggles of Lent, and moreover, while prostrating, is the
prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: "Lord and Master of my life, do not
give me a spirit of idleness, curiosity, lust of power and occupation
with trivialities. Instead, give me, your servant, a spirit of prudence,
humility, patience and love. Yes, Lord, make me able to see my own
faults and not judge my brother, for You are blessed in the ages of ages.
Amen." In this prayer, we invoke Him, the Lord and Master of Life and
ask through Him to be delivered from the four main evil spirits, the four
most hideous passions. We also ask to be endowed with the four most
principal good spirits, namely the four most important virtues. At the
same time, we ask that we be given the virtue of self-knowledge, so that
we then may occupy ourselves with our own sin and not that of others.
This prayer may very well be the most wholesome and beautiful prayer of
Brothers and sisters, let us enter the holy Arena. Let us begin, with
the blessing of God and the Most Holy Theotokos, the good struggle of
repentance and purification through fasting, self-restraint, forgiveness
of one another, patience, acts of charity, prayer, and love. Let us
struggle with the grace of honor like all Saints -- with a yearning for
Christ and spiritual "nobility," with humility but also with fervor. The
Mother Church, from the martyred Seat of the humble but perpetually
bright Phanar, sends to all her blessings and urges in love that no one
remain inactive, seek out a seat in the tiers, or remain indifferent to
the trumpeter calling us to spiritual exercise.
"Time has come?" beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord. The word time
does not just mean earthly time; it also means "opportunity".
Blessed be God, Who presents us with yet another Great Lenten period, yet
another opportunity to fight spiritually and to win over the devil, sin
and death, an opportunity leading to repentance and salvation. To Him,
the Savior God, belong the glory and the power unto the ages. Amen.
Great and Holy Lent, 2004
Patriarch of Constantinople
fervent intercessor to God for all
To be read on Cheesefare Sunday, March 13,
after the Holy Gospel