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Catechetical Homily on the Occasion of Holy and Great Lent

 

Protocol No. 229

CATECHETICAL HOMILY

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

end.

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

repentance.

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

+ BARTHOLOMEW

Patriarch of Constantinople

fervent intercessor to God for all

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To be read on Cheesefare Sunday, March 13,

after the Holy Gospel

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