March 3, 2014
Holy and Great Lent
“O God, bestow the fullness of Your grace upon me.”
(Matins of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son)
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we enter this season of Holy and Great Lent, we do so in repentance and prayer, contemplating our relationship with God and the state of our souls. We begin an intense time of worship and reflection, seeking the blessings and grace of our Creator and Redeemer. We commit our time, our hearts and our minds to a journey that will strengthen our faith and lead us to abundant and eternal life.
On this journey we are led by the prayers and services of the Church to reflect on our struggles and our spiritual challenges. We are called into the holiness of worship and the presence of God, so that we might see our weaknesses and the aspects of our lives that are contrary to His divine and saving will. However, Lent is not a time of despair, hopelessness and defeat. It is a season of grace.
From the beginning of the Triodion period with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, to its culmination in Holy Week, this time affirms God’s great love for us. The commemorations, hymns, and prayers constantly direct our hearts and minds to the forgiveness and mercy that He offers to us. With hope in His grace, we sing as the prodigal son, “Open Your arms, O Christ, and in loving-kindness receive me as I return from a far country of sin and passions” (Matins of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son). As we venerate the Holy Cross, we exclaim, “Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the light of grace upon the hearts of those who honor you” (Vespers of the Sunday of the Cross). In affirming that God commends His love towards us (Romans 5:8), we also recognize our need for His grace. We are guided during this solemn period to reflect on our spiritual lives, our actions and attitudes, our goals and wants, and to see how our lives will be transformed by His grace and redemption.
Lent is also a holy time in which we commemorate the Theotokos and many Saints and Martyrs who were filled with the grace of God and offered true and beautiful witnesses of the power of grace. We seek their intercessions, asking them to pray for us and for the gift of God’s great mercy. As we experience the deliverance and healing of His grace, we too become witnesses. With divine peace in the midst of the struggles of life, we praise God for His compassion. With hope in the power of the ineffable and holy Resurrection, we speak of His marvelous grace even in the face of death. We affirm in boldness and surety that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Thus, we begin this blessed Lent seeking the grace of God with contrite and willing hearts. To experience His grace in its fullness, we commit “to exalt our minds from the passions, to arm our flesh with purity and acts of compassion, to make our feet beautiful with the preaching of the Gospel” (Hymn of the Sunday of Orthodoxy). And through discipline and prayer His grace will lead us to a glorious victory of light and life.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America
Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for the Beginning of Great Lent 2014