The PAOI at Berkeley
Today is the beginning of Holy and Great Lent for all Orthodox Christians. This is a special time for us — or it should be — if it is understood and practiced for the right reasons. In today’s society Great Lent by and large means very little to most; and it is well known that few of us are able or willing to stay the course on Great Lent’s journey. We hesitate to enter the arena, therefore, there is no spiritual exercise or fight. We tend to give up before we even begin because we haven’t challenged ourselves. Our goal, however, remains the same: “Pascha, our Lord’s Pascha!” If we allow it to come and go like Christmas or our birthday, then the joy is short lived because there is no real commitment on our part. We forget that Christ’s Pascha is our Pascha! And we too must ascend Golgotha, if we hope to bask in the light of salvation.
Why do we wish each other “a blessed Great Lent”? Why would we bother, if we aren’t going to do any of it? While this sounds negative, allow me, if I may, to make a positive point that will benefit everyone asking the same questions. Holy and Great Lent has a beginning and an end. It starts today, and it ends Saturday night at the Paschal Vigil, at the stroke before midnight, when with great anticipation we watch the celebrant come out of the Beautiful Door holding his lighted candle inviting us to “Come, receive light from the Un-waning Light”, followed by “Christ is Risen”, to which we all joyfully shout out: “Truly, he is Risen!”
So, what is expected of us regarding Holy and Great Lent? What have we been taught? If we don’t already know, how can we learn what the Church in Her divine wisdom has programmed for us as we enter the spiritual arena and begin our Lenten Journey towards Pascha? We all pretty much have an inaccurate idea of what Great Lent is, and we need to change our thinking. To do this, “metanoia” (repentance) is the best tool the Church gives us. We live in a modern and western society, so we are naturally swayed by what the mood or trend is, or we are blindly obedient to something that is not even remotely Orthodox. Here’s where we must begin to unravel our misconceptions of Great Lent. It is not punishment for our sins. It is not meant to make us feel sad, self-pitied or depressed. It is not judgment for “mea culpa, mea culpa”.
Rather, Great lent is a time of bitter-sweet joy. It is the perfect gift to grow deeper in our faith, by reflecting upon how to renew our spiritual lives — to “take stock”, as it were. In all this we must see “The Light” at the end of the tunnel. As Orthodox Christians, we must take advantage of a phrase that we read in the translation of the Triodion into English by Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. In his piece, “The Meaning of the Great Fast,” he quotes Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid, who, when describing the Resurrection service in Jerusalem, said: “We waited, and at last our expectations were fulfilled”. These “expectations” suggest that there was some serious preparation beforehand, and that they just didn’t show up at the last minute. Chrysostom in his Paschal Homily is very gracious when he welcomes those who come at the eleventh hour to attend the banquet. This is the spirit of Orthodoxy! Therefore, let us not be lackadaisical, rather let us strive to be among those who come at the first hour. That will make all the difference in the intensity of the light and our joy during our Paschal celebration. It’s good food for the soul!
Speaking of food, while we eat less and limit our diet to leave more time for prayer and vigilance, the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute knows little of fasting or abstaining. Rather, bills must be paid, daily and monthly. Therefore, I am taking the liberty of enclosing with this letter an envelope asking you to generously support the institute’s needs and expenses. I feel certain everyone connected with the PAOI in some way wants to see it shine brighter, with more fervor, as we strive to serve all the Orthodox faithful who reach out to us for spiritual and academic nourishment about our Orthodox Church.
Yesterday was Forgiveness Sunday; today is the beginning of Holy and Great Lent. Forgiveness is necessary only when there is the absence of love — even for a second — and human error overshadows our ability to love as God loves us. In this instance we ask for forgiveness so as to “put right” our relationship with God and with each other. When we are one with God there is no need to forgive because we are in union with Him who created us in His image and likeness. On behalf of the entire PAOI family, and my unworthy self, may we all have a blessed and fruitful Lenten journey, so that our expectations will be fulfilled and Christ’s Pascha — our Pascha — will become the brightest one yet.
Clean Monday, March 2, 2020
I assure each of you of my fervent prayers to Christ on your behalf,
Bishop of Rhodopolis
Primate and Exarch of Lazica,
Director of the PAOI