|Protocol No. 229|
† 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 renounced 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 the 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 unneeded weight; it 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 unto 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 the 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 persons 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 against 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.
Holy and Great Lent 2005
Your fervent intercessor before God
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople