GREAT LENT 2014
To the Reverend Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Diocese of the West
Let us begin the Fast with joy! Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts! Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh! Let us abstain from every passion as we abstain from food! Let us rejoice in virtues of the Spirit and fulfill them in love, that we all may see the Passion of Christ our God, and rejoice in spirit at the holy Pascha!
(Lord I Call Stichera, Forgiveness Sunday Vespers)
We are now on the threshold of the great spiritual effort of Great Lent. It seems a little strange to hear “let us begin the Fast with joy,” when the long seven weeks of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and repentance seems more than a little dark and somber. But we must always remember the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, who spoke of Great Lent as a “bright sadness.” The “sadness” is the realization of how far away we are from our Beloved and the effort it will take to come back to His embrace. But the “brightness” is the joy of our realization that He has not abandoned us, but has come down to us, become what we are, and goes to the grave itself to rescue us. The darkness of my life engulfed in sin always ends in the light and redemption of resurrection, if I so desire it with my whole heart and strive to make the journey. May it be so!
So we move into the difficult effort of return. We must guard against reducing our Lenten efforts to a “checklist” of dietary restrictions, the number of prayers we say and services we attend, the amount of spiritual reading we do and the number of times we confess our sins. All of them are absolutely necessary and indispensible, but must be done with sincerity and humility, trusting that God knows our weakness and strengthens us in our efforts. May we all truly repent of our sins and lament our separation from the Bridegroom. May we all feel the emptiness of true battle with our appetites and passions, opening our mouths only to nourish ourselves and not to consume our brothers and sisters.
I ask your forgiveness as we enter into this holy time of year and wish for all my faithful parishes and each and every one of you a most fruitful and joyous Fast. May we all rejoice in the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection at the end of the bright sadness!
With love in Christ,
Archbishop of San Francisco