Holy and Great Lent, 1997

BARTHOLOMEW

By the mercy of God Archbishop of Constantinople
New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch:
unto the entire plentitude of the Church
Grace, Mercy and Peace from Christ our Saviour

Beloved Children in the Lord,

With the help of our Lord Who loves us, we have entered upon this yearís devotional season of the Triodion and have commenced Holy and Great Lent.

Herein is the spiritual wealth of our Orthodox Church made manifest as well as her ever-vigilant care for the salvation of her children.

In order to assist us to follow from the start the right path of spiritual askesis, she opens the period of Triodion with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Here, in the reading from the Gospel we are presented with the Pharisee, who justifies himself through pride and thus condemns himself. Conversely, the Publican who condemns himself is justified through repentance.

Our virtues and our achievements lose their value when we display them like the Pharisee, for the sake of self-glorification and the disparagement of the weakness of our brother. Similarly, our weaknesses and sins can be transformed through humility and repentance as opportunities for salvation and spiritual joy.

He who loves only self is arrogantly proud. He is a braggart. Blinded by the abundance of his own values, he condemns and underestimates his peers. In the end, such a one is self-condemned. He loses even that which he imagines he has. He is abandoned to isolation and ends up in the hell of loneliness.

He cannot find anyone to say a good word about him. This is because he never placed any balm of consolation on the wound of another, nor poured any wine or oil as did the Good Samaritan. Only words of condemnation and judgment issue forth from his mouth for his fellow beings.

All this comes about because he is ignorant of the Sacrament of Repentance. He does not know "what tears can do"; how much consolation God grants to the humble and contrite in heart; what streams of joy and spiritual gladness he who repents with sighs and tears receives.

He who is humble and contrite in heart receives a divine visitation which fills him with grace and makes him wise. He condemns no one. He considers all human beings as good. He makes no pretense for himself. He is not angered when others accuse him. He waits patiently and advances joyfully along the path of salvation. He has given himself totally to God and always remains calm in Him. For this reason, whenever he prays in repentance, he is humble-minded, for he hopes only in the mercy of the Lord. And whenever he tastes the joy of Paradise in all its fullness, he gives thanks: for he knows that every good thing comes from God. Within, he is all aglow with divine consolation and thus without even knowing it, he becomes a light to the world.

Beloved brethren and children,

If there is within us a seed of virtue and piety, let us not obliterate it through pride.

If there is within us weakness, let us not further weaken and choke it through desperation and self-love. There is a way of salvation. Humility brings the grace of the Spirit to the struggling faithful soul. And that same humility guides that weak man who has fallen into the passions, unto salvation by means of repentance.

If we desire to lead joyful and successful lives, let us not squander our time in vanity. But let us be at rest. Let us be at rest, not as those who are far removed in the desert places, but by entering into the sacred sphere of the Publicanís contrition, where the condemnations of the Pharisees are not heard, but the soul of the humble is mystically nourished by divine consolation.

If we desire to be truly filled, let us fast according to the directions of our Church. And we shall find "the Holy Spirit is the most perfect provider."

If we desire to enjoy the gladness of the justification which comes from above, let us confess our sinfulness as did the Publican and seek mercy from God Who alone is All-Good.

If we desire blessed consolation, let us go to our Holy Orthodox Church and to Her services, especially on the days of the Holy Fast.

Our Holy Church knows how heavy laden we are. With the advent of Great Lent, she desires not to add to our burden, but rather to deliver us from the ones we have. She knows how to transform sorrow into joy and grief into gladness. She leads us into the true life of the Spirit, Where apparent sufferings, misfortunes and trials are revealed to be blessings, which soothe our pain and render us sympathetic and merciful.

If we desire the Resurrection and the fullness of life, let us imitate the patience of the seed, which by dying in the earth issues forth with the miracle of the first budding, the first flowering and finally mature full fruit in God.

And so let us pass through this long winter of vivifying mortification with patience and repentance, abiding in the good and blessed earth of Great Lent; so that we may become worthy to concelebrate with the Saints the All-Saving Resurrection of the Lord unto Whom belong all glory, honor and worship unto the ages of ages.

May His grace and infinite mercy and our paternal and Patriarchal blessing be with you all.

Your fervent supplicant before God
+Bartholomew of Constantinople

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