Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Once again the most inspiring season of Great and Holy Lent is upon us, a time in the life of our Church in which we anticipate remarkable opportunities to grow spiritually in Christ. Before all other matters, we are thankful to God for the gracious extension of time that He has given to each of us to live on this, His Earth, that He created out of His love for us. We are thankful for the gracious addition of one more Lenten season to our life, a season that enables us to experience the unique blessings associated with our identity as Orthodox Christians.
The opportunities afforded to us by the Lenten season as a time for spiritual growth in Christ are replete with multiple elements. The first of these is the spiritual discipline of fasting. In our Orthodox Church, the discipline of fasting throughout the period of Lent is accorded special prominence. This ancient practice of regulating our intake of food and drink according to prescribed measures by the Church allows us to participate in a communal act that sharpens our focus upon the internal disposition of our mind and soul. By focusing on the disposition of our souls, and by exercising control over our bodily desires, we can come closer to a real communion with Christ. This is what is expressed by the hymn from the Matins Service of Tuesday in the first week of Lent: "Come, let us enter the inner chamber of our soul offering prayers to the Lord."
Another element of the season of Great and Holy Lent is the opportunity during this time to enlighten our minds with the divine mysteries and saving truths of our Orthodox Christian faith. During this sacred period, we consider the unprecedented significance of the person of Jesus Christ as Lord and God living among us. We ponder the reality of His continued presence today in our midst, the truly life-altering things that He has done for us, the challenge of living a life of authentic faith in Him, and the obligation each and all of us have as Orthodox Christians to glorify His name by our acts of love and philanthropy to others, which is also a central element of this Lenten period.
The period of Great and Holy Lent is also a precious time for us to strengthen our prayer life, as we are provided with a number of additional services for worship in our Church. Some of these special services throughout the Lenten period include the weekly Liturgies of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil on each of the Sundays of Lent, the insightful prayer of repentance known as the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, the Lenten service of the Great Compline, and the traditional hymns of Salutation to the Theotokos that we chant on each Friday of Lent. Additionally, the occasion for increased Bible study is replete throughout the Lenten season as the services themselves include longer passages from the Old and the New Testaments. These valuable opportunities for worship and for encounter with the Holy Scriptures strengthen our prayer to God, which is an indispensable source of strength and wisdom on our journey in this life and toward eternal salvation.
The culmination of the period of Lent finds its expression in the very special time of the Holy Week, a unique period of time in our Church that presents us with even more opportunities for worship and spiritual growth. During Holy Week, when we meditate on the Holy and saving Passion of Christ, we observe within us a developing spiritual intensity. In Lent, such a spiritual intensity has been constantly growing with the passing of successive weeks, culminating in the saving Passion of Jesus Christ and in the ultimate explosion of joy, namely His Resurrection from the dead. We appreciate the building of spiritual intensity over a delineated period of time since it confirms to us that we as human beings are created by God primarily as creatures of worship. Worship is an advanced mental and spiritual activity that distinguishes human beings alone from all the other creatures that God has created on this earth. In this regard, the period of Great and Holy Lent, culminating in Holy Week, is the most appropriate time to appreciate the tremendous privilege of being human, which means to be a God worshipping being.
My beloved Christians,
As we begin this period of Lent, let us be mindful of the huge blessings that God gives to us each day of this life. Let us express our appreciation for these blessings through fasting, through our spiritual growth, through our increased prayer to God, and through our awareness that He has created us as creatures capable of worshipping Him as our Immortal King and our God. May His infinite love and protection sustain all of you throughout this very holy season, and may your Lenten journey be one filled with opportunities for coming closer and closer to an everlasting communion with Christ our Lord.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America
Archbishop Demetrios is the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of America.