ENCYCLICAL FOR GREAT LENT 2016
Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, writes, “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:19 – 22)
These are good words to begin the Great Fast of our Church. Great Lent is our time to prepare to celebrate the glorious and life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. During these days, we will participate in ascetic disciplines of our Church: abstaining from certain foods, increasing our philanthropic acts, intensifying our rule of prayer, participation in the divine services, and attending to study of our faith. One purpose of these disciplines is to draw our focus inward, in acts of reflection and discernment, on the quality of our lives in all its dimensions.
In the Gospel lessons preparing us for Great Lent, we heard about the desire for God in the story of how Zacchaeus wished to see Jesus. We heard about the judgmentalism of the Pharisee. We learned about how God, our heavenly Father, waits for us to “come to our senses” and return to Him. We heard about how the King of Glory will judge right from wrong. And we heard that our Father does not forgive unless we first forgive others. Through all these lessons, the Church had told us continually that our loving and almighty God always does what is best for His people.
Our discernment during Great Lent is to consider how we are meant to live as God lives, to live as God always intended for us. Saint Paul said, “test everything” including ourselves. Through our reflection, we may see that we are striving to do what God expects and we can rejoice in that. Do we act enough on the promise God has ask us to respond? Saint Paul said, “hold fast to what is good”. But there is the more difficult but honest task of recognizing that we may also not be living up to His commandments and expectations and we “have work to do” on our lives.
“Abstaining from evil” may, at first seem strong, but we must admit that the Evil One continually strives to pull us away from God and His righteousness, His goodness, and His love, usually through the false promises of vainglory, power, riches, and greatness.
Throughout this Lenten period, the hymns of our Church will regularly remind us that the purpose of our discipline is not to be able to boast about the food we deprive ourselves but the ability to control our tongues, the ability to accept our faults and to repent for them, and the ability to soften our hearts and attitudes towards our neighbors, so that our Lord will accept us in the kingdom that He has inaugurated through His Resurrection. What is the benefit of giving up a few morsels of meat or cheese if we continue in our pride and boastfulness or our indifference to our neighbor?
The purpose of Great Lent is to open us to the invitation to follow the Lord, as He will invite us to do in the gospel lesson of the first Sunday, when he called Philip and Nathaniel (John 1:43). The purpose of the Great Lent is to intensify our training as Christians so that we may commemorate the Resurrection and remember the joy of our baptism through which we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27), when we were “buried with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:4 – 5)
For these reasons my beloved, “do not quench the Spirit”, that you have already received in baptism, but nurture it, renew it, and expand the power that it has over you by observing this Great Fast to your fullest capability.
May our Compassionate Lord grant you and your loved ones a blessed, joyful, and rewarding Great Lent.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco