Beloved in Christ,
We now stand at the entryway of Great Lent. Words cannot describe the gift of God that awaits us in this season of repentance. The grace is inexhaustible, and the opportunities are endless. The possibility to escape the death-grip of sinful and selfish habits that we have been unable to shake off on our own is presented to us once again in the participable behaviors of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
In the lenten weekday services, we will recite many times the life altering prayer of St. Ephraim, asking the Lord to not allow our laziness, despondency, ambition, careless speech, and judgmentalness, but to grant us purity, humility, patience, love, and the ability to perceive our own sinfulness. If we can sincerely desire this, and with the Lord’s help turn inward and see our own sins, St. John Chrysostom says we will have done something greater than raising the dead.
Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was meant to jar us awake, presenting not just another parable, but a prophetic look into the final judgment that awaits us all. This remembrance of death was meant to focus us on the fact that the good we do – or do not do – in this present life will follow us into the next. This life is meant for us to do something with.
Today we recall the excruciating mistake of our forebears that we also make constantly. We recall God’s merciful remedy of separating Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life, so that they would not be able to eat of It and live forever in their fallen state. In today’s Gospel, and after Liturgy we will experience today’s second commemoration: Forgiveness. Connecting these two commemorations, St. Maximos the Confessor goes so far to say that if Adam and Eve had repented and asked God’s forgiveness after making their cosmic mistake, rather than pointing the finger, they would have been forgiven and reunited to God immediately. All would have been restored if they would have simply asked.
We too are given this same opportunity while we are alive. Christ warns us in love today of His conditional forgiveness: It is so accessible, closer to us than even our own breath, but we must be willing to forgive in order to receive forgiveness.
My brothers and sisters, I encourage you – and lovingly plead with each of you – as a soul for whom I will give an account for at the judgment seat of Christ: Don’t miss this infinitely-potent season. It might be your last one. Commit to every church service offered, trusting that God will provide financially and energetically for you and your family. Commit to Confession as much as possible and practice receiving forgiveness, so that you can also practice forgiving others. If you have felt far from God at all recently, now is the time to regain His companionship.
If you haven’t already, when you go home today, take some time to examine your daily and weekly routine. Strategize about how you can participate as fully as possible, because the devil strategizes against you. Ask the Lord to enlighten you, saying:
Help me to see the things in my life that aren’t absolutely necessary for salvation. Help me remove them from my routine, at least for this season. Help me replace them with the services of the Church and personal prayer, and awaken me to the needs of those around me – those whom you have given to me for my salvation, and those to whom you have given me for their salvation. Help me not to despair if I fall back into my old habits, but to perceive you as the loving Father you are, to run to you in repentance, being inspired to keep trying. Help me to be grateful for, to respond to, and not to waste your merciful gift of being able to repent before I die. Convict my conscience with your Holy Spirit and make it sensitive again to your will. Grant me a deep and persistent desire to be like You.
If we can not only say, but do this, we will be a new person by the end of Great Lent; we will be a closer likeness to Christ. Try it out. Because the extent that we participate in this season of repentance is the same extent that the Resurrection will burst forth from our souls and bodies as it does from Christ.
Please forgive me, and may God grant to all of us a fruitful season of repentance!