THE MOST REVEREND METROPOLITAN MYKHAYIL
Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan of All America
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Cheesefare Sunday, March 9, 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Great Lent is known by many names and comprises many themes. It is a combined effort of body and soul, to attain spiritual renewal, which is seen most completely and directly in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Lent is a season when we focus on the Passion of Christ, a term which has come to refer to Jesus’ suffering, death and burial. In our times, Lent then, has become principally a yearly spiritual journey with Jesus, to Jerusalem, to the olive garden called Gethsemane, to the hill of the Cross and to the rock-tomb, which was donated him by a close and well-to-do friend. Of course, what we know, that the first disciples did not, was that all this would be vindicated by the Resurrection.
Also during Lent, the church, through its liturgical books, reminds us to cast aside our own “passions” on the way to Jerusalem. Repeatedly, the services tell us that we must rid ourselves of those things which separate us from God, as we keep up the pace with Christ, towards to Holy City. If we keep the Lenten time seriously, we will gradually throw to the side of the road, all those things which are a hindrance to true peace of mind, to real solidarity with others and to a soul which is in close communion with God.
The icon I have chosen as a theme for this year’s journey of Great Lent is indeed unique in its message. Through the artist’s hand, Our Lord appears, with the marks of the crucifixion, gazing at us through the barbed wire of a prison window. What is not made known to us is if Jesus is looking from the inside out or from the outside in. For this answer, we ourselves must reflect and pray.
Certainly, there are many ways in which our sins imprison us and separate us from the road of Christ. In a similar manner, our sins and those of world humanity, continue to hurt Our Lord and to put him yet again in prison, as he was at the time of his passion. The Gospel of Meatfare Sunday, (Mt. 25: 31-46) assures us that Christ identifies with the “least ones” of the earth and that the suffering and alienation which they experience are also visited upon the Lord himself, who ultimately, shall judge the world accordingly.
We can use this time of Great Lent to reflect on this theme of imprisonment and suffering. We can make it an opportunity to change. We can reach Jerusalem as people who have experienced a spiritual awakening, who have cast off the oppressive ways of short-sightedness, selfishness, stubbornness and pride. In prayer, by concrete actions, through many prostrations and finally, through the sacrament of confession, we can repent of our faults and self-serving passions and become people cleansed and liberated from all that causes our lives to be off-balance with God.
It is my prayer that our journey through Great Lent will be one which frees us and leads us to a deeper relationship with the Lord, with each other and with ourselves. As members of humankind, we must take responsibility not only for our own faults, but for those of the entire human race. In this regard, we must use our voices and our abilities, to speak out against injustice wherever we may recognize it. In the final judgment, it will not be enough to “watch and pray” (Mt. 26:41) that things improve for the “least of our brothers and sisters,” but what “we do” or “neglect to do” (cf. Mt. 25:45) will be integral in compiling our “account before Christ.”
The future of this world is, to a large degree, up to us and Lent is a good time to ponder it. Let us do what we can. If we can help the environment by being more responsible, let us do so. If we can bring greater attention to the poverty, persecution, humiliation and oppression lived by our sisters and brothers throughout the world, let us speak our minds. If we can make use of our relationships in the local community, to bring about a more just society, then let us be visible and participate in those activities which will help God’s reign to be more firmly planted on the earth.
While we journey through Lent, in the hope of reforming our lives, we ultimately must deal with the idea of forgiveness. While we speak of this often, sometimes it is not easy to admit that we need to be forgiven. Let us not forget to ask forgiveness, repeatedly, from God and from each other. We need to recognize that our failings can cause suffering and moreover, that in a corporate way, the human race has collectively brought about many of the things that we like to find “wrong with the world.” For these times, we can only say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk. 18:13).
While I assure you of my prayers during this holy time of the year, I humbly ask for your prayers and your continued cooperation as “co-workers in God’s fields” (1 Cor. 3:9). If we take this time seriously and, over the course of Lent, change and reform things about ourselves which are lacking, the Lord will be pleased with the good work we have begun. Our good efforts will be blessed with the joyful news of hope, given us by his glorious resurrection.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan of All America