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February 24, 2012

Beloved in Christ, the Right Reverend, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Reverend Deacons, and all the faithful of the Holy Diocese of Los Angeles and the West:

Greetings and blessings in the Name of our Lord.

Great Lent approaches, the “springtime of the Fast” (idiomelon of Vespers, Wed eve of Cheesefare). Here is our holy “tithe of the whole year” (sessional hymn of Orthros, Monday of Cheesefare), in which we cast ourselves upon the divine Mercy. Now is the season for each of us, and for our holy parish and monastic communities, to plow the untilled fields of our souls and no longer to sow among the thorns of our passions and sinful habits (Jer 4:3). Rather, through intense and heart-felt prayer, with prostrations, with fasting and tears, let us “break up the fallow ground” of our souls. Then, we shall be prepared to receive the “latter rain” (Joel 2:23) of the Holy Spirit in “the liturgy of the Master in Sion” at Holy Pascha. But what is fasting and tears without mercy and love? What is prayer without flight from destructive desires? “Before Christ’s death upon the saving Cross, sin ruled supreme… Men were counted happy because of sensual pleasures, and only a few despised the appetites of the flesh… But now fasting is held in honour, abstinence is glorified, and prayer is offered up…” (idiomelon, aposticha of praises, Orthros, Friday of Cheesefare).

But even more important than all of this, rich and therapeutic for souls and communities as these ascetical endeavours are, we must conclude with soul-saving and life-promoting Forgiveness! We begin the Great Fast under the echo of the holy words of our Saviour, “if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Gospel of the Liturgy, Forgiveness Sunday). My brethren, dear to God, decide today to let go of the offense of your neighbor. Let us bow one to the other and say from the heart, with all purity of intention, “Forgive me, the sinner!” and let us blame ourselves and take full responsibility for our faults, not blaming others any longer. Remember the thief on the Cross who had no opportunity for fasting, alms, or any further action. He repented in humility and “stole paradise with a word.”

I bow before you and I am the first among you to say, “forgive me!” May this holy Lent be truly a “joyful sorrow” (haralipi) leading you to full participation in the Paschal Victory!

Yours in Christ,
Diocese of Los Angeles and the West
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
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