Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Our Lenten Journey

As many Christians are now intensely immersed in the observances of Holy Week and in a few days will be celebrating the great Feast of the Resurrection, we in the Orthodox Church are in the second week of our Lenten journey. Regardless of when we celebrate the Resurrection, it is important for us to remember one very important. In the Resurrection our Lord God removes from our eyes every tear and from our hearts all sorrow and pain and sighing. 

By His suffering, death and Resurrection, Christ prepares an eternal Sabbath for us where we shall live in in joy and happiness with God our Father, Who is waiting for us to be ready, so that he may call us to Himself. Great Lent give us an opportunity to prepare ourselves for that great event. Though it may be scary to think about, we should not fear death, especially if we have tried to live good, righteous Christian lives.

The time will certainly come, my children, and none of us will be able to escape it, that we will face death. The hour will strike and the moment will arrive that our eyes will close in death and our soul will depart the body from which it dwelled for so many years. In an instant we shall see a new world, new beings, a new creation, a new life without end, but only if we have earned it.

Merely accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior does not guarantee that we are saved and will be counted among the blessed in Heaven. No, we must work out our salvation every day. Salvation is a work in progress. It is a continual effort; a work we must strive every day to perfect. Great Lent is a reminder that we must want to be saved; that we must work to be called one of the blessed sheep who will stand at the right hand of the Throne of Glory on the Day of Judgment.

Who can express in words the exultation and joy of those blessed souls who are called to dwell with the Lord? Our wildest imaginings cannot even begin to describe the experience! Oh that we could all be found worthy to be called “sons of the Most High, children of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.”

One of the most beautiful and poignant services of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church is the Passion Service, which the Italo-Greek Church offers on Good Friday from noon to 3:00pm, during which the twelve Passion Gospels are read. Of the twelve, the reading from the Gospel of St. John (John 13:31 – 18:1), which is the first and the longest of the twelve, is my personal favorite. In the Italo-Greek Orthodox tradition, this Gospel is also read at the Divine Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, on Holy Thursday evening. In this reading, which can properly be called Jesus’ farewell discourse, our Lord entreated His heavenly Father on behalf of His disciples and those who would believe through them: “Father, I desire that they also whom You have given Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You did love Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

How great is Jesus’ love for us! He took on human nature, suffered unimaginable torture and suffering, and was hanged and died upon the Cross, freeing us from bondage to Satan and making us worthy of jointly inheriting the infinite wealth of His heavenly Father. Would you do that for someone you loved? Would you willingly subject yourself to torture and beating and scourging to save the ones you loved? How greatly he loves us but how cold and indifferent we are to Him today! We see Him in the homeless person living in a box on the street and we turn our heads and keep walking. We see Him in the hungry and starving and we give Him maybe a mere token meal. We see Him in those who are alone and hurting, who have no one to love them or hold them or tell them they are loved but we do not give them the slightest thought or consideration, except maybe indifferent pity. God forgive our indifference and negligence!

Great Lent is a time for us to reflect on where we are as human beings and, more importantly, as Christians. Are we truly faithful disciples of Christ or are we just His followers in name only? O Lord our God, enlighten the darkness of our hearts that we may see You, the true light that illumines all, that we may be true disciples of You and be worthy of the promises of Christ, Your Son.

My dear children, everything of this world will pass away and end in due course, as if it had never existed, but works done in the name of Christ will remain with the soul that did them so that the worker may reap eternal benefits from them. Blessed are those who do not pursue the material things of this world but seek and store up the eternal things, so that when they die and depart this world, they will find their treasures in God’s treasury multiplied in value seventy times seven and more. Blessed are you who clean your hearts of the weeds of sin and cultivate good fruit, for the time will come when the angels of the Lord will come to gather His due. Blessed are you also who, during this Great Lent, sow tears of repentance with spiritual and physical fasting, that is, always hungering and thirsting for the eternal things of God.

Nothing in this world, my children, can compare to the riches and treasures that await us in heaven. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that these are ours by right; for they are not. They belong to those who are faithful servants of Christ; those who do not fail in their lives to do the works of the Lord because their hearts belong to Him and to Him alone.

The Lord desires us to be with Him. How tenderly and paternally He put it when He spoke to His Father before entering into His Passion. My beloved children, do not forget that we are in this world only for a short time and that the life of each of us dangles by a mere thread. At any moment, any one of us can be called before the dread judgment seat of Christ. What will we do then? What will we say to the Lord when we are confronted with all that we have done and all that we have failed to do while on this earth? It is frightening and terrifying to think about.

Having the knowledge of this truth, let us turn from our selfish and evil ways and turn back to the Lord. It is not yet too late. For those of you who are now in Holy Week, place yourself firmly in the events of the next four days and let not your hearts be troubled. What the Lord is doing for us should give you hope. For those of us who have just started our Lenten journey, let us not take it for granted but enter fully into the life and works of Christ. Let us all glorify the Lord, Who suffered, died, was buried and rose on the third day for our salvation and the life of the world. By our faithful Lenten observance, may we all be counted worthy of the Lord’s holy and glorious Resurrection. Let us pray also that Jesus will count us worthy to celebrate the eternal Sabbath in the heavens, in the New Jerusalem, in eternal joy.

My children, run with humility to reach the Lord, Who humbled Himself for our sake, our sweetest, beloved Christ, the light of our poor souls and the Savior and Redeemer of all.