Encyclical for Great Lent from Metropolitan Gerasimos

Dearly Beloved,
“The Great Commission” was the theme of our recent Clergy-Laity Assembly: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
As we begin the Great Fast, these words of the Lord can enlighten our Lenten journey. We call this passage “The Great Commission” because with these words, our Lord and Savior, shortly after His Resurrection, sent forth His disciples into the world. They went from “disciples” or followers of Jesus, to “apostles” sent out by Christ to continue His mission to the world.
Our Lenten journey that will culminate in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ will also prepare us for the apostolic work of going into the world to share the good news first proclaimed by Jesus. The Lenten practices of the Church will prepare us when we observe them: prayer, fasting, study, philanthropy and charity. Jesus Himself becomes our example. Jesus prayed to His father, so we must pray regularly during this season. The New Testament recounts many occasions when the Lord “went off to pray”. The Church, in the parish, offers us many opportunities for prayer and worship.
Jesus fasted, especially during the forty days in the wilderness, before He began His public Ministry. The Church continued to observe a fast, especially before beginning significant work (Acts of the Apostles 13). The Church has taught us to fast for forty days in imitation of Christ, which also prepares us for the work of the Church.
Jesus knew the scriptures. We remember how He used the words of the Scripture to respond to those who would challenge Him or merely ask a question, whether it was the Scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, even Satan himself. We should devote time to studying the Scriptures and the Teaching of our Holy Orthodox Faith during Great Lent so that we may edify and equip ourselves for the mission ahead.
Jesus’ philanthropic acts were seen in His many miracles of healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. His ultimate philanthropic act was His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. Great Lent is our time to increase our philanthropic and charitable acts to support reconciliation, healing, and care for those around us. Our parishes offer many opportunities for service and giving during these days.
We typically think of Great Lent in individualistic and pietistic terms. It is a time of turning inward personally. And indeed, it has these strong elements. Yet, when we consider the goal of our Lenten journey, we can see how the inward dimension is preparing us for the outward work of sharing the Gospel with all. The first people we must share the Gospel with is our children, both at home and in your parishes. Witnessing our example, our children will see the significance of Great Lent in our lives. We should also instruct our children in the ways of the Church, connecting Lenten discipline and practices with our faith in Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, “The Great Commission” has been given to each of us, just as it was given to those first followers of Christ. The Church, during Great Lent, shows us the way to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and for our apostolic work in the world.
May our Lord grant you and your families a Holy Season of Great Lent filled with soul saving experiences as we proceed to witness His Glorious Resurrection.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
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