“Where shall I begin the work of my salvation?” cries out a hymn of Clean Monday.
The Lenten Season, now upon us, calls us into a time of reflection on the state of our lives and our souls. We are invited by the Church to observe the Great Fast, to devote more time to prayer and worship, to engage in study, and to offer charity and serve the world around us. The hymns of the next forty days will instruct us in the fast, will encourage us in philanthropy, and will call us to renew our souls and lives through repentance. Your parish will offer many opportunities for you to participate in worship, in opportunities for study, and in philanthropic acts, and many other activities with your fellow parishioners and to carry the lessons into your homes and families.
These Lenten practices are not ends unto themselves. Rather, these disciplines serve as potent correctives to the way the world tells us we are to live all the days of our lives and not just for the next forty days. They are meant to focus our energies on improving the condition of our souls. The world says to be happy we must follow paths that lead to the accumulation of wealth, power, and status. And when we achieve all these, we are not satisfied. We become anxious, desiring to keep them, and then acquire even more.
Our Lenten disciplines remind us that we do not need all these “things” and, in fact, we can live quite well without them. The Lord says, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Our Lenten disciplines challenge us to break the cycle of acquisition and anxiety and to be free of “things” that instead burden us and our souls. The Great Fast teaches us that we can live simply and with less. Our time in prayer and worship of God teaches that power belongs to Him. Our charity and study teaches us that status is fleeting.
The work of our Lenten journey is an accumulation of the fruits of the Spirit. For the next forty days we will be challenged to put aside what the world values and acquire something greater. What we are to accumulate during Great Lent is a spirit of “love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control” (Galatians 5:22). These next weeks are a time for cultivating these virtues in our lives and souls so, as a hymn states, “may be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His Holy Pascha.”
Beloved brothers and sisters, the work of salvation begins very soon. Do not despair at the task at hand. Rather, as the hymn of Clean Monday states, “Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the Holy Commandments of Christ our God”.
May this spirit of the anticipated joy of Holy Pascha at the end of our Lenten journey, be your guide during this most Holy Season of the Great Fast.
With Love in Christ,
G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco