From the desk of Fr. Andrew

March 2019

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Sunday, March 10, 2019 is the fourth and last preparatory Sunday before Great and Holy Lent. It is known as both Cheesefare Sunday and Forgiveness Sunday as well. The day after, is of course, called Clean Monday and is the official first day of the Forty-Day Fast. Cheesefare Sunday's Gospel reading reminds us that as we prepare to enter Great and Holy Lent it is of the utmost importance that we come to forgive and to be forgiven. The two work hand in hand and it is clear from the Gospel lesson that we will not be forgiven by God until we come to forgive those who have trespassed against us - Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Forgivenss, unlike fasting is a Christian virtue. Forgiveness is one of those virtues that is considered to be one of those deposits we put into our treasury spoken about from Sunday's Gospel. Fasting on the other hand is one of those tools to help us make that deposit. Forgiveness is the virtue, and fasting is the practice to help us attain that virtue. Sunday's Gospel lesson instructs us not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth ... for where your treasures are, there will be your heart also. Through fasting and prayer, if we can acquire the Christian virtue of forgiveness, then we begin to make deposits into our heavenly treasury. For some, the Christian virtue of forgiveness is difficult but from the Gospel of Luke 17:3-4 the words of Jesus are very clear and I encourage each and every one of you to read or reread His words, and then, more importantly, practice them.

Some times to forgive and to be forgiven take some time and is challenging. However, this challenge can be overcome through prayer and fasting. Fasting should make time for prayer and while in prayer, we cannot but be truthful with ourselves, if we truly believe that Christ is present and listening. And we tryly do believe this, don't we? When we stand of kneel in prayer before our ikonostasion, before our icons, the responsibility we have toward ourselves, each other, and toward God should become very clear, and our hearts should begin to soften a bit - and, O what blessing it is for us to soften our hearts. All through the Old Testament and into the New, God is trying to get His people to soften their hearts, and that should be one of the major goals of our fasting and prayer during the upcoming Lenten season. God instructs His people over and over again not to be, as He calls it, hard-hearted and stiff necked.

My Friends, we are still God's people and He is still trying to get us to soften our hearts. The Epistle reading that is paired with the Gospel lesson reminds us that now is the appropriate time to begin to soften our hearts. Today is the time to acquire the virtue of forgiveness. Now is the time to start filling our heavenly treasuries with Christian virtues. Today is the time to seek out and to offer forgiveness.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, fasting is an ancient practice, still important to us as Orthodox Christians today. Fasting should help us acquire the Christian virtues of patience, humility, and specifically for us today (and always) forgiveness. However, if we fast for the sake of fasting, then quite possibly the practice is empty. It may be void.

St. Matthew's Gospel reminds us not to become or be like the hypocrite. A hypocrite is someone who plays a role. He is in essence, an actor. He is someone who just goes through the motions, quite possibly for the applause of the people. As we lean into Great and Holy Lent, may our fasting produce good fruit like the virtue of forgiveness. Let us not be like the hypocrites who only play the role. Instead, let our fasting and our prayer be for the transformation of our hearts, from hard to soft. Let us work toward the virtue of forgiveness and make that deposit, so we may begin to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, because where our treasures are, there will our hearts be also.

As for me, please know that I do not hold grudges. I try to live what our patriarch, His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, has written in one of his letters:

...The memory of the evil deed is a new appropriation of evil, a continuous resuscitation of the evil deed, which is no longer due to the person who committed it once, but to the person who suffered it but does not wish or is unable to forgive.

I choose to experience the evil deed once, work through it and move on. As Great and Holy Lent commences on Monday, March 11th, may the Lenten period bear good fruit for you as an individual, your family and for us as a faith community all together.

Καλή Τεσσαρακοστή! / May you have a fruitful Forty Days!

God's continued blessing, +Fr. Andrew