Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Christ is in our midst! He was and is and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται.
THE PRAYER OF SAINT EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN
O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Your servant. Yes, Lord and King grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother for blessed are You unto ages of ages. Amen.
"Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God." St. Dorotheos of Gaza
The following is a quote from Saint Symeon the New Theologian on Spirituality: "Do not say that it is impossible to receive the Spirit of God. Do not say that it is possible to be made whole without Him. Do not say that one can possess Him without knowing it. Do not say that God does not manifest Himself to man. Do not say that men cannot perceive the divine Light, or that it is impossible in the age! Never is it found to be impossible, my friends. On the contrary, it is entirely possible when one desires it".
HOLY AND GREAT LENT ACCORDING TO OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN TRADITION
The last Sunday before the commencement of the Great Fast (Lent) is called Forgiveness Sunday. At the Divine Liturgy we hear the divine words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
"If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses". (St. Matthew 6:14-15).
But why does the Holy Church want us to begin the Holy Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? Because we cannot approach the Lord with a heart full of malice, hatred, and anger and hope to be embraced by Him. The heart of the believer must be pure and free from evil and darkness. As the Lenten hymn says: "In vain do you rejoice in no eating, O soul! For you abstain from food, but from passions you are not purified. If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast."
Forgiveness stands at the very center of Our Holy Christian faith and of the genuine Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the faith of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Only-begotten Son, Who He sends to us, so that by sharing in His perfect Humanity, we may share in His love and by truly reconciling with Him. Therefore, the Christian faith has no other content but agape.
There can be no communion with God the Holy Trinity, the God of Love as long as we are possessed by the passions. The passions sever all ties with Our Creator and instead bring upon us damnation and death. The sinful passions that control our mind, heart, and soul offend God and drive the Holy Spirit away from us. The Psalmist writes: "Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me". (50  v.11).
The Great Fast begins at holy Vespers of this Sunday. Nothing reveals better the "totality" of Great and Holy Lent in the Church. The service begins as Solemn Vespers. The holy hymns which follow the Psalm "Lord I have cried..." announce the coming of Holy Lent and beyond Lent, the approach of Holy Pascha!
"Let us begin the time of fasting in light! Preparing ourselves for the spiritual efforts. Let us purify our soul; let us purify our body. As from food, let us abstain from all passion and enjoy the virtues of the spirit, So that perfected in time by love We may all be made worthy to see the Passion of Christ and the Holy Pascha in spiritual joy!"
Father Alexander Schmemann writes: "One may ask, however: Why should I perform this rite when I have no "enemies?" Why should I ask forgiveness from people who have done nothing to me, and whom I hardly know? To ask these questions, is to misunderstand the Orthodox teaching concerning forgiveness. It is true, that open enmity, personal hatred, real animosity may be absent from our life, though if we experience them, it may be easier for us to repent, for these feelings openly contradict Divine Commandments. But, the Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them - in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being 'polite' and 'friendly' we fulfill God's Commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize, be it only for one minute, that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person, created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual 'recognition' which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.
On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship; with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood. As I advance towards the other, as the other come to me, we begin to realize that it is Christ Who brings us together by His love for both of us.
And because we make this discovery - and because this discovery is that of the Kingdom of God itself: the Kingdom of Peace and Love, of reconciliation with God and, in Him, with all that exists - we hear the hymns of that Feast, which once a year, 'opens to us the doors of Paradise.' We know why we shall fast and pray, what we shall seek during the long Lenten pilgrimage. Forgiveness Sunday: the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting; our effort true effort; our reconciliation with God true reconciliation."
HOW TO FAST ACCORDING TO OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST:
"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father Who is in the secret place; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (St. Matthew 6:16-21)
Saint Paul in his holy Epistle writes: "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetable. Let him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls, Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." (Romans 14:1-4)
Kali kai evlogimeni tessarakosti to all of you
(A good and blessed forty-day Lent to all)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God