“Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life: for early in the morning my spirit seeks Your Holy Temple…”
As we commence our annual journey through the Great Fast, the words of this hymn should resound within us. We began chanting them at the first Sunday of the Triodion and we will continue to hear them throughout our Lenten journey as a continual reminder of the purpose of this holy season: repentance or metanoia. During the Lenten season our Orthodox Faith places the tools of repentance in our hands, inviting us to use them to deepen our relationship with God. The hymn tells us that repentance is found in the holy temple of the Most High God. Naturally when we hear “temple” we think of our church and the many Lenten services and programs that areset before us. We can find repentance when we partake of the spiritual banquet of Lenten services and educational opportunities offered in our parishes and participate in them, listen to them, and heed their counsel.
During Great Lent, the banquet of holy services replaces, or is intended to replace, the banquets and parties that dominate the rest of the year. Our diets will change so that we may focus on the other changes that are needed in our lives. A hymn from Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera) says it best, “May this first day of the fast, be for you, my soul, a time of abstinence from sin, of turning towards God and drawing near to Him.”Turning toward God also happens in the temple, to be sure, but when we hear “temple”, we can also understand it to mean the Body of Christ, our fellow parishioners, and our neighbors.
Turning toward God and turning away from sin involves turning toward our world and increasing our acts of philanthropy and charity. As we hear on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, “Knowing the commandments of the Lord, let this be our way of life: let us feed the hungry, let us give the thirsty drink, let us clothe the naked, let us welcome strangers, let us visit those in prison and the sick.”
Increasing our philanthropic and charitable activity as individuals, parishes, and as a Metropolis, are just as important during Great Lent as observing the fast. How does replacing a hamburger with shrimp in our diets brings us closer to God or inaugurate His Kingdom when we observe hunger and poverty in our communities? Financial donations, but more importantly, person-to-person, face-to-face support, care, and assistance is the command of the Lord. Our Metropolis Strategic Plan calls for an increase in our works of philanthropy and charity. Great Lent places this challenge before us – on a daily basis. And whom shall we assist? Our prayers during Lent place no limits on our philanthropic acts and concerns. The Anaphora of the Liturgy of Saint Basil, which we will hear for the next five Sundays, offers the gifts for all humanity and concludes with the phrase, “and unite us all to one another….” The prayer connects us and invites us to identify with all the people that have been named. The prayer is a prayer of catholicity and solidarity for all, no matter their status in life, and with no conditions upon their worthiness for such mention or for our solidarity with them.
During the Great Fast we are thus given two interrelated commands: to look inward through the services and ascetic disciplines, and to look out
ward through acts of philanthropy and charity to our neighbor. Our inward Lenten journey is meant to be an outward Lenten reach to all in need, restoring our proper relationship to all.
May these Holy Days of the Great fast which are upon us, be filled with the understanding of God’s precepts provided for us during this period, for the salvation of our souls as we prepare to navigate the great ocean of the fast and reach the joy of His Holy Resurrection.
With Love in Christ,
G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco