Pastoral Letter March 3, 2019

For Discussion – What is harder – asking a stranger to forgive you, or asking your family to forgive you?”
                                                      – Question posed in ‘Tending the Garden of our Hearts.’

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is in our Midst!
He is and Ever Shall Be!

The time is at hand, the hour has nearly arrived. The fruitful, contemplative, reflective, penitential, ascetic and productive days of Great Lent are upon us. In little more than a week; one precious week, we will immerse ourselves in the most valuable time of the church calendar – the days that will prepare us for the richest and most profound celebration in the history of creation. Great Lent is a time when our spiritual disciplines are intensified and the loving, ever-present Lord is given a greater portion of our every day, in every way. We are called to pray more intently, worship more frequently, fast more diligently and give more generously. That, my Beloved, is the standard and the blueprint for Lent. Follow those guidelines, and your relationship with Christ will be more vibrant than ever before.

It’s simple. It’s just not easy.

Of course, if it were easy, then there would be no value, no purpose, no challenge. Great Lent is a challenge; it is a collective challenge and indeed, a personal challenge. Everyone of us will approach these days differently. Some of us will have a history of Lenten journeys behind us, having build up a multitude of experiences. For others, we are delving into uncharted waters. We may be new to Orthodoxy. We may be new to fasting. We may be new to an intimate and complete relationship with Christ. Perhaps in the past, we were afraid to fully commit. Perhaps we were too lazy or distracted. Maybe we are still lazy and distracted, but let’s be a little less lazy and a bit less distracted today. And let’s do it together.

As I announced last Sunday, I am presenting a lovely opportunity to the good people of St. Anna’s that will enrich and bless us. Through the years, there have been many Lenten Meditation books that are designed to create a consistent and measured approach to our Lenten readings and devotions. A new book has been recently published that is refreshing, practical, rewarding and motivational. The cover of this book is above and is the center of my challenge to you.

This year, I propose that we begin a new tradition at our beloved St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church. While I encourage you to participate in everything, like our increased worship schedule, parish retreats, and Wednesday-evening guest speakers. But these experiences all take place at the church. How can I, as your pastor, support and encourage you to take home the principals and lessons that are acquired within the sanctuary and lecture hall, and put them to use in your living rooms?

Using this book will help. And next year, we’ll use another book for the same purpose. What is the purpose? Two fold:

To learn something each day that you might not have thought about before.

And to commit to a disciplined regiment of a spiritual nature.

If you have children, participate with them, and use the ideas that were created for Orthodox young people to guide them through Lent.
If you are a couple, read, pray and discuss these meditations together. If you live alone, this gentile read will guide you, no differently.

We will have these books available this Sunday in the Narthex at a discounted rate of only $15.00. If I see that we have or will run out, I’ll order another case on Monday. We will have them in time for everyone to begin.

To add to the accountability and motivational factors, I will be preaching from this book each Friday evening of Great Lent at the Salutations Services. I will also have a special receptacle placed inside the church in front of the icon screen. Here, you are encourage to write down your own, personal and private thoughts on the lessons and meditations. Treat them as a journal entry; articulating the lessons learned, the values gained, the challenges introduced and the complexities experienced. Putting your thoughts into writing will help to galvanize the effort and crystalize the purpose. I will not read these notes – these little love letters to yourselves – but I do plan on sending them to the authors after Pascha, so they can reflect upon what you say, what you write and how you think, in the hopes that Elissa and Kristina will be motivated to continue their efforts in producing tools that will help us attain the Kingdom. To be clear, they did not request this. But doing this will help us, and them.

That is my challenge to you; that is my challenge to myself. I look forward to the spiritual rewards and the difficulties that will, no doubt, present themselves. I anticipate failures mixed with successes. I suppose there will be opportunities to be proud of my accomplishments and disappointments that will stare me down. And all the while, I, together with my family, will tend to the garden that is our hearts.

During Great Lent:

Participate in Divine Services.
Pray Earnestly.
Fast with Discipline (safely and with common sense).
Be Generous Alms-Givers.
Read, Meditate, Reflect and Respond.

With Much Love in XC,
Fr. Anthony