Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The time has come. The hour has been received. The opportunity to respond to our Lord’s gift of salvation is at hand. Beginning with this Sunday evening, The period of Great Lent will begin for 2019. Let us not be like the foolish virgins referenced in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel; locked out, unrecognized; discarded. They were late to the celebration for they were ill-prepared and while leaving to find oil for their lamps, the Bridegroom came, welcomed in the wise women, shut the door of the feast, then found those who wandered through the dark streets in vain, to be unworthy of entry.
Great Lent is the exact time to think of such a message. What shuts us out of the kingdom? What removes us from the sight of the Lord? Are we counted among those whom He does not recognize? Entering into an ascetic struggle, a heightened spiritual awareness, a stricter discipline of prayer, a more conscious awareness of needs around us, and committing to a deliberate attempt at the Fast will allow us to begin the process of attaining wisdom. The wise are saved. The foolish parish. Of course I don’t speak of the wise and foolish as pertaining to the intellect, but rather to the maturity of the soul.
The wise, in this sense, are aware of God’s gracious and longsuffering love towards them. And they respond in kind and with prayerful humility. The foolish depend on only themselves, not realizing that their every accomplishment is actually a blessing from the Lord. Their strengths are freely-given gifts from the hand of their Creator and their successes are allowances from above.
The wise are brought in. The foolish are left out. The wise are welcome. The foolish are sent away. The wise are beloved of the Lord. The foolish, though pitied, are rejected.
The rich and beneficial days of the Fast shape and contour our character, resolve, self respect and dedication. This is the process towards wisdom. This is the rejection of foolishness.
The foolish Virgins were shut out of the celebration for they did not demonstrate a true desire to be in the presence of the Bridegroom. Their words did not match their actions and their efforts fell short of their intentions. Please, as your pastor and spiritual father, I implore you not to make the same mistake as we approach our own entrance into the eternal celebration that is the Kingdom of Heaven.
This Kingdom is re-opened to us by a Savior who died for our sake, rose from the dead and lead us back through the gates of Paradise. This same Savior, before His glory is made manifest before the entirety of the world, will be rejected, convicted, violated, mutilated, humiliated and sentenced to an inhumane death. These are the days when we soberly account for all He came to remove and all He took on for Himself. Our sins placed Him in the Cross. His love keeps us from the jaws of death. His love is sacrificial. Our love towards Him, often times is superficial. We can use the days of the Fast to reverse the course of our stubbornness towards Him, the Gospel, and an actual relationship with Jesus Christ.
The foolish women were kept from joining the party perhaps because they did not keep the commandments, observe the Law, love as He loves serve as he serves. They neglected the weighty and important aspects of life. They were flippant and casual. Now is our chance to not imitate those qualities and suffer a similar fate.
On a practical front, how is this going to be made possible? Will reading more spiritual books during Lent save our souls? No. But it will help. Will fasting allow for life everlasting? No, but it will prepare us for the rigors that will. Will praying more often lead us to Heaven? Well, perhaps no if we are praying for the wrong reasons, asking the wrong questions, blaming the wrong persons and not repenting for the sins committed. These days allow us to put all of these, and other practices to the test. And when observed for the singular purpose of glorifying God, we are seen through the eyes of mercy and judged through the process of forgiveness. That said, during Lent:
Pray more often and come to the Services of the Church. Not for your own sake, but because you love the Lord and desire to encounter Him in His House.
Feed the poor. Not for an eternal reward, but because people are hungry.
Give alms and demonstrate selfless generosity. Not because it makes you feel good, but because it will make someone feel valued.
Visit those who are sick. Not because you need something to do, but because they need someone to see.
To that end, we are in the process of working towards a stronger ministry towards our St. Anna Shut-Ins. If you are aware of someone in your family or a friend who is unable to get to church, please send their information to Gary Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the chairman of our Men’s Ministry Visitation Ministry. And together with our St. Anna Men, I would like to greatly enhance this much-needed and too often neglected ministry.
God bless you in this journey. God strengthen you in the task ahead. God inspire you in the process that awaits. Please be aware that I have received the second shipment of the book Tending the Garden of our Souls, and they will be available for purchase this Sunday. Please purchase this Lenten Meditation book and, as I wrote about last week and have been preaching about for a while, share the daily devotionals with your family and dedicate a deliberate amount of time to contemplation and study. It will be a tremendous addition to your Lenten plans.
And lastly, as you gaze upon the above referenced icon and ponder its theological truths, doctrinal message and Scriptural basis, please also pay attention to the obvious. Read the message and remember we lose an hour this Sunday with Daylight Saving Time.
With Much Love in Christ,
Special Reminder: This Sunday, following the Divine Liturgy, the 2019 St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival will take place in the church. Please join us as we listen to what these brilliant, young people have to share about their vibrant faith.