Orthodox Observer - March 5, 1997
Archbishop's Encyclical for Great Lent
Holy and Great Lent
To the Reverend Clergy, the Presidents of the Parish Councils of the Churches and Communities, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth and the entire devout Plenitude of the Holy Archdiocese of America
My dear Christians,
The blessed season of Holy and Great Lent is once again at the doors; coming to bring us an opportunity for spiritual resurgence, a greater devotion to our souls and a more substantive personal participation in the sources of our faith and salvation.
All this will be achieved by a spiritual return to the Lord of Glory, Who, as a good and loving bestower, is ready to grant His rich gift of salvation to whomever should come forward freely to receive it.
The Divine Liturgies of St. Basil the Great and the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, the Triodia, the Psychosavvata, the Great Complines, the Salutations to the Virgin, the Vespers of Contrition (on Sunday evenings), the Great Canon and all the other special liturgical services, which our Church places at our disposal during Great Lent, commence a period of repentance and turning back to the path of salvation.
The Holy Church, stressing the importance of this period of forty days, has wisely fixed the yearly celebration of specific and remarkable events in the history of salvation, as well as certain holy personalities, in order to demarcate the boundaries, as it were, of the course and character of this present life. Thus, She prepares us for our return to the Lord of Glory and participation in His divine grace.
Great Lent is divided into five weeks, which begin with the blessed Sunday of Orthodoxy. Already, from the eighth century and after, the victory of the depiction of holy persons over the imprudent heresy of the iconoclasts, who denied any such depictions, was identified with the name of “Orthodoxy.”
On the second Sunday we celebrate one of the leading personalities of the Church, our Father among the Saints, Gregory Palamas, who stood up against the anti-hesychastic heresies of western scholasticism, and taught the true theology concerning the union of created man with his uncreated Creator, whereby theosis is attained, that is, likeness with God.
The third Sunday is dedicated to the Veneration of the Cross. On this day, the mystery of the Cross is put forth as the model way of sanctification, which cleanses the ailing nature of our humanity and opens it to the horizon of joy and resurrection. The Cross reveals our true politeia -our citizenship on high- which is characterized by humility, forgiveness, sacrifice, death and resurrection.
The fourth Sunday presents to us the great abbot of the Monastery of God-trodden Sinai, the holy John Klimakos, who authored a work which has a special place in the readings of Great Lent and is comprised of divinely revealed knowledge about the soul and the way to purification and self-knowledge. This Saint of the desert explains to us how “the Kingdom of heaven is within us”, for he outlines the ladder -the klimax- of the soul’s virtues, which culminate in theosis.
The fifth Sunday is dedicated to Saint Mary of Egypt, who passed through this present life as a devout ascetic, that is, in total self-denial and repentance, rejecting transitory earthly pleasures and fixed only on things eternal. She is an example of unrivaled spiritual consistency and orientation.
Thus, with these holy feasts, these persons and their deeds we are led to Palm Sunday so that we may receive the Lord of Glory and follow Him on the way of His martyrdom, by which He fulfilled the expectation of all ages and the purpose of the history of the world, the victory over evil, redemption, our very salvation!
My fervent prayer to the Lord of Glory is that He may grant unto all of you to be prepared by the means our Mother Church has provided us, that we may worthily celebrate the feast and solemnities of Pascha. “The contest in the race for virtue has begun; let those who wish to run the race enter in.”
With much fatherly love,
[ signed: † Archbishop Spyridon ]
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America
[ Orthodox Observer, Vol. 62 - No. 1124, March 5, 1997, pp. 1-2 ]
*) Protocol Number 11/97