Orthodox Observer - February 20, 1999



Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"While the Bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the Bridegroom do not fast, do they? So long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the Bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day."  (Mark 2:19-20)

The days of the Holy Fast have indeed come, days in which we look eagerly for the return of the Bridegroom of the Church, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Just as a young wife, awaiting the return of her longabsent husband, cannot make merry, cannot enjoy food or drink, cannot even sleep, so too the Church waits with longing for Her Beloved, by fasting and by keeping vigil in the beautiful services of the Church. These holy forty days are days of contemplation, days of self-evaluation, days of contrition and repentance -- days in which we make a conscious effort to face the reality of our fallen human condition and reawaken our hunger for God.

The season of the Holy Fast that lie ahead is also a season for reflection and commemoration. In the Sundays to come we recall the great works that God has performed in, through, and for His holy people. We witness that -- through synods and saints, through prayer and fasting, and above all, through the power of the Precious Cross -- the grace and mercy of the Holy Trinity has been bestowed abundantly upon sinners like ourselves. In the coming Saturdays of Lent we commemorate those who have fallen asleep before us in the hope of the resurrection and eternal life: fathers and mothers, forefathers and forerunners in faith, godparents and friends, and many other people through whom God has shone His love upon us.

But the true spirit of the Fast is not exhausted simply in looking back and contemplating the past. Rather, Lent is a time for looking forward with yearning and anticipation. We look ahead as those who await with faith the glorious Feast of Pascha and the radiant celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour from the dead. We also look ahead even further, to the great and awesome Second Coming of Christ and to the resurrection of all humankind. We look ahead as those who find no lasting comfort or satisfaction in the present world. We look ahead as those who would, if possible, hasten the coming of the Day of God (cf. II Peter 3:12). We look ahead as those who long to see the glorious face of the Bridegroom, to hear His divine voice of love, to be clothed in the purity of His redemption, and to enter into His radiant bridal-chamber forever. We look ahead as those who cry out from the heart, "Maranatha! Even so, Lord Jesus, come!" (cf. I Cor. 16:22, Rev. 22:20).

Saint Gregory the Theologian has beautifully summed up the essence of our Lenten vigil in saying of the Lord, "He thirsts to be thirsted for" (Oration XL.27). May this season of physical askesis and self-denial lead all of us to a great hunger and thirst for God, a greater zeal for holiness, a greater awareness of our sins, and hence a greater longing for "the crown of righteousness that the Lord will award to all who have loved His appearing." (II Tim. 4:8).

I pray that our Lenten season may truly be blessed with greater gratitude for all that the Lord has done for us, greater repentance in our present life, and greater hope for the glorious future which the Son of God has prepared for all who eagerly await His return (cf. Hebrews 9:28).

Καλή Σαρακοστή.

[ Orthodox Observer - February 20, 1999 - p. 8 ]