ON THE OCCASION OF
HOLY AND GREAT LENT
+B A R T H O L O M E W
BY THE MERCY OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
NEW ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH,
TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH, GRACE AND
PEACE FROM OUR SAVIOR CHRIST, TOGETHER WITH
OUR PRAYER, BLESSING AND FORGIVENESS
"Let us listen to the Scriptures on the Prodigal Son who regained wisdom, and let us follow the good example of his repentance." (Oikos from the Sunday of the Prodigal Son)
Beloved brothers and children in the Lord,
By the grace of God, once more we are entering the period of the Triodion, during which the Holy Orthodox Church invites everyone to good repentance. Although, according to the Holy Fathers, good repentance is necessary even for those who are faultless in faith and virtue, many Christians do not understand that they are in need of good repentance. Many Christians refuse to repent, for they are convinced that they have not committed deeds for which they feel compunction and, thus, they do not feel the need to repent.
However, good repentance is a process much deeper than the mere acknowledgement of our sins and recognition of our errors as this relates to our actions. Good repentance should primarily address the thoughts and reflections, and the beliefs and feelings from which our deeds spring. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that our bad thoughts pollute us in the same way as our deeds, and that thinking the commission of evil is equal in weight to an actual commission of sin in the eyes of God. Being indifferent toward our fellow human beings; being confined only to our own selves, wishes and needs; feeling bitterness for other people's actions; lacking in love and feeling hatred and other disparaging sentiments toward others; harboring feelings of superiority, self-affectation, ambition, sensuousness, and avarice: all of these make for a person far distanced from the ideal human being. The ideal human being is characterized by love, humility, meekness, peace, and the forgiveness of God. Therefore, we are all in need of good repentance, of changing our mentality and perceptions regarding good and evil, for we are all very different than the ideal human being.
We all look at the actions of other people. Indeed, we often criticize others for their cruelty, their lack of adequate knowledge regarding the truth on certain issues, and their self-assurance in insisting that they alone know the truth. We criticize other people for their insistence that they are capable of acting, thinking, and judging the best way, regardless of their inadequacies. We need to reflect on whether other people see us in the same light, and we should consider which of our notions we need to change, which feelings we need to improve, which pieces of knowledge we need to examine, change, or enhance. In examining ourselves in such a manner, we may realize that we too lack much and that we ignore our ignorance and our spiritual shortcomings. The Holy Fathers consider as sins ignorance, negligence, carelessness, and indolence; namely, conditions which most of us hardly ever think as abnormal, but for which we nonetheless need to repent.
Besides these things, our love for our fellow human beings and for God is not always adequate, and there is room for much improvement. Therefore, we need good repentance for the little love we show, and we need to demonstrate more love for all others. More importantly, we need to remove from our hearts our criticism of others. We need not feel arrogance, bitterness, or, even worse, resentment toward other people for the way they treat us. We should not have a bad disposition toward others. We need to substitute negative feelings with forgiveness, reprieve and prayer. We should offer our beneficent actions to all of our fellow human beings, even, and perhaps most particularly, to the ones who hate, persecute and harm us. When we examine ourselves to see whether we have it within us to forgive and to love others, we will then realize that we are in great need of good repentance, for we may be lacking in feelings of kindness, and we need to cleanse the inner recesses of our hearts of feelings and thoughts that, though we think they are permanently etched into us, do not befit our Christian identity.
Christ is ready to accept our good repentance and to help us spiritually regroup. The heavens rejoice when sinners repent; indeed, great joy and feelings of freedom and relief overtake the Christian who offers good repentance for what he is, and who wishes for the increase of his love for God and other persons. The soul of the person who clings onto feelings of aversion, hatred and other cruel and non-benevolent feelings toward others and God, on the other hand, is replete with grief and malevolence. Such a person causes pain not only to his fellow human beings but to himself. In fact, the pain he inflicts upon himself is more than the pain he inflicts upon others. The people he traumatizes and hurts may be able to take comfort, to transform their pain into prayer and peace in their hearts. The person who envies, though, who hates and dislikes, who is hostile, and who in general fights his fellow human beings, without repenting, lives an internal suffering caused by feelings of this kind.
The person who is not hostile toward others, but who is indifferent toward God and his fellow human beings and closes himself off from them, may end up in despair before death. Life will have no meaning for him. He may even feel helpless and miserable about the way he leads his life, and he may see no hope. At some point, this person will come into contact with the truth, and he will, inevitably, encounter reality and repent, experiencing change. Repentance will reveal itself in a different and real light than he is used to knowing. If this is a person prepared to repent, and if he is filled with hope toward God, and if he leads his life toward the Father, he will be surprised by the reality he will experience. But, having been familiarized with this good repentance, he will be empowered by its intensity and, he will fight all doubts and throw himself in the bosom of the Father, as did the prodigal son. He will partake of the Father=’s love for which his soul was craving.
If a person, however, was not leading the good path toward good repentance, he will despair before the new reality for which he had never prepared. He will turn his back to the embrace of the virtuous God, and he will torment himself in the negation of the love that is offered to him. Unfortunately, life is filled with regretful, desperate, and disappointed people who hesitate to return to the Father although He waits for them with open arms.
The repentance of every person is inevitable. The time will surely come for each one of us when we will find ourselves before the truth; then, we will realize how far away we were from the truth during our lifetimes. We will change our minds; namely, we will repent. Blessed will be the one who repents the good repentance of the prodigal son, replete with hope, for he will find himself in the bosom of the Father. Miserable will be the one who will not change his mind and will not repent, thus leaving himself without hope. He will resemble the one who admitted to handing an innocent man over to be killed, but, nevertheless, did not ask for forgiveness nor did he cry, but rather went away and hanged himself.
Let us listen carefully to the story of the prodigal son, fathers and children, and let us repent the good repentance in his likeness. Amen.
Holy and Great Lent 2006
Your fervent intercessor before God
+Bartholomew of Constantinople