DIOCESE OF THE MIDWEST
Orthodox Church in America
Ven. Basil the Confessor
Archpastoral Message-Great Lent, 2003
By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion... How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?
Beloved in Lord,
With these mournful -- yet beautifully powerful -- words from Psalm 136, we usher in the season of Great Lent. We are reminded of the words of Saint Paul, who says, "We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Heb. 13:14). We are in Babylon, and we long to return home. We are in a foreign land, where it is often difficult to sing the Lord's song, the song of our true identity and homeland.
For Christians, every land is a foreign land, far from the Kingdom of Heaven. Every land, nation, or city that is of this world sooner or later shows itself to be a land of war, the threat of war, disregard for the divine meaning of human life, greed for material gain, and every kind of moral transgression. Great Lent calls us to mourn this pitiable condition in which we find ourselves held prisoner. Our hearts cry out, "How, indeed, . shall we sing the Lord's song?"
In the light of Christ, however, we find that we can and must sing the Lord's song. We discover that, while every land is a foreign land, it is the land where we have been called to be the witness and reflection of the Light which transfigures all things. By the grace of God, shed so abundantly in our life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we find that the seeming hopelessness of the fallen and broken world can be overcome; beginning in our own hearts, and that even a foreign land can become "home" with Christ dwelling in our hearts. We can experience the foretaste of the Kingdom that is our home: in the Eucharistic banquet of our Lord's Body and Blood; in the divine services of the Church; in the hearing and reading of the Holy Scriptures in the lives of the Saints, who are always present with us in the Church; in our personal prayers; and in our fasting. Having experienced the presence of the Kingdom, we can share it with others through our acts of mercy, and so draw them into the net of God's love and goodness.
This is the "bright sadness" of Great Lent. Though we mourn the sinfulness of the world-the sinfulness of our own lives first of all -- we do not grieve as "others who have no hope" (I Thess. 4:13). Our eyes are fixed on the goal of Holy Pascha, the origin and fulfillment of our Lenten observance. All that we say and do during the days of Lent has but one purpose: to remove the obstacles of our willfulness that blur our spiritual sight, so that we may focus once again on "the hope which has been laid up for [us] in Heaven" (Col, 1:5). It is this hope-in the destruction of death through Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection-that brightens our sadness. It is this hope, sure and certain in the Lord, that enables us to sing the Lord's song even though we sojourn in Babylon.
Dearly beloved, let us begin this blessed season of repentance with joy, pressing on toward the glory of Holy Pascha. Let us always have the Lord's song on our lips, the song which calls us from our exile into the joy of eternal life.
Asking your forgiveness, and invoking God's Blessing upon all of you, I remain
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest