DIOCESE OF THE MIDWEST
Orthodox Church in America
Great Lent 2005
Glory to Jesus Christ
We have come once again, dearly beloved in the Lord, to the Lenten Spring: the season of cleansing, repentance, renewal, expectation, and joyful anticipation. I pray that our merciful and loving God may grant us all a good beginning to the Fast-for a good beginning is very important-and grant us as well to persevere in spiritual effort, keeping our sights set on the goal before us: namely, to stand at the Cross of Christ, beholding His divine and immeasurable love for mankind, and to hear the angel announcing to the Virgin that the tomb is empty and that the Lord has risen from the dead.
As we begin the annual process of reacquainting ourselves with the Divine Services of Lent and their truly remarkable texts, we can take notice of how much we sing about dogmatic teaching and the struggle against heresy. This is especially true of the first two Sundays. A good illustration is from the Canon at Matins of the Second Sunday:
Holding fast to your inspired teaching, we reject every false invention of the heretics, and we put them all to flight with your holy writings, 0 Gregory
Brothers and sisters, we live in a society that assiduously avoids the use of words like "heretic," preferring instead terms like "variant opinions," and in common American usage, unless otherwise qualified, the word "dogmatic" is automatically understood as pejorative. Yet, here we are, praising the dogmatic teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas, and rejoicing that heretics are not only refuted, but also put to flight!
It is good that we should so rejoice during this season, for the journey of Great Lent-as an icon of the entire Christian life-is above all a journey of truth: the truth of our own sin and unworthiness; the truth of our need for repentance; the truth of God's limitless grace and compassion; the truth of the Cross; the truth of the Resurrection. And truth is, by nature, dogmatic-it is not debatable or relativistic. We must, therefore, be constantly vigilant against anyone or anything that distorts the truth, for then our journey will not be directed properly, and we will not reach our intended goal.
We must also, however, take great care with our rejoicing in the dogmatic teachings of the Holy Fathers. It is very easy to succumb to the temptation to rejoice, not because the wisdom of the Church is true, but because somebody else is wrong. When heretics are condemned and put to flight, we dare not rejoice because some one who is in error finally got his well-deserved punishment. Indeed, we should mourn the fact that he cannot see the error of his way. Our task is not to punish heretics-it is, rather, prayerfully to discern what is false; to avoid it; to root it out, so that we may cling to God's truth, in which is our salvation. This is another reason that we rejoice in the Holy Fathers, since they are our invaluable and heavenly guides in this discernment.
Moreover, as we praise our Holy Fathers in God for their dogmatic teachings, we need to hear all that they have to say to us, both in their words and their deeds. It avails us nothing to proclaim that error has been put down if this leads us only to pride and a kind of "superiority complex." In the same Canon in which we extol the triumph of Saint Gregory's teaching, we also sing:
In your wisdom you have put to death every lust of the flesh that is condemned to perish, and through asceticism you have brought your soul to life, devoting all its powers to the contemplation of God.
This brings us to the real point of our rejoicing in the defeat of heresy. The truth that Saint Gregory defended is that it is possible for us to draw near to God; that we are able, by His grace, to have real communion with Him, but there is ascetic effort involved. We are all more than happy to proclaim the triumph of Orthodoxy, but are we as eager to embrace the ascetic way that Saint Gregory-with all the saints-leads us to? This is the challenge and the struggle of our Lenten journey in the truth.
Invoking God's Blessing upon all of you; asking your forgiveness; and with prayerful best wishes for a fruitful Lenten observance, I remain
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest