On the occasion of the beginning of Great Lent
From a homily delivered by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (+2003) on March 16, 1986.
We are now moving from the "strange land" (this refers to the state mentioned in the Psalm "By the waters of Babylon" - Ed.) into the land of glory, to meet our Living God, as children of His Kingdom. For us, the church building is now an image of our situation: we stand in semi- darkness, and see the Glorious Light of God, His own dwelling place—the Altar—ﬁlled with the light of Glory. We know that Christ brought Light into the world, that He is the Light, and that we are children of the Light. Now we are hurrying to move out of the darkness into the dusk (the sunset), and from the dusk into the bright shining glory of the uncreated Divine Light.
In any journey, when we have just left a familiar place, we are still ﬁlled with familiar feelings, memories, and impressions. Then they gradually begin to fade away, until nothing is left but our focus on moving toward our goal. This is why the penitential canon of St. Andrew of Crete is read during the ﬁrst week of Lent. For one last time, we reﬂect on ourselves, for one last time we shake the dust from our feet, for
one last time we remember the wrongs of former years.
Before approaching the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, on which day we remember that God was victorious, that He came and brought truth into the world, brought life, and life abundantly (John 10: 10), brought joy and love as well—we turn one last time toward ourselves and to one another to ask forgiveness: Loose me from the bonds my unworthiness has fashioned, the bonds that fetter me; from the bonds that are fashioned of sinful acts and sinful neglect, of what we did to others, and of what we could have done but did not, things that could have Before approaching the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, on which day we remember that God was victorious, that He came and brought truth into the world, brought life, and life abundantly (John 10: 10), brought joy and love as well—we turn one last time toward ourselves and to one another to ask forgiveness: Loose me from the bonds my unworthiness has fashioned, the bonds that fetter me; from the bonds that are fashioned of sinful acts and sinful neglect, of what we did to others, and of what we could have done but did not, things that could have brought such joy, such hope, and that could have shown that we were worthy of God's faith in us…
Therefore, over the course of this coming week, let us reﬂect upon ourselves one last time, let us look at one another, and become reconciled to one another. Peace and reconciliation does not mean that our problems have ceased to exist. Christ came into the world in order to reconcile the world to Him and in Himself, with God, and we know at what cost He did so: helpless, wounded, defenseless, he gave Himself up to us, saying: do what you will, and when you have performed the ultimate evil, you will see that My love was unwavering, that it was there in time of joy and in time of piercing pain, but that it remained, always, love.
This is the example which we can, and must follow, if we want to be Christ's own. Forgiveness begins at the moment we say to one another: I know how fragile you are, how deeply you wound me, and because I am wounded, because I am a victim—sometimes a guilty victim, and
sometimes an innocent victim—I can turn to God, and from the depths of my pain and suffering, shame, and sometimes despair, can say to the Lord: Lord, forgive him! He knows not what he does! If he only knew how his words wound me, if he only knew how much destruction he is bringing into my life, he would not be doing it. But he is blind, he is immature, he is fragile; and yet I accept and welcome him, I will carry him or her as the good shepherd carries the lost sheep, for we are all lost sheep of Christ's ﬂock. Or I will carry him or her or them, just as Christ carried the cross: even unto death, unto cruciﬁed love, when we receive the power to forgive everything, because we have agreed to forgive everything and anything that might be done to us.
Therefore, let us enter into Great Lent, as people who move out of utter darkness into dusky semi-darkness, and from the dusk into the light, with joy and light in our hearts, having shaken the dust from our feet, loosing and casting off all of the entanglements that keep us in slavery: in slavery to greed, envy, terror, fear, envy, mutual misunderstanding, and self-absorption—for we live imprisoned by ourselves, while God has called us to be free.
Then we will see that step-by-step, we are crossing, as it were, a great sea, from the shore of utter darkness and semidarkness, into the Divine Light. Along the way we will encounter the Cruciﬁxion. At the end of the journey, day will come, and we will face Divine Love in its tragic perfection, before it overcomes us with inexpressible glory and joy. First the Passion, ﬁrst the Cross—then the miracle of the Resurrection. We must enter into the one and the other. Together with Christ we must enter into His Passion, and together with him enter into the great rest and the brilliant light of the Resurrection.
For myself, I ask of you forgiveness for everything I should have done but did not, for the fact that I do things in a disorganized manner, and for many, many things that should be done but remain undone.
But let us support one another in this journey of mutual forgiveness and love, and let us remember that on the difﬁcult path, at a critical moment, quite often someone from whom we had expected no good, someone we had considered a stranger or even an enemy, extends a hand. Sometimes. such a person sees what we need, and responds to it. Therefore, let us open our hearts and eyes, and let us be ready to see it and respond.
Let us ﬁrst approach the Icon of Christ, our God and our Savior, Who paid a heavy price for the power to forgive. Let us turn to the Mother of God, who gave up her only-begotten Son for our salvation. If she could forgive, who could deny us forgiveness? Then let us turn to one another. And while we move about, let us already begin to hear, not a penitential chant; but let it be as if we hear from afar the approaching hymn of the Resurrection, [the hymn] that will become louder at the half-way mark of the journey, when the time comes to bow down before the Cross, and then will ﬁll the church and the entire world on the night when Christ was risen and victorious. Amen.