click here to go to our main website

Beginning of Holy and Great Lent, 2000


By the mercy of God Archbishop of Constantinople
New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch:
unto the entire plentitude of the Church
Grace, Mercy and Peace from our Saviour Christ
together ith our prayer, blessing and forgiveness 

Beloved brethren and children in the Lord,

Our Holy Orthodox Church through the Holy Fathers designates that each year the season of Great Lent be set aside as a time for repentance. Although repentance is necessary every day and every hour, during Lent our Church invites us to experience repentance in a deeper sense.

But what, in essence, is this repentance, which our Church so highly esteems? Many say: "I do not feel I have committed any sins; therefore I do not need to repent." The Holy Fathers, however, insist that repentance is necessary not only for sinners, but also for the pious. A simple Christian may ask himself: "For what sins do pious people need to repent?"

During the first weeks of the season of the Triodion, a period of preparation for the Great Lent, which is to say, for repentance, our Orthodox Church presents us with three types of people who, even though they were in need of repentance, did not realise that need and did not repent, and one type who repented in all sincerity.

We all know of the sinful Publican who, being aware of his many sins, did not dare raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and cried, " God, forgive me the sinner. " But not all of us share in his awareness of sinfulness, and therefore we wonder why we need to repent.

We receive our answer from the three negative examples provided to us in the Holy Gospel during the period leading up to the Fast.

The first example is well known to all: the Pharisee, who observed some provisions of God's Law (essentially the external ones that could be seen by others). He had the impression that he was a good person, although he openly criticised those around him who had committed various offences. This sense, however, of our own goodness, coupled with the condemnation of our fellow human beings for their failings, makes for an unwholesome situation that reveals a soul out of touch with of reality. Such a soul needs to change its manner of thinking, in order to learn the truth about itself and others, to free itself from its self-delusion and be saved, approaching in humility and with repentance for such arrogance the Lord Christ, who is meek and humble of heart.

The second type of person, whom the Holy Gospel presents to us as negative example, is the allegedly "good" son, not the prodigal son of the parable. He did not waste his father's fortune living an improper life, nor did he commit the impious deeds of his prodigal brother, so he did not feel the need to repent. It is evident to all, however, that he was hard-hearted and self-centred, as he refused to participate in the joyful reception with which his father celebrated the return of his penitent prodigal brother. He, too, needed to change his manner of thinking and repent, so that he could understand the error of his position and be saved in the company of God, who desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

The third type, which the Holy Gospel also presents to us as negative example during this period of the Triodion, represents in the figure of the goats (the myriads of people who are cruel and heartless when faced with the suffering of their fellow human beings). These are: all those who do not feed the hungry, though they themselves have eaten their fill; the ones who do not quench the thirst of the thirsty even though they themselves have drunk freely; those who do not clothe the naked although they have more than enough clothes, and some of them extravagant; and those who are indifferent to plight of the incarcerated, so long as they themselves enjoy the pleasures of freedom. In general, this includes all people who take interest in their own well being while ignoring the needs of their fellow human beings.

As much as we may want, beloved children in the Lord, to cover up our spiritual condition and present ourselves as beautiful, it is impossible not to find in the depths of our souls elements of these three, unattractive types we have been describing. These three types did not think of themselves as sinners and therefore felt no need for repentance, but expected instead to be vindicated by God.

Consequently, we are all in need of repentance in order to infuse our hearts with love towards our fellow human, with compassion and mercy, with acceptance of our returning remorseful brother. We all need to realise that our virtues amount to nothing before God; that we are all obliged to achieve self-knowledge and to cleanse ourselves from intellectual impurities and distorted, self-centered ways of thinking, in love and humility.

We, as Orthodox Christians, especially, have the responsibility of living the spirituality of our Orthodox Church, so that our brothers and sisters of different faiths may sense the grace of God within us and be drawn to the Orthodox Faith. But in order for us to live our Orthodox spirituality, we need to repent, to change profoundly our way of thinking, to avoid the examples of the three repulsive types described above. We need to become humble and aware of our own illness so that the grace of God, which comes not to the haughty but to the humble, will come upon us also. God can raise up for Himself children of Abraham, virtuous faithful people who love Him and their fellow human beings, from the very stones. And if we do not show ourselves to be worthy labourers of His Vineyard, He will give it to others who will bring forth from it its fruits.

Let us devote ourselves, therefore, beloved children, to the task of repentance, so that we may be constantly transformed in the renewal of our minds. We then will be able to live out more fully the weightier matters of the law: judgement and mercy, love, humility, the acceptance of others, the desire that all should be saved, the heartfelt care for all people, in a spirit far from that of a self-complacent reliance on the achievements of our Fathers. For we will only resemble our Father when we receive our prodigal brothers back with open arms, as did the Father in the parable.

This alteration of our intellect, this repentance is what is asked of us, and this is worth more than many ascetical labours, according to the Holy Fathers of our Orthodox Church. These hardships are useful only when they lead to repentance and not when they strengthen the illusion of our alleged virtue.

May our Most Merciful God illuminate our hearts, so that we may realise how much each one of us is in need of a radical revision of our way of thinking, so that we may crush the old foundation of our established attitude; in its place may we build a new system of convictions and beliefs, which is shown to us by the only Reformer of the world and of man, our Lord Jesus Christ.

To Him is due all honour and worship to the ages of ages. Amen.

Catechetical homily for the Holy and Great Lent 2000
At the Phanar, Christmas, 1998
Your fervent supplicant before God
+Bartholomew of Constantinople
Protocol No. 208

Return to homepage (framed) | Return to homepage (no frames) | Return to home page