Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
Although the entire city seemed to be shut down this past weekend from the "blizzard" that blew through Cincinnati on Saturday, we remained not only undaunted, but rather victorious over the elements that swirled around us. True, we did decide to cancel the parish activities that were scheduled for Saturday afternoon; but we still served the Lord's Day cycle of Great Vespers on Saturday evening and the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. For those who came to church yesterday for the Liturgy and the Forgiveness Vespers to follow, you may have noticed the relatively easy access you had to the church as the sidewalks, entrance and steps around the church were very carefully and thoroughly shoveled. Rewarding us for our belief in their existence, guardian angels obviously came to prepare the church for the arrival of the faithful who had come to pray. We thank God for their presence and assistance. Despite our individual sinfulness, perhaps our prayer holds up the world in a way that is mysterious and impervious to rational analysis. Bearing this in mind, we do our best to assemble when possible.
Once inside the warm embrace of the church - and all things considered, our attendance was good - we were able to prepare for today's beginning of Great Lent. We heard the Gospel passage that taught us the right approach to the practice of fasting:
And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (MATT. 6:16-18)
However, our fasting, together with almsgiving and prayers (cf. MATT. 6:1-13), must have forgiveness as their foundation:
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (MATT. 6:14-15)
Certainly, it is easier to fast than to forgive! This is why we call this Sunday on the eve of Great Lent "Forgiveness Sunday," so that we do not succumb to a pedantic legalism in fasting, while refusing to forgive as the Lord taught us. It was very encouraging to see that just about everyone who came to the Liturgy, remained for the Vespers to follow and the moving Rite of Forgiveness. Any "rite" within the life of the Church is a meaningful and significant action through which we gain access to the freely given Grace of God. This is nowhere more true than through the rite of mutual forgiveness which, in the light of the Gospel, is the only "right" thing to do.
We also commemorated the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise, though here it is clear that "commemorate" does not mean to celebrate, but to call to mind. "Paradise Lost" becomes "Paradise Regained" with the advent of the Last Adam - Jesus Christ - and His lifegiving Death and Resurrection. With the disobedience of Adam and Eve in paradise - their breaking of the fast essentially - the many passions that afflict us and tempt us were unleashed; thus the original harmony of soul and body that revealed humanity as the crown of God's creation can only hoped to be recovered by crucifying the flesh and the many passions that war against it from our youth up to the present day. As one of the desert fathers taught, we crucify the flesh in order to save the body. As with our Lord, joy can only come through the Cross and not around it.
On the Monday of the First Week of the Fast, we hear the following third sessional hymn:
Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendour of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage. So, clothed in raiment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life.
As a powerful assistance in this hoped-for process, we will chant the Great Canon of St. Andrew on the first four evenings of this first week of the Fast beginning at 7:00 p.m.