To the Faithful of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church: The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!
Last evening, we entered into the holy season of Great Lent, the forty-day period of repentance, penance, prayer, and fasting in preparation for the celebration of Pascha – the Feast of Feasts, the day that knows no evening.
During Great Lent, we must daily ask ourselves what we should do so that our Lenten pilgrimage may be a time of grace and conversion. I know that for most of us, we start Great Lent with a full head of steam but as the weeks pass by, we often run out of steam. Our intentions are sincere, but as the old saying goes, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. However, the most important thing we need to remember is not what we do but what God wants to do for us. As long as we keep our hearts open to God and to His love, then there is already a good chance that Great Lent will bear fruit in our lives.
To convert means precisely to turn one's heart back to God, turn one's eyes to Him, let one's ears listen to His word and obey His commandments. Then it becomes quite natural to do with one's hands what is pleasing to Him. St. Paul always gives us good advice. In his First Letter to the Church at Corinth, he tells the faithful: "Do everything for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). If God already does so much for us, it is only right and proper that we also return His love by doing everything to His glory. His love begets our love in return.
I do not believe that there is any among us who would not like to convert the whole world and bring an end to all evil, violence, and sin. But the task is too much for us alone. Still, it is important for us to have a burning desire for God's justice and peace to rule the world. We must pray earnestly for this. In our own little environment where we live we can do more than we realize to make goodness and truth prevail.
When we try to put into practice Paul's advice, "Do everything for the glory of God", then things begin to happen. We become more aware of the words we use. We stop swearing and gossiping and back-biting. We try to use our time well. We do not need to sit at the computer or the television for hours, but we should find time to visit elderly and sick people, to visit those who are in the hospital or prisons, to feed the hungry and homeless in our local soup kitchens, and to support and encourage those who live in half-way houses or shelters. When we do these things, we begin to see our work as something which gives glory to God and leads the world to salvation. The more seriously we take those words, "Do everything for the glory of God", the more enjoyable and wonderful our life becomes. Each day is then seen as a gift as we learn to give glory to God in a new way.
Every morning has something of Easter morning's splendor and brightness about it. We get a glimpse of the new and eternal life. Every person we meet becomes God's messenger for us. We begin to see other people in a completely different way. Made in the image of God, every person points towards God. We can thank Him for so much if we only open our eyes and hearts, ears and hands to Him.
But how can we deal with sin, violence, evil? What we should always remember is that Jesus came precisely to free us and the whole world from all of this. He took our death upon Himself and sacrificed Himself on the Cross. He died so that we might live. He desires to free us from all evil. This work of salvation takes place always and everywhere. We are constantly given a share in the grace of this salvation, but we have to receive it, to accept it, and let it bear fruit in us.
During His life here on earth, Jesus did everything to liberate, heal and redeem men and women. No one is more interested than Jesus in liberating, cleansing, healing and redeeming men and women. We live in a world that is wounded by sin. We are all in desperate need of Jesus as our Savior.
It is often easier for us to see sin in other people than in ourselves. We can fall into the temptation of looking for scapegoats and thus be infected by the leprosy of xenophobia, hatred of strangers. But if we really allow ourselves to be guided by Paul's exhortation, "Do everything for the glory of God", then we allow ourselves to become more humble. We discover our own need for conversion and God's forgiveness. We see our neighbor's failings on a smaller scale. We become more disposed to deal with our own sins and deficiencies. We are all called to be healed of the leprosy of sin and to be made holy by the grace of God.
Great Lent is first and foremost a time of preparation for Easter. Easter speaks, or rather sings, about the Resurrection of Christ. The core of our faith is that Jesus Christ has defeated the power of death and sin. He wishes to open His eternal glory to us. Already now through faith, hope, and charity, we receive a foretaste of this eternal glory.
The grace of Easter gives us the strength to live in a new and different way. Already now we have a little foot in heaven since He who is the Head of the Church has risen. Already now He wishes to share this new and eternal life with us, who are members of His body.
Faith, hope, and charity, the theological virtues, enable us to live deeply united with the Risen One and receive His grace. Moment by moment we can be renewed by this grace. Our great joy is then to please God in everything we are and everything we do. It becomes natural for us to follow God's commandments and live by every word that comes from His mouth. We can put into practice Paul's advice to us during this holy time of Great Lent: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
With my prayers and blessing for all of you, I remain,
Your humble servant and the most unworthy among the servants of the servants of God,