Of the First Hierarch of the
Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church
His Eminence Valentine
To all of our Fathers, honorable monastics, and God-fearing flock of the Church of God.
grant me to see mine own sins
and not to judge my brother,
for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages.”
(St. Ephraim the Syrian).
The success of our soul-saving labors, to which we are fully determined to dedicate ourselves during these holy days, depends upon the softening of our hearts through the recognition of our sinfulness: “grant me to see mine own sins and not to judge my brother.” This is the prayer that we will by saying many times each day during the entire course of Great Lent.
Christ’s Holy Church prepares us ahead of time for these labors, beginning with the parable of the publican and the Pharisee, calling us to wholeheartedly pray along with the publican repeating his penitential cry: “O God, be merciful unto me a sinner!” Under no circumstances should anyone, in imitation of the Pharisee, dare to hope in his own seeming righteousness, or in his own good deeds, but should place all of his hope in the Lord.
The Lord praised the publican not only for having recognized his sinfulness, but even more so for the remorse that he felt for having committed the sins that he did, for his desire to be freed from them, and for having a firm resolve to correct himself.
The Holy Church reminds us that no matter how low we may have fallen, no matter what sins we may have committed, if we but turn to the Lord in humility and with a feeling of repentance and say: “O Lord, we are not worthy to call Thee God, our Father; but receive us one of Thy hired servants,” we shall again find hope for our salvation. Let us, therefore, hold these holy days in reverence. They prepare us to take part in the terrible Passion of the Lord and His resurrection on the third day. Let us especially take care to repent of those sins of which we are most ashamed or have forgotten to confess over the years.
Each one of us has received the gift and grace of Christ’s love through Baptism, or through one or another of the sacraments of the Church. We know that in this world of ours, there are those who are hungry and sick, those who are suffering and are heavy-laden, and who have been left wanting of our charity. Do we always have in mind the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He spoke about the Last Judgment: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me?” No matter how narrow and limited in its capabilities our own existence might be, each one of us bears a certain responsibility for holding a tiny particle of the Kingdom of Heaven, for it is precisely for this reason that we possess this gift of the love of Christ. Therefore, we shall be judged on whether we have accepted this responsibility, and on whether we behaved charitably or neglected to do so. For “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
We rarely, very rarely, recall the Gospel narrative about the Last Judgment when the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats, i.e. sinners from the righteous, and will pronounce the final sentence. Then, will our fates be decided for all eternity. Then, our evil deeds, which we have committed upon this perishable earth, will be made known to all mankind. Do we seriously consider the possibility that, when the Lord says in the presence of His Angels and Saints: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the eternal flame, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” we might be in the number of those whom He thus addresses?
It is not our meek and humble Lord who will then be deserving of blame for passing such a terrible sentence. No! For the Lord is long-suffering, much-merciful, and desires nothing but eternal salvation for all of us! It is our own deeds that will either condemn or commend us, and will place us upon the path leading either to eternal suffering or to eternal bliss! And again, the Lord has warned us: “As I find you, so shall I judge you.” No one knows the day or the hour when death shall find him. For this reason, we must always, continuously, watch and pray, and live in such a way as if each day were our last.
At the Last Judgment, it will be only those who have learned to show charity to their fellow man, not only in word, but in deed as well, those who visited the sick, who fed the hungry, who gave drink to the thirsty, and who wiped the tears away from the faces of injured, that will receive a blessing and salvation.
The Apostle Paul says, “the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, compassion, faith, meekness, moderation.” And the holy Evangelist John the Theologian, speaking to all of us, says, “Children, love ye one another!” In this precept, all the commandments of Christ, and the entire testament of the Gospel, are contained.
Let us ever be in remembrance of the prodigal son, who received forgiveness, of the repentant harlot, who received salvation, and of the good thief, who was accounted worthy to enter into paradise together with Christ. Let us forever remember that it was repentance that led to the return of the Apostle Peter, who thrice denied Christ, his divine Teacher, and to his being chosen to be one of the first to see the risen Christ, Who gave him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I call God’s blessing down upon you all, that you might be able to spend these divine days of Great Lent in purity and in constant prayer, and I wholeheartedly wish you all Godspeed and the salvation of your souls!
Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir
Great Lent, 2005