Of His Eminence Metropolitan Valentine
of Suzdal and Vladimir, First Hierarch
of the Russian Orthdox Autonomous Church
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
"A heart that is broken and humbled, God will not despise." (Psalm 50)
Right Reverend Archpastors, Pastors Beloved-in-God, Monks, and Nuns,
Beloved Brothers and Sisters, Children of the Church of God,
These words of the Psalmist instill a grace-filled and trembling feeling in our souls. As expressed in the penitential hymns which begin to be heard in our churches in the weeks prior to the beginning of Great Lent, as if anticipating its arrival, "trusting in the mercy of Thy kindheartedness, like David I cry to Thee: Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy…".
In the life of the Orthodox Christian, Great Lent is a special period of spiritual joy and experiences, because light penitential sorrow and cleansing tears act to refine the soul, alleviate the heaviness caused by the burden of sin which weighs upon it and drags it down to the earth, and makes even our breathing free and deep, promoting the unification of mental prayer with the heart.
Praying is never so easy and joyful as in these great and salutary days, when nothing should be allowed to hinder our ascent "from earth to Heaven," our return to the Father’s house. For this reason, I humbly beseech you, beloved, if even for a short time, put aside your vain, worldly cares, offer to God your spiritual tithe, and concentrate on prayer and repentance. For it is precisely the reason, darkened by sin, which inspires in us the absurd notion that the most important thing for a man is to seek his sustenance, to be healed from all diseases, or to make arrangements for his earthly condition. Listen to what Christ the Savior Himself has to say to us who are weak in faith: "Take no care…, about what you shall eat or drink, nor for the body, what you shall put on. Is not the soul more than food, and the body more than raiment? Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns, and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are you not of much more value than they are?..."
And so, take no thought and say not, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "With what shall we be clothed?" For all these things are sought after by the Nations, and your heavenly Father knoweth that you need these things. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things shall be added unto you." (Matt. 6:25-33). Vain cares, the urge to "sow" and to "gather into barns," to which we sacrifice our spiritual life and salvation, is a direct result of the falling into sin of the first humans, the consequences of which we must overcome with the help of God. But if one does not believe or take seriously the words of the Savior about the vanity of sinful worldly cares, then there is no sense in his keeping Great Lent, and he will not be able to comprehend the light of Pascha! This kind of faith is futile and hypocritical!
Let us cherish these unique days which the Holy Church presents to us! If we would but spend these days correctly—in strict accordance with the rules of the Church, attending all of the Lenten services—there is much, very much spiritual strength that we can draw from these soul-saving days of Great Lent. In these salutary days, days of repentance and of softening the heart, there are no bright lights in the churches, because in the quiet and softly lit atmosphere, it is much, much easier to hear the beating of your heart, and to feel the blessed and salutary minutes of eternity, and to come to love this eternity with God, and in God, with your entire soul.
During the days of Great Lent, every Orthodox Christian—not because he is duty-bound or required, but heeding the call of his own heart, with full recognition of his sinfulness—comes especially often to the Mystery of Confession, and then receives communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. Some of our ancestors, who had departed from the ancient piety of the Church and concocted a so-called "bureaucratic or formal Orthodoxy," believed that it was not permissible to receive Holy Communion any more than once a year—during Great Lent. There even appeared in some places a "Confession Register" in which notations were made that the servant of God, so-and-so, has confessed and received Holy Communion for such-and-such a year. This was an extremely blasphemous approach to the Mysteries of the Church, and was one of the reasons for the downfall of Orthodox Russia and her replacement by a satanic and atheistic pseudo-government. The holy Church calls us to receive Holy Communion at each and every Divine Liturgy with the words, "With fear of God, faith and love, draw nigh!" It is only out of extreme condescension that the Church allows individual lay persons, who do not manage to "prepare" for each Divine Liturgy, to receive Holy Communion from time to time. Great Lent—as the most concentrated time of spiritual activity and for dispensing with the cares of life—is the most favorable time to begin our return to the God-ordained ecclesiastical practice of constant reception of the Mysteries of Christ—ideally, at every Divine Liturgy, for, according to the words of the Savior, whoever does not eat His Body, nor drink His Blood, Which has been poured out for the sins of the world, will not be saved.
Beloved children of the Church of Christ!
I call all of you to concentrated and ceaseless prayer of the heart, through which you will come to a sincere understanding of your unworthiness.
Approaching the sacred labors of Great Lent, let us lift up to the Lord God from the depth of the sighings of our hearts our small voice and say together, "O Lord, according to Thy limitless mercy, engender in our souls a spirit of love, compassion, righteousness, fervent and constant prayer, that our souls might forever remain alive and receptive to all of Thine innumerable gifts, which Thou hast given to us unworthy ones, through Thine ineffable sufferings."
Calling down God’s blessing upon you unto the accomplishment of the labor of Great Lent, I most humbly beg your forgiveness and holy prayers.
Zealous together with you for your salvation,
of Vladimir and Suzdal
Great Lent, 2004 Suzdal