Holy and Great Lent/Catechetical Homily
By +Archbishop of Constantinople
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
realize 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
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
criticized 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-centered, 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. In other words, he needed to 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: 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; those
who are indifferent to plight of the incarcerated, so long as
they themselves enjoy the pleasures of freedom; in general, 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 realize 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 laborers 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 acheivements
of our Fathers. For we will only resemble our Father when we
recieve 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 labors,
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
realize 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 honor and worship to the ages of ages.