Ecumenical Patriarch’s Letter for the Opening of the Great and Holy Lent

CATECHETICAL HOMILY ON THE OPENING OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT

+ B A R T H O L O M E W
By God’s Mercy
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

To the Plenitude of the Church
May the Grace and Peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Together with our Prayer, Blessing and Forgiveness be with You

We offer a hymn of thanksgiving to the Triune God, who has rendered us worthy once more to reach Holy and Great Lent in order to fight the good fight of ascesis and turn towards the “one thing that is needful” (Luke 10:42).

In a world averse to asceticism, in the presence of contemporary de-sanctification of life and domination of self-centered and self-indulgent ideals, the Orthodox Church insists on a Lenten period of spiritual struggle and “venerable abstinence” for its children in preparation for Holy Week, the Passion and Cross of Christ, so that we may become witnesses and partakers of His glorious Resurrection.

During Great Lent we are called to experience the creative and salvific economy of the Trinitarian God more deeply and to partake in the eschatological inclination, direction and progression of ecclesiastical and spiritual life more tangibly. We become conscious of the tragic impasse of the self-serving arrogance of the Pharisee, the hard-heartedness of the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal, the callous disregard for hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness and abandonment of our neighbor, according to the gospel account of the future judgement. We are encouraged to imitate the repentance and humility of the Publican, the return of the Prodigal to the household of the Father, in whose Grace he trusts, as well as those who show mercy to the needy, Gregory Palamas’ life of prayer, John the Sinaite’s and Mary of Egypt’s life of ascesis, so that strengthened through the veneration of the holy icons and the precious Cross we may arrive at a personal encounter with Christ the life-giver who arose from the tomb.

During this blessed period, the communal and social character of spiritual life is revealed with particular emphasis. We are not alone; we do not stand alone before God. We are not a sum of individuals but a community of persons, for whom “existence” means “coexistence”. Ascesis is not individualistic but an ecclesiastical event and achievement—our participation as believers in the mystery and sacraments of the Church, a struggle against selfishness, a practice of philanthropy, a Eucharistic use of creation and a contribution to the transfiguration of the world. It is common freedom, common virtue, common good and common adherence to the rule of the Church. We fast as defined by the Church and not as we individually please. Our ascetic effort functions within the framework of our relations with other members of the ecclesial body, as participation in events, initiatives and actions, which constitute the Church as a community of life and of “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Orthodox spirituality is inextricably bound to participation in the entire life of the Church, which culminates in the Divine Eucharist; it is a piety that is nurtured by the Church and expressed as Church.

The period of Great Lent is not a period to highlight religious or emotional extremes or superficial sentimentalities. From an Orthodox perspective, spirituality does not mean turning towards the spirit and the soul, which fosters a dualistic reduction of matter and body. Spirituality is the permeation of our entire existence—spirit, mind and will, soul and body, our entire life—by the Holy Spirit, which is a spirit of communion. Accordingly, then, spirituality means transforming our lives into church, a life inspired and guided by the Comforter, a genuine bearing of spiritual gifts, which presupposes our own free cooperation and participation in the sacramental life of the Church, a godly way of life.

Venerable Brothers and beloved faithful in the Lord,

When spirituality is authentic, it cannot also be fruitless. Whoever truly loves God also loves one’s neighbor everywhere as well as creation in its entirety. This sacrificial love that “never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8) is a Eucharistic act, the fullness of life on earth, the foretaste and truth of the last times. Our Orthodox faith is an inexhaustible source of empowerment, enabling us in spiritual struggle, God-loving and philanthropic action, and generous bearing of fruit in the world for the benefit of all. Faith and love constitute a uniform and uninterrupted experience of life in the Church. The practice of ascesis, fasting and philanthropy in the Holy Spirit and communion of the Church comprises a barrier preventing ecclesial piety from becoming a religious idol and barren introversion or individualistic feat.

The Spirit of God blows unceasingly in the Church, where God is forever “with us”. In these holy days of Great Lent, we are called to intensify our ascetic struggle against selfish attitudes, to be in “constantly waiting in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “living in humility and practicing acts of mercy” (Abba Poemen), living virtuously and mercifully, forgiving others and exercising love toward one another, glorifying God as the Giver of all that is good, and thanking Him for His abundant gifts. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Therefore, we invoke on all of you the strength from above so that we may all, with a burning and cheerful desire, welcome this Holy and Great Lent. We wish you “a smooth journey through the fast” and bestow our Patriarchal blessing to our venerable brother hierarchs in Christ, as well as the beloved spiritual children of the Holy and Great Church of Christ throughout the world.

Holy and Great Lent 2018

† Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God

Great Lent (2018) Epistle

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The Great Lent (2018) Epistle of the Permanent Conference

of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine

To: The Reverend Presbyters, The Honourable Diaconate in Christ, Venerable Monastics, and Pious Faithful of our Ukrainian Orthodox communities Beyond the borders of our ancestral homeland, Ukraine

Beloved-in-Christ!

We, Orthodox Christian faithful, cry out to our heavenly Father with the heartfelt plea, “My compassionate Lord, call me back to Eden!” at Vespers on the eve of the Sunday commemorating Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. We stand together on the threshold of the Holy & Great Fast, preparing to depart on our forty-day sojourn; our collective gaze is trained on the horizon and on the dawn of the New Day, illumined by the brilliant light of the empty tomb of the New Adam; the light which signifies a promise kept through the act of great sacrificial love, which affords us the possibility of our return to Eden!

In these present days, we find ourselves amid a world saturated with the temptation of pride and conscious, deliberate overconsumption for self-satisfaction and the acquisition of material excess. It is becoming – at a frighteningly rapid rate – ever more devoid of acknowledgement of both God’s law, on the one hand, and the reality of sin, on the other. The deception of the godless idea which attempts to convince us that we can embrace all things that bring us pleasure and satisfaction “so long as no one gets hurt,” is nothing other than a dangerous restating of the serpent’s temptation of Adam and Eve to break their covenant with God by partaking of fruit not created to nourish them, and to acquire knowledge not meant for their comprehension. The result of this initial betrayal of God’s commandments did not limit the “hurt” to Adam and Eve only, but tainted all of humanity with the corruption of sin; for all of us – the fatal consequence of a personal act of betrayal, based on belief in the lie of the evil one that, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4).

We, God’s faithful, need to be vigilant in our daily lives, lest we, too, be tempted to fall for aggressive, secular, atheistic “enlightenment” which is not enlightenment at all! It is, rather, only a symptom of the growing distance between the Lord and His creation and the dangerous comfort with this distance humanity appears to display. Today, arguably, more than ever in the history of our world, the warning of the Psalm to “put not your trust in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation,” rings loud and clear.

And so, once again, our precious Mother, the Holy Church, gathers her children, the faithful members of the Body of Christ, into the protective embrace of the Holy and Great Fast. We will enter the spiritual springtime of renewal, refreshing the image of Christ in us by hearing and declaring the unshakeable truths of the Orthodox Christian Faith (1st Sunday). We shall be reminded that this life and its temporary, corruptible pleasures are not our goal, rather it is eternal, joyous communion with God in His Divine Energy (2nd Sunday). We will be witnesses to the victory of sacrificial, selfless love which brings light, life and hope, conquering darkness, death, and despair (3rd Sunday). We will be encouraged to struggle and battle in spiritual warfare, to ascend the ladder of virtues which reaches up to the Heavenly Kingdom (4th Sunday). Finally, we will be comforted by God’s offer to forgive all our sins – as small or as great as they may be – and we will be inspired to repent, reject the temptations of the world, overcome the passions of the flesh, and flee to our desert where there is peace and where we can hear the call to return to communion with Christ and to Paradise (5th Sunday)!

And so, our dear ones, as we prepare to embark on our Lenten sojourn, let us be of good courage and turn our efforts away from satisfying the wants of the flesh and toward good deeds, to recognizing Christ in one-another – especially in those who are in need of our compassion – and let us commit our spiritual efforts toward receiving God’s grace. Let us not be distracted by the cynicism and empty promises of the godless, but let us stand together confidently as members of the Body of Christ, the New Israel; let us liken ourselves to Old Israel as they took their first steps in freedom from bondage, and begin our Lenten journey with the joy-filled words of the Holy Church:

Let us begin the all-holy season of fasting with joy; let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God: with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, the strength of good courage and the purity of holiness! So, clothed in garments of light, let us hasten to the holy resurrection on the third day, that shines on the world with the glory of eternal life!

We, your spiritual fathers, hierarchs, and constant intercessors, bid each one of you a blessed Lenten sojourn, to the glory of God and for our salvation and eternal life!

With love in Christ, the Lord,

+Yurij, Metropolitan – Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

+Antony, Metropolitan – Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Diaspora

+Jeremiah – Archbishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Diocese of Brazil and Church South America

+Daniel  Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Western Europe Eparchy

+Ilarion – Bishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

+Andriy – Bishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

The Great and Holy Fast – The year of our Lord 2018

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Patriarchal Proclamation of Christmas 2017

Prot. No. 1123

PATRIARCHAL PROCLAMATION FOR CHRISTMAS

BARTHOLOMEW
By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church.
Grace, Mercy and Peace from the Savior Christ Born in Bethlehem.
* * *
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, dear children,

nativity_htmBy the grace of God, we are once again deemed worthy to reach the great feast of the birth of the divine Word in the flesh, who came into the world to grant us “well-being,”{1} remission of sin, of captivity to the works of the law and death, in order to grant us true life and great joy, which “no one can take from us.”{2}

We welcome the “all-perfect God,”{3}  who “brought love into the world,”{4}  who becomes “closer to us than we to ourselves.”{5}  Through kenosis, the divine Word condescends to the created beings in “a condescension inexplicable and incomprehensible.”{6} He “whom nothing can contain” is contained in the womb of the Virgin; the greatest exists in the least. This great chapter of our faith, of how the transcendent God “became human for humankind,”{7} while remaining an “inexpressible” mystery. “The great mystery of divine Incarnation ever remains a mystery.”{8}

This strange and paradoxical event, “which was hidden for ages and generations,”{9} is the foundation of the gift of human deification. “There is no salvation in anyone else; for there is no other human name beneath heaven through which we must be saved.”{10}

This is the supreme truth about salvation. That we belong to Christ. That everything is united in Christ. That our corruptible nature is refashioned in Christ, the image is restored and the road toward likeness is opened for all people. By assuming human nature, the divine Word establishes the unity of humanity through a common divine predestination and salvation. And it is not only humanity that is saved, but all of creation. Just as the fall of Adam and Eve impacts all of creation, so too the Incarnation of the Son and Word of God affects all of creation. “Creation is recognized as free when those who were once in darkness become children of light.”{11}  Basil the Great calls us to celebrate the holy Nativity of Christ as the “common feast of all creation,” as “the salvation of the world—humanity’s day of birth.”{12}

Once again, the words that “Christ is born” are unfortunately heard in a world filled with violence, perilous conflict, social inequality and contempt of foundational human rights. 2018 marks the completion of seventy years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, after the terrible experience and destruction of World War II, manifested the common and noble ideals that all peoples and countries must unwaveringly respect. However, the disregard of this Declaration continues, while various abuses and intentional misinterpretations of human rights undermine their respect and realization. We continue either not to learn from history or not to want to learn. Neither the tragic experience of violence and reduction of the human person, nor the proclamation of noble ideals have prevented the continuation of aggression and war, the exaltation of power and the exploitation of one another. Nor again have the domination of technology, the extraordinary achievements of science, and economic progress brought social justice and the peace that we so desire. Instead, in our time, the indulgence of the affluent has increased and globalization is destroying the conditions of social cohesion and harmony.

The Church cannot ignore these threats against the human person. “There is nothing as sacred as a human being, whose nature God Himself has shared.”{13}  We struggle for human dignity, for the protection of human freedom and justice, knowing full well that “true peace comes from God,”{14}  that the transcendent mystery of the Incarnation of divine Word and the gift of human deification reveals the truth about freedom and humanity’s divine destiny.

In the Church, we experience freedom through Christ, in Christ and with Christ. And the very summit of this freedom is the place of love, which “does not seek its own”{15} but “derives from a pure heart.”{16}  Whoever depends on himself, seeks his own will, and is self-sufficient—whoever pursues deification by himself and congratulates himself—only revolves around himself and his individual self-love and self-gratification; such a person only sees others as a suppression of individual freedom. Whereas freedom in Christ is always oriented to one’s neighbor, always directed toward the other, always speaks the truth in love. The aim of the believer is not to assert his or her rights, but rather “to follow and fulfill the rights of Christ”{17} in a spirit of humility and thanksgiving.

This truth about the life in Christ, about freedom as love and love as freedom, is the cornerstone and assurance for the future of humankind. When we build on this inspired ethos, we are able to confront the great challenges of our world, which threaten not only our well-being but our very survival.

The truth about the “God-man” is the response to the contemporary “man-god” and proof of our eternal destination proclaimed by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016): “The Orthodox Church sets against the ‘man-god’ of the contemporary world the ‘God-man’ as the ultimate measure of all things. “We do not speak of a man who has been deified, but of God who has become man.” The Church reveals the saving truth of the God-man and His body, the Church, as the locus and mode of life in freedom, “speaking the truth in love,” and as participation even now on earth in the life of the resurrected Christ.”

The Incarnation of the divine Word is the affirmation and conviction that Christ personally guides history as a journey toward the heavenly kingdom. Of course, the journey of the Church toward the kingdom, which is not realized remotely or independently of historical reality—or its contradictions and adventures—has never been without difficulties. Nevertheless, it is in the midst of these difficulties that the Church witnesses to the truth and performs its sanctifying, pastoral and transfiguring mission. “Truth is the pillar and ground of the Church … The pillar of the universe is the Church … and this is a great mystery, a mystery of godliness.”{18}

Brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,

Let us celebrate together—with the grace of the divine Word, who dwelt in us, as well as with delight and fullness of joy—the feasts of the Twelve Days of Christmas. From the Phanar we pray that our Lord and Savior—who was incarnate out of condescension for all people—may in this coming new year grant everyone physical and spiritual health, along with peace and love for one another. May He protect His holy Church and bless the works of its ministry for the glory of His most-holy and most-praised Name.

Christmas 2017
Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God

———————————————-
{1} Gregory the Theologian, Oration XXXVIII, on Theophany, namely the Nativity of the Savior, iii, PG 36, 313.
{2} John 10:18.
{3} Doxastikon of the Aposticha from the Great Vespers of Christmas.
{4} Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, vi, PG 150, 657.
{5} Ibid. vi PG 150, 660.
{6} John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, iii, 1, PG 94, 984.
{7} Maximus the Confessor, Various chapters on Theology and Economy concerning virtue and vice, First Century, 12, PG 90, 1184.
{8} Ibid.
{9} Col. 1:26.
{10} Acts 4:12.
{11} Iambic Katavasia on the Feast of Theophany, Ode VIII.
{12} Basil the Great, Homily on the Nativity of Christ, PG 31, 1472-73.
{13} Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, vi, PG 150, 649.
{14} John Chrysostom, On Corinthians 1, Homily I, 1, PG 61, 14.
{15} 1 Cor. 13:5.
{16} 1 Tim. 1:5.
{17} Theotokion, Aposticha of the Ainoi, October 12.
{18} John Chrysostom, On Timothy I, Homily XI, PG 62, 554.

Source: (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

Nativity Message from the Assembly Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America

Source (AOB)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Come, believers, let us see where Christ has been born. Let us follow where the star guides with the Magi, kings of the East. Angels sing praises there without ceasing. Shepherds abiding in the fields offer a fitting hymn, saying: Glory in the highest to Him Who has been born today in a cave from the Virgin and Mother of God, in Bethlehem of Juda (Kathesma of the Nativity)

To the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of Parish Councils, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Members of Philanthropic Organizations, the Youth and Youth Workers, and the entire Orthodox Christian Family of the United States of America.

Beloved Faithful in Christ,

With the Magi, the kings of the East, each of us is invited to embark on a lifelong journey to meet the Savior—the Son of God, born in the flesh by the Virgin. Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, has shared in our humanity, and thus sympathizes with us. The Lord of lords and King of kings (1 Tim 6:15) assumes flesh and becomes man under some of the harshest conditions: He is born in an uninviting cave; He is lain in a cold manger; and days after His birth, He is forced to seek refuge in foreign lands. Because Christ has endured suffering in the flesh, we are now granted absolute comfort!

The encounter between God and man does not occur in shopping centers, Christmas markets, or ornate storefronts. Such festive places certainly bring a smile to our faces, especially to our children, but they fail to offer us salvation. Worth more than a precious ornament, and more valuable than fragrant perfumes, God’s mercy is freely offered to the world by the birth of the Son of God.

Beloved faithful, as we go about our daily lives in our blessed country where we enjoy freedoms and liberties, we are invited to noetically enter the grotto of the Nativity and with our physical eyes gaze upon the homeless who suffer from the elements and see in them Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes. And as we join the angelic hosts in doxology, we are to give voice to the marginalized and destitute. Perhaps most importantly, let us listen to the cries of the countless children who are misguided and abused, and embrace them as the Christ-child Himself.

During our most recent meeting, the Hierarchs of the Assembly had the opportunity to reflect upon the condition of our youth in America. As we listened to expert reports and data from professionals in the fields of youth ministry and emerging leadership, and as we engaged in open discussion, we acknowledged that more can and must be done for our children and young adults. Therefore, as we gather to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, please consider how you might be part of this work.

Together with my brother Hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States, I extend blessings and prayers that God will bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (Cor. 9:8). Have a joyous Christmas celebration and a blessed New Year, 2018.

With love in Christ, the incarnate God

+Archbishop Demetrios of America
Chairman

Nativity Epistle

PrintNativity Epistle of the Permanent Conference

of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine
2017-18

To the beloved Clergy and Faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
beyond the Borders of Ukraine and on her native soil,

CHRIST IS BORN!

By the grace of God, again this year we can celebrate the great mystery of our faith – the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.” (the Nicene Creed). All creation was waiting for the arrival of the Saviour to redeem the human race from sin and death and to reconcile man with God.

Today, humanity, which was in the dark and dwelled in the kingdom of sin, death, and despair, is filled with a new joy “which had not existed until now.”

Today, the prophecies of the prophets of the Old Testament about the Saviour and the Messiah are fulfilled: “Behold the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel” which is translated, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). The Lord sends redemption to His people (Psalm 110:9). The salvation of the human race cannot be achieved by human forces and for this reason it is necessary for God to come into the world.

Today, the heart of all of us is filled with great joy because the Saviour, who came into the world to give Himself up for us, is born.

Today, in Bethlehem of Judea, the only One who is able to grant salvation to all mankind, to cleanse us from our sins and to defeat death, is born.

Today, He is born in a lowly manger because there is no room for Him among His people.

Today, the eternal God, born as a small Child, enters the world to grant us salvation.

Today, the Saviour is born of the Virgin Mary to bring us the unearthly spiritual joy of the Incarnation. The Lord becomes like one of us; He becomes like us but without sin.

God eternal is born today!
From heaven comes the One,
Who shall save humanity
And for this, rejoice!

Today, the Son of God becomes the Son of man, receives human flesh through the Incarnation in the person of the Newborn Christ. Divine and human nature are united unconfusedly, inconvertibly, indivisibly, inseparably.

Today, God is humbled in the person of the Newborn Christ, the Saviour. As the Apostle Paul writes: “He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of man” (Philippians 2:7).

Today, God descends to earth to give us the opportunity to be deified so that our bodies can become the temples of the Holy Spirit through His grace.

Today, God lowers Himself so that we can raise-up ourselves to become children of God through His grace.

Today, the star of Bethlehem illuminates the whole world with the light of God’s great grace.

Today, heaven and earth sing the Angelic song: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among men.”

Today, heaven makes peace with the earth and God makes peace with man through the birth of the Son of God.

Today, as the angels rejoice in the heavens and the darkness of night that covers the earth is illuminated by the light of the Bethlehem star, let us turn our hearts and prayers to the Cave in Bethlehem so that we can receive the blessing from the Newborn Christ, the Saviour.

Let us open our heart to the Newborn Saviour so that He can be born in our heart and live within us.

Let the young child Jesus bless you and fill you with grace, calm, hope, and spiritual joy. Let Him strengthen you spiritually and physically and give you abundant strength to bear your earthly cross. Let us understand that from today we are not alone; we are not abandoned; we are not orphans. God is with us!

Once again, we greet you on the Great Feast of the Nativity of Christ and prayerfully wish that the Lord grants you a new year, 2018, filled with peace and blessings from Him.

CHRIST IS BORN!       LET US GLORIFY HIM!

With Archpastoral Blessings,

☦ YURIJ, Metropolitan
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

☦ ANTONY, Metropolitan
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Diaspora

☦ JEREMIAH, Archbishop
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, South America Eparchy

☦ DANIEL, Archbishop
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Diaspora

☦ ILARION, Bishop
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

☦ANDRIY, Bishop
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada