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February 18

Forgiveness Sunday

The Holy Fathers have appointed the commemoration of Adam's exile from the Paradise of delight here, on the eve of the holy Forty-day Fast, demonstrating to us not by simple words, but by actual deeds, how beneficial fasting is for man, and how harmful and destructive are insatiety and the transgressing of the divine commandments. For the first commandment that God gave to man was that of fasting, which the first-fashioned received but did not keep; and not only did they not become gods, as they had imagined, but they lost even that blessed life which they had, and they fell into corruption and death, and transmitted these and innumerable other evils to all of mankind. The God-bearing Fathers set these things before us today, that by bringing to mind what we have fallen from, and what we have suffered because of the insatiety and disobedience of the first-fashioned, we might be diligent to return again to that ancient bliss and glory by means of fasting and obedience to all the divine commands. Taking occasion from today's Gospel (Matt. 6:14-21) to begin the Fast unencumbered by enmity, we also ask forgiveness this day, first from God, then from one another and all creation.

Leo the Great, Pope of Rome

According to some, this Saint was born in Rome, but according to others in Tyrrenia (Tuscany), and was consecrated to the archiepiscopal throne of Rome in 440. In 448, when Saint Flavian, Archbishop of Constantinople, summoned Eutyches, an archimandrite in Constantinople, to give account for his teaching that there was only one nature in Christ after the Incarnation, Eutyches appealed to Saint Leo in Rome. After Saint Leo had carefully examined Eutyches's teachings, he wrote an epistle to Saint Flavian, setting forth the Orthodox teaching of the person of Christ, and His two natures, and also counseling Flavian that, should Eutyches sincerely repent of his error, he should be received back with all good will. At the Council held in Ephesus in 449, which was presided over by Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria (and which Saint Leo, in a letter to the holy Empress Pulcheria in 451, was the first to call "The Robber Council"), Dioscorus, having military might behind him, did not allow Saint Leo's epistle to Flavian to be read, although repeatedly asked to do so; even before the Robber Council was held, Dioscorus had uncanonically received the unrepentant Eutyches back into communion. Because Saint Leo had many cares in Rome owing to the wars of Attila the Hun and other barbarians, in 451 he sent four delegates to the Fourth Ecumenical Council, where 630 Fathers gathered in Chalcedon during the reign of Marcian, to condemn the teachings of Eutyches and those who supported him. Saint Leo's epistle to Flavian was read at the Fourth Council, and was confirmed by the Holy Fathers as the Orthodox teaching on the incarnate person of our Lord; it is also called the "Tome of Leo." The Saint wrote many works in Latin; he reposed in 461. See also Saint Anatolius, July 3.
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This Sunday is a very important Sunday for all faithful Orthodox Christians, coming as it does before the beginning of Great Lent, and as part of the Church’s Triodion journey to help us achieve Theosis.

Reviewing our progress, the first Sunday of Triodion taught us how to pray: with the humility of the Publican, recognizing our sinfulness and asking for the mercy of God. The second Sunday we are reminded that we have a patient and loving Father who always waits for His Prodigal Sons and Daughters to return to Him, no matter how we who separate ourselves through the Passions and our sins. The third Sunday demonstrates just how we can build a closer relationship with our Creator, which depends on the loving and Godly-oriented ways in which we treat our neighbors: our grandparents, parents, siblings, children, classmates and coworkers—and especially the least among us.

This Sunday, “Forgiveness Sunday”, we are meant to prepare ourselves for our entrance into Great Lent. The Church teaches us to exercise three very important actions during this time: prayer, fasting, and the vigil. St Basil the Great himself tells us, “When you are fasting, don’t think only of the food you are giving up, for that is not the only way to fast. True fasting is not only giving up food, but also becoming a stranger to the Passions and our iniquities. Think of your brother and do not be unjust. Forgive your neighbor for the wrong he has done. If he owes you and has not repaid you, forgive him. Otherwise, although you are not eating meat, you are eating your own brother; and although you fast until evening, you spend your days in the courts judging others.”

This is why, in many Orthodox countries, they still hold what are called “Forgiveness Vespers” on the day before this coming “Clean Monday”. These Vespers end with everyone—from the local leaders, to the priests, or Bishop—asking the rest of the congregation for forgiveness. This is something that is observed in the monasteries as well, so that having sought forgiveness, and having forgiven our brethren, we may enter Great Lent with a purified spirit.

Today, I would like to spend some time considering an important part of the preparation to meet that Great Feast of Pascha, and that is fasting. The Fast is something that we see, not just in the early days of the Church, but even more ancient. After the Creation, God requested that Adam and Eve not to taste of the fruit of the Tree. Spiritually, this request to restrain our passions to the will of God, teaches us the pleasing virtue of obedience. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, our Lord did not cast them out; rather they felt shame, and then left Paradise.

The concept of fasting extends even further across the Old Testament, not just with individuals, but even nations, who used fasting as a sign of repentance and a way to restore their relationship with God. Later in the New Testament, St. John the Forerunner and Baptist practiced fasting, before, and as a part of his baptismal ministry. After Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, our Lord went into the desert and fasted 40 days, praying to the Father for strength and guidance, before He began His salvific mission. Of course, that while He fasted on the last day, the Devil tempted Him. Among the temptations, the Evil One tried to use our Lord’s hunger to persuade Him to change stones into bread. Jesus dismissed him by quoting the wise scripture, “It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)

Later still, those who loved Jesus Christ gave up their homes and possessions to seek communion with God through monasticism. These people included not just the uneducated, like St. Anthony, but even those who were educated in the world, such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Basil the Great. After his studies, before he began his public service to the Church, St. Basil went into the desert to fast, pray, and planning his future.

Indeed, fasting is an important part of self-discovery for all human beings, especially spiritual persons, who wish to fully enjoy life. Enjoying life does not simply mean possessing whatever we want, or eating whatever we wish. We only need look again at the parables of the New Testament to see the Rich Man who thought less of how to serve God and his neighbor with his surplus crops, and was instead self-satisfied, thinking of how he could enjoy the rest of his life in ease. During the night, the angel required his soul, and the Rich Man’s materialistic dreams were in vain. There is of course the other Rich Man who ate and drank plentifully, without giving a thought to poor Lazarus at his gate. The Rich Man missed his opportunity to be with his Creator, while Lazarus was welcomed into the bosom of Abraham. This happened, not because of the Rich Man’s wealth, but because he had no love for his neighbor.

This time of the year we are of course called upon to cast away these examples, and help our neighbors, and the needy. These needs are not simply limited to hunger, though; they also include the sicknesses that have regrettably become a part of modern life, one of which is loneliness. Human beings have a need to interact with one another, to visit one another, to open their hearts to those who are alone, or feel lonely. The opportunities to connect with one another as icons of Christ, and to discover ourselves, are plentiful.

As we fast and give of ourselves, we are participating in that saying of our philosophical forefathers, γνῶθι σεαυτόν, that is “Know thyself.” If we don’t examine our being and know ourselves as we fast, then we are in a kind of limbo. We are not in a position to dream, or create, and we are certainly not at peace.

These are the things I wish to share with you my brothers and sisters in Christ. If we imitate our Lord and other righteous Saints through fasting, then that virtue known as obedience will come, and we shall be in the proper loving spirit to welcome that great Feast our Church gives to us: Pascha.

Metropolitan of Atlanta
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Holy & Great Lent

But those who drink of the water that
I will give them will never be thirsty.
(John 4:14 )

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are truly blessed to enter once again this sacred and holy season of Great Lent, a time of prayer and reflection, a time of fasting and abstinence, a time of service, and a time of spiritual renewal. We have begun this transformative journey to the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord over the past few weeks from the beginning of the Triodion, starting with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. We have been led through the services and observances of the Church to contemplate all that separates us from God, to affirm our need for His grace and love and forgiveness, and to find hope in Him.

The Holy Scriptures and the hymns of Great Lent exhort us to be sober, contrite and vigilant in the care of our hearts and minds and the spiritual needs of our souls. This is a time to be more mindful of the effects and deceptions of evil in our lives, the power of temptation, and the consequences of sin. It is a time to recognize the forces in our world that seek to separate us from God. We are called to guard ourselves against the snares of sin and to look more intensely to Christ, our fountain of life (cf. John 4:14).

In our vigilance we are also called to observe a time of contemplation, a time of stillness and quiet, filled with prayer, always keeping Christ as our focus and at the center of our lives. For Lent, we seek to abstain from the hectic pace of life and the demands of our contemporary world so that we can look inward and draw closer to God. We dedicate more time to be still, to pray, to pursue the peace of God through our focus on His presence and grace in our lives.

To know the presence of God and to experience the power of grace, we must watch and listen. His truth and wisdom come to us in the stillness and quiet. His will is revealed when our hearts and minds are open, receptive, waiting. We see and hear our Lord’s guidance when we seek Him, even if it is not immediately apparent to us. Our strength and our hope are renewed, and our hearts are assured. Through our worship and prayer, our fasting and reflection, and through drawing near to God with contrite hearts, we are prepared to see His mighty works and hear His voice. We are ready for deeper communion with Him as He blesses us with forgiveness and grace.

The season of repentance is at hand. “O you faithful, with joy let us enter upon the beginning of the Fast. Let us not be of sad countenance, but let us wash our faces in the water of dispassion; and let us bless and exalt Christ above all for ever.” (Hymn of Matins – First Monday of Lent)

With paternal love in Him,

Archbishop of America
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Judgment Sunday (Meatfare Sunday)

February 11

The foregoing two parables -- especially that of the Prodigal Son -- have presented to us God's extreme goodness and love for man. But lest certain persons, putting their confidence in this alone, live carelessly, squandering upon sin the time given them to work out their salvation, and death suddenly snatch them away, the most divine Fathers have appointed this day's feast commemorating Christ's impartial Second Coming, through which we bring to mind that God is not only the Friend of man, but also the most righteous Judge, Who recompenses to each according to his deeds.

It is the aim of the holy Fathers, through bringing to mind that fearful day, to rouse us from the slumber of carelessness unto the work of virtue, and to move us to love and compassion for our brethren. Besides this, even as on the coming Sunday of Cheese-fare we commemorate Adam's exile from the Paradise of delight -- which exile is the beginning of life as we know it now -- it is clear that today's is reckoned the last of all feasts, because on the last day of judgment, truly, everything of this world will come to an end.

All foods, except meat and meat products, are allowed during the week that follows this Sunday.

Theodora the Empress

As for the renowned Empress Theodora, she was from Paphlagonia and was the daughter of a certain Marinus, the commander of a military regiment. While being the wife of the Emperor Theophilus, the last of the Iconoclasts, she adorned the royal diadem with her virtue and piety; as long as her husband Theophilus lived, she privately venerated icons, despite his displeasure. After his death, she restored the holy icons to public veneration; this is commemorated on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the First Sunday of the Great Fast. She governed the Empire wisely for fifteen years, since her son Michael was not yet of age. But in 857 she forsook her royal power and entered a certain convent in Constantinople called Gastria, where she finished the course of her life in holiness and reposed in the Lord. Her sacred incorrupt remains are found in Corfu, in the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos of the Cave, in the capital city of the island (see also Dec. 12).
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Our parish will contributing from it's charity fund to help this project. Please consider part of your Lenten Alms toward St. Ignatius earmarked for this cause or a donation directly to FOCUS. ... See MoreSee Less

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