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Monday, November 16, 2020

Thoughts on the Beginning of the Forty Day Fast of Christmas

 

 
Beloved brethren, "Christ is in our midst", present and active.

We have already arrived at the Holy Forty Days, that is, the period of the Christmas fast, our preparation for the celebration of the great event of the divine incarnation. Every year we had the opportunity during these days through services, gatherings, various social and charitable actions to help our souls prepare spiritually for the acceptance of the Lord in our hearts.

This year the external conditions are very different. The black clouds of the pandemic can be seen in the horizon. Once again we are prevented from participating freely in ecclesiastical life and worship, more restrictive measures are constantly being taken, we are mercilessly bombarded by menacing and terrifying news, and our experience of Easter and Great Lent will visibly be repeated for Christmas causing fear and concern in our hearts.

There is no doubt that we are faced with a very difficult situation, which of course imposes protective measures and requires special attention, justifying concerns, suspicions, upsets, disagreements, mistakes. What makes the situation more difficult is the circulation of fake or conflicting information, the dispersion of inaccuracies, the tensions, the extremes, the other categories.

Who could doubt that our fellow human beings live under enormous and generalized pressure? Others are living an unfair struggle in the Intensive Care Units and hospitals, some, in a very hard way, lose the battle, doctors and nurses often make superhuman efforts, the National Health System is under great pressure, the whole world is unstable, there is a global panic and unprecedented confusion. We hear numbers and statistics, we learn about known or obvious personalities that they have become sick, the reports refer to curves, predictions, threatening estimates. It's an unprecedented and strangling scene.

All this pressure falls on us and directly affects both our daily life and our mental and spiritual state. Anxiety and agitation, they upset our souls. As believers, we show complete understanding, we are disciplined in the measures, some of us live in our immediate environment corresponding phenomena, but we do not lose our hope and our peace, yet at the same time we lack church attendance and mutual communication, we are very sorry for the secular face of the Church and the imposition of extreme-measures, but more so the feeling that the Church and faith is not respected or at least correctly understood, as in the past or as we live it.

The fact that there is no explicit provision for us to light a candle or to worship unhindered in the temple is if anything else a misunderstanding and offensive to our reason and faith. To be accused of the accusation, even without any data and no concern, that our participation in the divine community endangers public health is disrespectful and insulting. To forbid the presence of 30 or 40 people in large 800 and 1000 square meter churches is absurd and provocative, especially if one would think that in the living rooms of ships or in aircrafts a much larger number of passengers travel for hours. Why should faith, the Church, and God be treated like this?

On the other hand, protesting with our voices, with our frustrations and intensity, and often in an unacceptable and uncontrolled way, neither brings results nor is it Christ-like. Not because mistakes can't be made, but because relations between us are often injured, inner peace is lost and our souls are savaged.

The manifestation of faith and worship is not a right claimed by the people, but a necessary necessity that the secular state must respect and protect the Church. Faith is the breath of our soul, and it is more necessary than the functioning of our lungs. I am sure that there was a great deal of room to give some satisfaction to the body of the faithful and not to be obliged to clamp down on the feeling of an unjustified persecution.

Nevertheless, this is the situation, and we cannot change it, at least at this stage. But we must somehow manage it, so that through this situation we can "all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).

Let us pay attention, my brethren, to the domination of fear in our hearts, to the breakdown of our faith, but also to the explosions of anger and rivalries, to the attribution of responsibility in others, and to the removal of ourselves from them. The danger of our souls being savaged by self-made claims, or of building an egotistic self-pity for our aspirations, or of being turned from believers in the name of Christ to followers and supporters of views, either to divide and to lose our brotherhood, or to tear down our trust in the responsible Church, is contemptible.

Now is not the time for such reactions. Let's keep our enthusiasm for later. It seems that there are many more difficult days, days of real persecution, persecution which we alone will not be able to face, but as a united Church we will be called to confess. She will invite us not to protest, but to heroic confessions and martyrdoms.

What we now need is something much more difficult and much deeper and more true: it is our repentance, the study of compunction, the turning to ourselves, the inner life, prayer, the cultivation of the virtues, unity. And for these, the present conditions help a lot. It is a chance to learn to live in the refuge of our inner man, in the catacombs of the mystical life, in the "reservoir" of God's grace.

"Strive to enter through the narrow gate" (Lk. 13:24). Perhaps this narrow gate is not the protesting of our rights, but the passage to our usually unknown truth, to our "deep heart" (Psalm 63:7), to our "inner man" (2 Cor. 4:16)? But this depends neither on the Government nor on the Synod; it depends on our spiritual philotimo.

On the other hand, let us also pay attention to the complacency and indifference, cowardice and limpness, or the habit of reconciling the way of life and the softness that the restrictive measures can create. If our souls become cold, if we lose our fighting spirit, and if fear and laziness choke our zeal and confession, then we will again lose our touch with the mystery of God. "Fast, and pray, so that you may not enter into temptation" (Matt. 26:41).

Christmas is coming. The emptying of our Lord and God is before and near us. What is needed to recognize it is something to do for our own emptying.

I pray that all may have a good and fruitful Forty Days.

With paternal prayers,

THE METROPOLITAN

† of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki Nicholas
 
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
 
 
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