The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:14-21)
Our Lord begins today’s gospel reading, the gospel reading that is given to us on the day before we plunge into the holy waters of Great Lent. Here is what the Lord says to us “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” I think that these words are quite clear. Another way of looking at this saying of our Lord Jesus is this: If we cannot learn to forgive others, genuinely, from the heart, we can never accept the forgiveness that God wants to give to us. Why is this the case? Because God cannot impose Himself upon us. He invites us, but He doesn’t impose.
We come to the church on Sunday and you usually hear me giving the homily or sermon and you maybe inclined to think that what I am saying has no practical value. That somehow I am speaking theoretically. NO! The Christian faith is not philosophy but practicality that comes from truth and leads to life. If you want to have great relationships with others, one of the most important things that you need to learn is the ability to forgive everyone for everything that they have ever done to you. Whether through words, or actions or thoughts. Forgive them quickly. This will give you tremendous peace that flows throughout your relationships and clears your path to knowledge of God. This is a tremendous life lesson that we can apply daily. For this reason we will come together as a community tonight at 5pm. We will pray together and we will share the rite of forgiveness with one another. All of us, both members and those who are training to become members of this community. It is a powerful service that helps us to start Lent on the right foot.
Now I would like to share with you some more practical tips for getting the most out of Great Lent.
Guard your eyes: The eyes are the lamp of the soul. Lent is a great time to really pay attention to what we read and see. It is now an established fact that social media such as facebook has tragic consequences on teens and youth, but it is also becoming clear that these forms of social media are poisonous to most people (even, or especially those in denial). In addition, we know of the poisons in the entertainment industry as well as pornography and news. All of these things, even when they seem innocent or harmless, are of questionable value because they usually distract our minds away from the things of God and direct them to the things of the world.
Perhaps this Lent can be a time for you and your family to dramatically cut your screen time, whether it is games or tv or web browsing. Perhaps we can use this extra time for activities that build up the family like group reading of good stories or board games. Perhaps it could even be used for more personal reading and prayer. This doesn’t apply only to youth, but to parents. Parents, let’s try to put down our phones from dinner time until the children go to bed. Let’s give them our attention and not withhold our love to focus on trivialities. Either way, let’s guard our time and our minds through the gateway of the eyes.
Guard your lips: Our Lord Jesus tells us that it is not what a man puts in his mouth that makes him unclean, but the things that come out of his mouth. During this season we are keen to focus on the food we eat and to try our best to observe the rules of the fast. Let us not forget that the fast is but one way, albeit a powerful one, of attracting the grace of God. But if we fast from certain foods but don’t abstain from gossip or evil words, the grace of God will not rest on us. Then we will be in worse shape then before we fasted. On the other hand, some of the fathers of the Church tell us that practicing silence can greatly help us to receive the grace of God. The lips are connected to the mind and heart. When one is silent, the others begin to quiet down and give room for God to speak to us in our depths.
Another tip that is closely associate with this one is: Find time in your day for absolute silence. No phones, no music, no people. Just 10 or 20 minutes of silence, preferably sitting or kneeling in front of an icon, can make a great difference in our interior life.
Next, Attend more services: If in the past, you attended lenten services once a week, perhaps you can increase your level of participation and commitment to attending two lenten services a week. If you have never come to mid-week services, perhaps it is within your power to attend once a week. For us, the holy prayers and services are a great means of receiving the grace of God. To come to the Church and pray is truly a counter-cultural and revolutionary act. It is a declaration of our time and faith and commitment to the living God and His people. When you come, you greatly benefit not only yourself but the others in your family and in the church. If for instance, the church is empty on Monday night. Let us suppose that one person comes to pray. He or she might think to themselves “Am I strange?” or “Perhaps I am missing some other important event.” But when there are many together they are strong and they bear witness to one another that Christ is the center of our life, that worship is an essential part of our day.
Finally, expect to be fiercely tempted: When we fast and increase our prayers, we are making a declaration of war against the demonic. But just because the enemy has woken up and increased his attacks, does not mean that we should back down and run away or retreat. No! It is the time to fortify our defenses and increase our attacks, primarily through prayer and the study of the Scriptures. St. Theophan the Recluse once wrote “For a believer there is nothing terrifying here, because near a God-fearing man demons only busy themselves, but they do not have any power over him. A sober man of prayer shoots arrows against them, and they stay far away from him, not daring to approach, and fearing the defeat which they have already experienced.”
When you pray and use the name of Jesus Christ you mercilessly whip the enemy and bring him great shame. It is better that your enemy should know shame then to succumb to temptation and have the shame placed on you! Remember that Lent is not just a season. It is a symbol of our whole life.
You desire the good things of life. You desire eternal life. Turn to the living God and you will have them! Let this Lent be your return to paradise. Paradise is not a place, paradise is the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever we put it during this sacred and special season will be returned to us with heavenly interest! Our time spent in the church will not be lost! Our money given to the poor will not be lost! Our efforts to pray and struggle will not be lost. None of these will be lost, but in return for all of these, we will be found!
St. Porphyrios once said “All beings turn towards Him, albeit unconsciously. Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21].” And glory be to God, forever. AMEN.