Another excerpt from the Metropolitan's Lenten message
Metropolitan Tikhon's Lenten message for 2023 has many great points for the Lenten journey. So, we have divided it into three parts to allow for greater benefit.
Great Lent, then, is not a time to show how pious we are in our observance of the fast and attendance at services. Neither is it a time to prove our great virtue by imagining that we, on our own strength, can take the fast like a cudgel to our sins in an act of moral heroism. No; Great Lent is a time to humble ourselves, to present ourselves to God as “willing and obedient,” and to allow him to cleanse the scarlet and crimson stains of our sins.
“Cleansing” describes a process, and the process of cleansing our sins can be, at times, painful. In another Lenten lection, the prophet speaks of a Branch that will appear, “beautiful and glorious,” in the future (4:2). This Branch is Christ, and we hope, grafted onto his vine, to share in the splendor of his everlasting kingdom. But for now, we must endure the digging up of the vineyard (Is. 5:5–6). The hedge of our pride, the wall of our vainglory—all this must be torn up, burned, trampled down.
We strive to keep the fast, to attend services, to make our confession, to repent and change our deeds and minds and hearts. We strive to devote ourselves to the good and defense and liberation and well-being of our brethren, the “true fast” chosen by the Lord (Is. 58:6–7). But, even as we make our noble religious, spiritual, and social efforts, we are constantly confronted with all of our deep-rooted sinful habits: not just pride and vainglory, but ignorance, laziness, despondency, fear of the world, heedlessness, and more. If we are willing and obedient and truly desire God to use the fast to cleanse us, we will suffer—not because fasting is suffering, but because Lent, when faithfully kept, reveals many painful truths about ourselves.
Yet, even in the midst of this process of cleansing, we still find ourselves filled with the hope and joy of God coming into the world. On Monday of the Third Week, the reading from the prophecy of Isaiah is one we associate more usually with the Nativity season: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shone. For unto us A Child is born; unto us a Son is given” (Is. 9:2, 6). But truly, that which began at Christmas continues throughout Lent. As our vices are uprooted, as our sins are cleansed, room is being made in our hearts, not for us, but for Jesus Christ. He came as a Child, and now he is growing. He is increasing as we decrease (Jn. 3:30). Just as cleansing is a process, so does Christ come to us gradually, as much as we can receive him. And, because he is the boundless God, the very Fountain of goodness, “of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Is. 9:7). Thus, even in the most painful moments of ascetic struggle, repentance, and consciousness of our sinfulness, we are always full of hope, because the bountiful Lord always desires to give his gifts to us more fully.
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