The Great Lent begins. It is the most important period of the church life, as well as the spiritual life of a faithful person. We may speak about how bad we are, and you hear that from me all the time. But we can say how great our God is. We may have received absolution from sins a thousand times in this life. Without doing anything we get limitless love, which allows us to keep our head above the water. This love brings us to the church and to the chalice. Our God is so great that we can speak about holiness, about Pascha and Resurrection. Our God is so great that we are allowed to attend His Great Supper, where everything is transfigured and becomes God-like. Maybe it lasts for just a second, but this second is so precious…
Forgiveness Sunday. To ask for forgiveness, we need to love, to believe, to understand and to sympathize. And how is it possible if your own soul is dark and empty? In our life everything is possible. “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” How can a person, corrupted by sin, become a saint, who strives to attain the eternal life. “You take My blood and My body”. How could it be possible? Can we really estimate the power of God? Of course, we try to adjust everything to ourselves. God does not reject this. He accepts the word we say today. And we need this word, because it is what we want to say to Him. Tomorrow our word can be wiser, but today it is as it is. We came to the church to help each other, to support each other, because we understand what happened when the man violated the commandment of love and trust to the Lord.
You understand this, because you live with it, with this crime constantly happening inside you. But you should not hide, you should come and ask God for forgiveness, just as you can. You know He will forgive you, He will purify and heal you. This is why we should not cry in despair, but hope in God and trust Him. No matter how crooked is our earthly path, God will make it straight, if only we trust Him. He will do this if only we do not follow the example of our ancestors, who hid from God and accused everyone, even the Maker Himself, of their fall. Everyone, but not themselves. This is why, my dear brothers and sisters, we all need help. And we get this help.
Today each priest will bless you in your spiritual work. Of course, each of us has his own spiritual measure, and often people say “I am sick”, “I am weak”, “I cannot fast”… But it is not about a special menu and fasting, it is about your condition, tour attitude to what is happening inside you. It is about the spirit, which has to strengthen our ugly body and make us stronger in our struggle against sin.
Every year, when we come to this moment, we step closer to the line, behind which eternity begins. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”. This is why I would like to wish you spiritual joy and spiritual freshness, as well as faith, hope and love, which are the greatest gifts given by God. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden”… God wants to gather all who suffer, who want to live forever and to learn how to love. He is ready to accept everyone without any limitations. “Come unto me and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls”.
Of course, it is a wonderful period. During this period, there are many great services and we get much spiritual food. I think, at least some of this food should Something in our life should change. As St. Seraphim said to Archimandrite Sophrony: “Sow the seeds even in stone. What if they can grow?”
The Lord can build a church even in the hearts of such vulnerable and foolish people like us. God can turn us into saints, if only we want this. He does not want to bring us to the Kingdom of Heaven by force. This is our path. This is the path of our souls to the essence of love, which is Golgotha. This is really the mountain, where our salvation has happened. However, it is rather difficult to say that we are ready to be here with God, to stand near His Cross, bearing our own one. It is rather difficult to say that we are pleased to be here, while we suffer from sorrows and diseases. We want to leave, to go somewhere, where it is easier to live, where the life is more comfortable and the food is fetter. But we have to endure. So, dear brothers and sisters, I have to ask you all for forgiveness, and I have to do it sincerely. It is not so easy.
One can ask for forgiveness hundred times. But we should do it from our heart, right? Of course, I am responsible for what is going on in the convent. As a spiritual father, I am responsible for this before you, the people who come here for help. However, I think instead, “I am so tired of this! I need to sneak out!” It is just horrible. It is so horrible, but you live still live like this… Of course, I am guilty for my cowardice and faint-heartedness.
I think, we should rely on what I have mentioned before – the love of God, which can create a son for Abraham from a piece of stone. The Holy Spirit should work in the Church. If there is no Spirit, but only flash and blood, then it leads to sorrows. And these sorrows are often wrong. I wish there is the Spirit. I wish there is the God’s love, so that we do not speak from our own, but God speaks through us. Then it will have effect, then it will purify, if it inspires. But today it is what it is. Forgive me, a poor man, for my platitude, for everything what hurt you or confused you. Forgive me and pray for me, a sinner.
A sermon on Forgiveness Sunday
by Fr. Andrew Lemeshonok
St. Elisabeth Convent, 2017