PASTORAL LETTER FOR LENT 2002

Lent - A Time to Reflect on Who God is to You

To the clergy, religious, seminarians, and faithful of our Archeparchy of Philadelphia,

GLORY TO JESUS CHRIST!

When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to Him, He said to Nathaniel, "Behold, a man who is really an Israelite. A man in whom there is no guile!" Nathaniel said to Jesus: "How do you know me?" Jesus answered, "Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." (John 1:49)

It was not so much that Jesus had seen him under the fig tree that surprised Nathaniel; it was that Jesus had read the thoughts of his innermost heart. So Nathaniel must have said to himself : "Here is a man who understands my dreams and my prayers and has seen into in my inmost secret longings. This must be the Son of God. none other than the Promised Messiah."

Throughout Lend, devote time to think who God is to you. When you pray, when you come into His Church, when you shut your eyes and think of God looking at you WHO IS HE?

GOD IS HE WHO SEES!

God does not see us from the top of some ivory tower, but from the cross. 'I'hrough Christ, we have learned that the eyes of God are the eyes of tender love and mercy. When God looks at you, when He looks at me, He sees us not to punish or harm us for our wrongdoings. Rather, He looks at us with immense compassion and love. In fact, He loves us so much that He cannot take His eyes off of us. As a mother cannot take her eyes off her newborn baby, so the Lord does not withdraw His eyes from those who put their trust in Him.

God sees us in our suffcring and pain, and thus is able to comfort, strengthen us, and help us, when we look into His eyes of compassion and caring. God sees us in our joys and times of great happiness, and even heightens those moments when we share them in gratitude with God. And, God sees us also in our sin, those times when we offend others and ourselves, and God Himself .

lf wewere to look into the eyes of Jesus in our time of sin, when we see our wrongdoing and admit our sinfulness, God's look at us would not be one of stern condemnation, but a look of immense compassion and love, calling us to repentance. For example, Jesus looked on Simon Peter after he had denied him three times. As a result ofthat look, Peter went out and cried bitterly. WHY? What was in that look of Jesus that made Peter repent and go on to become the mightiest preacher of Pentecost?

He saw in the eyes of Jesus the immense compassion and love for someone who was lost. Peter saw eyes calling and inviting him to return to His love.

God is He who sees us as we are, even in our ugliness of wrongdoings and in our sinfulness. But when God looks at us, it is a look of loving invitation. It is an act of love inviting us to repentance and forgiveness, pleading with us and saying, "Come, let us reason together."

GOD LOOKS INTO OUR HEARTS.

He sees our character. He sees the real motive behind each act. He distinguishes between the real and the unreal, between what our intentions are and what we actually do. We hold many secrets before our neighbor, but there are no secrets before God.

Take time to think of the immense compassion in the eyes through which God looks at us. A person can took at another person with a look that hardens the other's heart. A person can look at another with a look that hurts and destroys. A person can look at another with cold indifference, humiliating and degrading the other. But a person can look at another with reverence. When that happens, the other will be given the freedom to be himself. A person can look at another with kindness and goodness, with a look that encourages and loves.

That look opens up what is locked up inside the other , awakens his powers and potential, and brings that person to himself. THIS IS THE WAY THAT GOD LOOKS AT US. It is a look of compassion and caring, a look of understanding, a look of loving us despite ourselves, a look inviting us and calling us to change and repent. We are invited to return to God who loves us and wants us to reach the potential we were meant to be, that which we were created to be in the image of God.

LENT calls us to revolutionize ourselves! It calls us to remove ourselves from those things which make us less of what we are meant to be in the eyes of God. Lent calls us to remove ourselves from those things which tempt us and lead us farther from God - sin. LENT calls us to open ourselves to God's life-giving brightness of His Spirit. Lent invites us to take on the LOOK OF GOD in our dealings with one another and with ourselves - calling from within ourselves and from within others we are called to love and serve, that kindness and compassion which inspires us to be better people, to be the fullness each of us is called to be as a child of God. Yes, it requires self-discipline, self-control, abstinence and prayer. But remember the words of St. Paul, "I can do all things in Him (Christ) who strengthens me." (Phil. 4: 13)

My Lenten prayer for all the clergy, religious, seminarians, and faithful of our Archeparchy of Philadelphia is that we devote extra time to grow in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Try and still yourself from your normal everyday busy pace to be at peace in prayer and meditation with the God Who so loves us and Who sees us as we are. Challenge yourself to see His look at you. Allow yourself to feel His immense compassion and caring for you. Surrender yourself to His gentle invitation to help you discard those things which keep you from being your fullness before God.

Let us walk the Lenten journey together. Resolve this Lent to participate in all of the special Lenten services at your parish. You have a special place in the parish prayer life. Your participation in prayer is needed by others, uplifting and encouraging one another in the journey of prayer throughout Lent.

We will then, together, be ready to fully meet the Risen Christ at Easter!

A most blessed and prayerful Lenten journey!

+Stefan Soroka

Metropolitan-Archbishop

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