St. George
Serbian Orthodox Church
Carmichaels, PA

Great Lent - 2003
by Fr. Rodney Torbic

Great Lent is an opportunity for individuals to return to Jesus Christ. Great Lent is an opportunity for individuals to repent. Great Lent is an opportunity for individuals to learn more about Jesus Christ.

No one is forced to become an Orthodox Christian. No one is forced to participate in Great Lent. When a person says "yes" to Jesus Christ at Holy Baptism, the person takes on the responsibility to honor the Holy Orthodox Faith. The person takes on the responsibility to honor and live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Coming to Holy Baptism involves preparation. Coming to Holy Baptism involves a certain amount of expectation. Most people coming to be baptized as Orthodox Christians are infants.

The Orthodox Church expects that baptized infants will be raised in an Orthodox Christian home. The Orthodox Church expects that baptized infants will be brought to Church on a regular basis.

We come to think about Great Lent when our minds have matured to a certain degree. We come to think about Great Lent when we begin to comprehend the seriousness of our Faith.

All that we do as Orthodox believers is connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot separate our life in the Church from the death and resurrection of Christ.

We cannot separate ourselves as believers from the Divine services of the Church. We cannot separate ourselves as believers from the Holy Sacraments.

Serious believers come to Holy Confession. Serious believers come to Holy Communion. Serious believers honor the fasts of the Church throughout the year.

Serious believers think about their soul. Serious believers think about the quality of their prayers and the quantity of time devoted to prayer. Serious believers think about their relationship with Jesus Christ. Serious believers think about the saints and the martyrs. Serious believers think about the Mother of God.

It is important to work for the Church. It is important to contribute to the Church. Parish churches do not exist without regular sources of income. Parish churches do not continue to exist without people being concerned about the upkeep and improvements taking place.

Great Lent is a good time to ponder the words of Jesus Christ to Martha who was busy serving while her sister Mary sat at Jesus' feet listening to Jesus' every word.

Martha complained to Jesus. She said: Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?" Jesus told Martha: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Lk. 10:41-42)

When we go about our daily work, do we ensure that Jesus Christ is at the forefront of our thoughts? Do we take time to evaluate the way we spend each day? Do we take stock of our lives to be certain that all we do is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ?

When Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the good part that would not be taken away, the words had a familiar ring. They sounded very much like words used in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6:20)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Mt. 6:20)

When we live our lives each day, are we guided by the Christian standards set forth in the tenth chapter of St. Luke or the sixth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel?

Our lives are time limited on earth in their present form. We come into this life in a definite body at a definite point in time. We depart this life at a certain point in time.

The time we get is a gift from God. The way we use the time affects our relationship with God. The way we use our time reflects our perception of and relationship with God.

The holy Apostle Paul said: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitied." (I Cor. 15:19) We know that at the end of Great Lent, Holy Week comes before us. We know that during Holy Week, great attention centers on the arrest and trial of Jesus Christ. Great attention centers on the death of Christ.

Holy Friday stands out. Serious believers think about Holy Friday. Serious believers honor Christ Crucified.

Being a serious Orthodox Christian involves work. Being a serious Orthodox Christian involves exerting the self to actively participate in the life of the Church.

The life of the Church means the Holy Sacraments. The life of the Church involves regluar worship. The life of the Church involves the Holy Scriptures.

Holy Bibles are accessible to every one who wants one in America. Accessibility does not guarantee the Holy Scriptures will be read. To read the Scriptures regularly, set times need to be established and conditions should be conducive.

Most people grow up in local parish churches. Great Lent is a good time to consider the very elements of faith that believers brought to this land. Great Lent is a golden opportunity to think about the lives that gave rise to the formation of faith brought in the hearts of immigrants.

We cannot think about Great Lent without thinking about the content of the services of Great Lent. References to repentance are great. References to seeking the mercy of God are great.

In Great Lent, those who attend church services at times other than Saturday or Sunday in the daytime, will come to know of the prostrations of the Church. We are called to prostrate our full bodies before the Lord.

Christianity involves more than an hour or two of worship on Sunday morning. To benefit from Orthodoxy, one must invest in Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy offers a complete way of life.

Believers need not look beyond the Orthodox Church to find wholeness and completeness in Jesus Christ. Believers only need to practice Orthodoxy to experience Christ.

Christ stands out in history. Christ goes beyond the concept of history known to the average believer.

On Pascha we read from the Holy Gospel of St. John. We hear the words: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (Jn. 1:1) We can spend much of our lives thinking about the meaning of the first chapter of the Holy Gospel of St. John.

Each believer will answer before God. When we recite the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, we say Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. We don't know when the Second Coming of Christ will be. We need to be ready.

In the Gospel of St. Mark we hear these words: "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming---in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning." (Mark 6:36)

Two thousand years have passed and Christ's Second Coming has not taken place. We need to think about our readiness? We need to be ready.

How often do we measure our lives according to the Holy Scriptures? How often do we consider the condition of our hearts and minds? Do we do all that we can to rid our hearts and minds of thoughts that are dangerous to our soul?

Do we ponder the quality of our prayers? Do we pray with great consistency? Is prayer a part of our lives throughout the day?

We cannot only look inward. We have to think about our relationships with people we meet. The Holy Gospel of St. Matthew says all nations will be gathered before the Lord at His Second Coming and He will separate one from another. (Mt. 25:32)

Great Lent has a very specific number of days. They are days to be treasured, to be fully utilized. We will not get a day back, once it is gone. We will not get a minute back once it is gone.

Great Lent is a time for joy. Great Lent is a time to draw near to God. Great Lent is a time to anticipate the greatness of God. We can think about how great God is. We can think about how loving God is. We can think about how forgiving God is.

We can think about how we relate with God. We can think about God. To be able to think, is to think about God.

We do well when we consider how we prepare ourselves for Christ. We do well when we think about our bodies. The Holy Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's (I Cor. 6:30)

Do we consider our body belonging to God? Do we think about the complexity of the body? Do we think about Who made the body?

Newborn children coming into the world cause us to think about the mystery of birth. God breathes life into each person. Our hands do not move without God. Our feet do not carry us without God.

We are challenged to measure our growth during Great Lent. We are challenged to be better believers as we progress through Great Lent. Great Lent is more than abstaining from meat and dairy products.

We tend to focus upon ourselves during Great Lent. Indeed, the salvation of our souls is of paramount importance. We can draw strength and courage from knowing that participation in Great Lent reaches around the world. In remote villages where Orthodoxy exists, believers participate in Great Lent. In the major capital cities of the world where Orthodox Christians live, Great Lent is honored.

Each parish has a contribution to make. Each parish has a responsibility to the Holy Orthodox Church at large. Each parishioner is a determining factor in the strength of the parish. Each parishioner has a contribution to make to the parish.

The Prayer of St. Ephrem of Syria which is an essential part of Great Lent expresses our desire to be rid of sloth and despair and lust of power. In the Prayer of St. Ephrem, we pray for the spirit of patience, chastity, humility and love. We pray to focus on our own transgressions and not to judge our brother.

The Prayer of St. Ephrem is repeated throughout the week during Great Lent. The exercise of our bodies is involved in the Prayer of St. Ephrem. The way we employ our bodies is a form of prayer. The amount and type of food we consume influences our thoughts and ability to think.

There is a direct connection between care of the body and the spiritual life. Many Orthodox writings are available to educate the serious believer. Men and women in a parish help the parish when they are serious in practicing the Orthodox Christian life.

Practicing Orthodoxy does not mean going about with gloomy face. The joy of Christ is reason to bring cheer to every face. Thoughts on the Resurrection of Christ are reason to be joyful at all times.

It is difficult to reach back two thousand years to the time Jesus Christ hung upon the Cross. The Holy Orthodox Church gives us every Wednesday and Friday to remember the Cross.

During Great Lent, we think about Jesus Christ as an adult. We think about Christ being treated as a criminal. We think about the creation of the world. We think about the reasons Jesus took on human flesh.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is abundantly blessed with the fruits of the work of Bishop NIKOLAI (Velimirovic). Bishop NIKOLIA's writings have nourished hungry believers in many different places. Great Lent is a good time to read from the writings of Bishop NIKOLAI.

Parish retreats give focus to Great Lent. Parish retreats stimulate thought. Parishes can benefit from retreats but cannot rely upon them exclusively. The Church has a structure for Great Lent. When we experience Great Lent according to the structure, we draw strength from the Church.

Love has a place in all that we do as Christians. Charitable giving, knowledge and understanding and the gift of speaking well are all nothing if believers do not practice these in the context of love. St. Paul ranks love about faith and hope. He puts love in a paramount position. (I Cor. 13ff)

The Evangelist John speaks of love also. St. John says: "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (I Jn. 4:8). We know love when we experience it. We share Christ when we share love with others.

In this hostile world, the need for love is great. In this hostile world, the need to see and understand the positions and ways of lives of others is important. Christians do not live in a vacuum.

Christianity is practiced in specific communities. Orthodox Christianity is practiced according to the structure overseen by the Diocesan Bishop. Great Lent calls us to honor the structure of the Church.

Each parish is strengthened when parishioners actively participate in the structure of Great Lent. Even a single person honoring Great Lent each day has a positive impact on others.

To move from comfort to pushing ourselves to grow in Christ involves a hunger for Christ. St. Paul told the Thessalonians to test all things and hold fast to what is good. (I Thess. 5:21) We must practice discernment as we go about life in the Church.

The devil is hard at work. The devil can derail a lax or lazy believer. The devil can succeed when Christians are not vigilant. The precious Body and Blood of Christ give us nourishment to be true to Christ.

Each day the Holy Orthodox Church remembers certain saints. If we go to Church, we normally hear the names of the saints mentioned at the dismissal. The lives of the saints are inspirational and instructional.

It would be interesting to do a scientific study to determine how many Orthodox Christian seriously spend time reading the lives of the saints. It would be interesting to examine the libraries in each Christian home to determine how many books on the lives of saints are present.

We did not get to the present century in the Orthodox Church on our own motion. We did not get to the present century in the Holy Orthodox Church by our own actions. We do not celebrate the Divine services in the Holy Orthodox Church without the presence of the saints.

Our lives are linked to and indebted to the saints of centuries past. We are enriched when we learn about the saints and incorporate their virtues into our lives. To learn of the saints involves taking time to read about them and to read their writings that are available.

Great value can be applied to spending time reading the lives of the saints. Reading from Bishop NIKOLAI's Prologue From Ochrid is one way to learn about many different saints. Orthodox bookstore catalogues inform the believer on the availability of writings on the lives of the saints.

One need not only read from books to learn about God. Bishop NIKOLAI's book Prayers by the Lake is an excellent example of learning about God from carefully viewing our natural surroundings.

The more one reads the Psalms with careful attention, the more one can come to appreciate the learning power that comes from reading the Psalms. The services of Great Lent make extensive use of the Psalms. Let us pray we are attentive when the Psalms enter our minds.

The Psalmist tells us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Ps. 90/12). How many people actually keep track of the amount of days in their lives? How many people view the time of each day with precious care? How many people are interested in wisdom at all?

The Desert Fathers have much to teach us. How many Orthodox believers know of the Desert Fathers? What percentage of Orthodox believers read from the Desert Fathers with regularity?

Orthodoxy is not simply an academic pursuit. Academics are necessary if one is preparing for full time life of work in the Church. One grows into the life of the Church. The process is not dramatic. Each serious believer has something to offer.

The interrelationship among Orthodox Churches tends to be more visible during Great Lent. The Sunday of Orthodoxy features Orthodox jurisdictions coming together for liturgical purposes.

Hope has a fundamental and major part in the life of the Orthodox Christian. St. Peter wrote centuries ago: "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." (I Peter 3:15)

Great Lent contains within it, the promise of hope. Great Lent contains within it, the expectation that one will be better because of Great Lent. We do well to pray for each other to honor and benefit from Great Lent.

Our identity is inextricably part of the Holy Orthodox Church. How many people during the course of their lives reread the text of the Baptismal experience. How many people carefully examine the service of consecration of the parish Church.

How many people seriously think about God on a daily basis? Great Lent is about us and God, God and us. Do we appreciate how little we know about God? Do we appreciate how good God is to us? Do we have a sense of how sinful we are?

Through Confession, we can get rid of sins. When we are done with Holy Confession, we still have battles to fight. Temptations always come upon us. They must be repelled.

Jesus uttered the words: "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (Mt. 6:23). These words of Jesus are good to keep near to our hearts, minds and lips.

Let us consider the monastics during Great Lent. Orthodox monasteries have long services and have daily services. They offer by their existence, places for serious believers to go.

Parishes generally do not have the full range of services monasteries have. Parishioners who take time to go to a monastery may get inspired. They may get excited.

Great Lent is a time to think about the relationship between parish churches and monasteries. Parish churches and monasteries complement each other. They join together in manifesting the Holy Orthodox Church.

We cannot see all there is to see about the Holy Orthodox Church. We cannot fully comprehend all there is to comprehend. During Great Lent, often the opportunity presents itself to visit other parishes or a monastery. It is good to take advantage of these opportunities.

Casting off unwanted parts of our behavior is good use of Great Lent. Contemplating the impact of Great Lent upon the world is worth doing. The Orthodox Christian Church, through the journey of Great Lent, has an impact upon the world.

Millions participate in the lenten journey. Church services are held. Lives are changed. The effect has not been effectively measured but it is something to be considered.

Pride has no place in the lenten journey. The good accomplished by Great Lent is something to thank God for. It is something to rejoice about.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are hallmarks of Great Lent. Increased prayer includes additional church attendance as well as increased personal prayer. Increased fasting means following the fast from Forgiveness Sunday through the conclusion of Great Lent and all of Holy Week until the Paschal Divine Liturgy.

Increased almsgiving means giving quietly and in secret to the needy greater amounts than normally given during the year.

At baptism we "put on Christ". At Chrismation, we were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we go to Holy Confession and Communion, we experience Jesus Christ and are reunited with Christ. Christ enters into us through the precious Body and Blood.

If we participate fully in Great Lent, the joy of Pascha multiplies. If we participate fully in Great Lent, we become affected in ways we will never know. The power of God will change our lives. We become better persons.

Parishes exist for the worship and glory of God. Parishes exist that individuals can experience God. Parishes exist for the celebration of the Holy Sacraments.

Great Lent brings the parish community together with an intensity unique to this time of the year. Great Lent is dedicated to God, calling forth from Orthodox Christians around the world to rededicate themselves to the life taken up at Holy Baptism.

We know not when we come into the world. We know not when we exit this life in the world. The time we have here, when used beneficially, can lead us to the kingdom of God.

We experience a foretaste of God's Kingdom when we experience the Divine Liturgy of the Church. We experience God's Kingdom when we experience the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts. We experience God's Kingdom when we partake of the precious Body and Blood.

Our Lord Jesus Christ told us to seek first the kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33). Great Lent is the structure that returns us to the journey to the Kingdom.

Our Lord describes the kingdom as a treasure found in a field that produces great joy and causes a man to sell everything to buy the field. (Mt. 13:44) In a second desciption, the kingdom is likened to a pearl of great price for which a merchant sells all he has to raise funds to buy the pearl (Mt. 13:45-46).

Let us cast away all the unwanted aspects of our lives this Great Lent. Let us seek the kingdom of God.

If we fast, if we pray, if we live the Orthodox Christian life each day, we will come to know God in ways we never knew Him. God is always an integral part of our lives…"In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts. 17:28)

Great Lent enables to see God at work in our lives and in the world. Great Lent gives focus to our lives. Great Lent gives direction to our lives. Great Lent joins our lives with the lives of others around the world. Great Lent is a common journey, yet it calls for actions that are not commonly taken.

We are asked to be forgiving. We are asked to be peaceful. We are asked to seek humility. It is hard to be rid of pride. It is hard to exercise self-control. It is hard remain without sin every second of everyday.

Christ gives us hope. His victory over death is our reason for hope. We have the perspective of history. We have the benefit of the Holy Gospel, the good news of Christ.

We have the benefit of centuries of Christian witness. We have the benefit of the prayers of the saints and the martyrs. We have the benefits of churches and monasteries around the world proclaiming the Holy Gospel, celebrating the Holy Sacraments and being fully engaged in the lenten journey.

We are enriched each day of the lenten journey when we participate in the journey. We have reason to give glory and thanks to God for each sunrise, for each noonday and for each evening.

God has given us life. God has given us the ability to think, to speak, to move. God has given us the opportunity to seek His Kingdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ shed His Blood to fully express His love for us. Our Lord Jesus Christ gave His life for us. He took upon Himself the sins of the world.

We will never fully comprehend all that we have received from Christ and all that we continue to receive from Him. Each in our own small way can give thanks to Christ by trying our best to live the Christian life.

Let us realize us the honor that comes from having the identity of being an Orthodox Christian. Each time we fail, let us try again to honor the Name of Christ, to live up to the honor bestowed upon us as Orthodox Christians.

God will help us in the long lenten journey. Let us be serious about the journey. Let us make full use of the opportunity.

God is merciful to sinners. We know from the thief on the cross, that while there is time, there is hope to be with Him in His heavenly Kingdom. May the words of the thief on the cross forever be in our mouths and in our hearts, "Lord remember when You come into Your kingdom." (Lk. 23:43).

May our Lord God remember each of you in His Heavenly Kingdom.

St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. Great Lent 2003.
Seven Holy Hieromartyrs of Cherson.

Friday of the Third Week of Great Lent
Isaiah 13:2-13

Today Orthodox Christians hear from the Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament Reading for the Sixth Hour Our minds and hearts are directed to centuries before Jesus Christ. Our minds are We are connected with the past. The present is influenced by and shaped by the events of the past. We live better in the present and prepare better for the future when we consider God at work through history.

In Isaiah we find the words, "Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty." We must ask ourselves in this time of Great Lent, are we prepared for judgement by God. Have we repented for all of the sins we have committed? Are we sorry for errors and wrongdoings we have done?

We must ask ourselves do we take sufficient positive steps with our lives to know of God's presence throughout the day and to rejoice in God's presence with continuous prayer?

Great Lent is a time to ask ourselves if we are like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, choosing the one thing needed, listening to the word of Christ, that which will not be taken away from her.(Lk. 10:42)

Perhaps we are like Martha, very busy (Lk. 10:38-42) Great Lent is the time to return to God. Great Lent is the time to consciously think about God in our lives. Great Lent is the time to draw near to God and commit ourselves to God.

A finite amount of time is given to us by God in this life upon earth. Time is one of the great treasures and resources given us by God. The way we use the time of live affects the quality of life we live.

We do well when we consistently evaluate the way we spend the time of our lives. Do we invest the time given us by God? Do we give back to God the best amount of time we have in appreciation?

Do we begin and end the day in prayer to God. Is regular prayer throughout the day a consistent part of our lives?

Lest we think we are separate from God, let us consider we cannot uttera single breathe without God. We cannot live a single second without God. We cannot think a single thought without God.

We cannot utter a single word without God. We cannot see our loved ones without the blessings of God. The list of blessings from God is endless.

While there is time, let us make sure there is time for God. Let us make sure that God is always in our hearts, always on our minds, and always the Foundation and Direction for our thoughts and actions.

While bombs are bursting in Baghdad, let us send of prayers for the peace of the whole world. While attrocities continue to happen in Serbia and people suffer day and night in Kosovo, let us pray fervently for the goodness and mercy of God to prevail.

One person, fervent in prayer, can make a difference. Each person, serious in prayer, can make a difference. When we choose Christ, we take on the responsibility to be faithful to Christ. Being Christian is a major responsibility. It is not to be taken lightly.

We come to know the joy of Christ when we live in Christ. Even in adversity, the joy of Christ is known and experienced. Let us be mindful of the faith of the martyrs (Acts. 7:1-60). Let us be mindful of the three youths in the fiery furnace which we read on Holy Saturday morning. (Dan. 3:1-57) In all things, let us give thanks and glory to God. (I Thess. 5:18)

Prepared for Sixth Hour served at Serb National Federation, Pittsburgh. March 15/28, 2003.

Fr.Rodney Torbic

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