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Documentation: Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Eparch's 1999 Lenten Message

 
His Grace, Bishop JOHN Elya, Eparch of Newton
Eparch's Lenten Message 1999

To the clergy, laity and friends of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton:

We celebrated recently in our Eastern Churches the great Feast of the Theophany, the first manifestation of the Most Blessed Trinity at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.  God the Father spoke in the "voice from heaven".  God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ was in the water humbly being baptized by John.  The Holy "Spirit of God descended like a dove alighting on Jesus."  What I would like to reflect on beginning this Lenten message is the next line of Sacred Scripture as it appears in Saint Matthew's Gospel. "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And [Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights." (Matthew 4:1-2a)

Imagine, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Two points are noteworthy in this line of God's Word - wilderness and tempted or temptation.  These words serve as the source of beautiful meditation for this sacred season of Great Lent.

Our society today is very busy and very noisy.  We run from one event to the next. Often we do not even have the time to reflect upon our experiences.  And very often we don't integrate or interiorize them.  Our lives are so noisy. We go from conversations at home or at work to conversation on the telephone. We go from the television to the radio, from the computer to the many other noisy distractions in our lives. During this Lenten Season, we are invited by the Church to go into the wilderness of our hearts and listen. We are invited to go into the silence of our hearts, and quiet our minds and hearts that we may be able to hear the voice of God in a deep and powerful way.  This is very much in the prayerful tradition of Hesychasm (quiet) in the East. We recite the Jesus Prayer over and over again as we quiet mind and heart, and we allow ourselves to be touched by the unconditional love and mercy of God.  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Temptations, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are a part of the life of every Christian. The Spirit, leading Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, reminds us that through temptations the Christian becomes strong and mature and closer to God. Through temptation, through wrestling with our demons, we gain both virtue and self-knowledge.  The Father of the Desert, Abba Poemen said, "The distinctive mark of the [Christian] is made clear through temptation." Abba Anthony the Great said, " Whoever has not experienced temptation can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven."  He even added, "Without temptations no one can be saved."  Temptation keeps us humble.  We can only overcome temptation in our life by tapping into the power of God in us.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians  4:13)

But, what is the way to overcome temptation? Our Lord Jesus revealed to us the effective way - vigilance and prayer.  "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)

Saint Peter confirms the importance of never letting our guard down as he exhorts us, "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you.  Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith,
knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.  (I Peter 5:6-10)

I was preaching at a retreat the first weekend of the New Year to some 80 women, and I felt led by the Lord to remind them of their call to conversion, their call to holiness.  Isn't that what Great Lent is about?  Silence, overcoming temptation, all that we do in our Christian life is to grow in holiness. And to grow in holiness, it is essential to always keep our eyes on the prize, the prize of union with God - the prize of eternal life. 

When the Holy Father was in Mexico recently, he put forward a tremendous challenge to the Church in the Americas.  Pope John Paul II called us to "stir up a new springtime of holiness on the continent."  We in the Melkite Church want to offer to the Universal Church our efforts to help stir up this new "springtime of holiness" in North and South America.  As Saint Paul teaches us, God's will for each and every one of us is our sanctification, our holiness. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification." ( I Thessalonians 4:3a)

In addition to consecrating this year to God the Father, Pope John Paul II reminds us in his Lenten Message that this year is also dedicated to growth in the theological virtue of charity.  Let us be a people who truly love.  Let us strive not to judge our brothers and sisters, but to love them. May we outdo one another in showing kindness and love for one another.  "Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor." (Romans 12:10)  This Lent may we fast from unkindness, selfishness, and pride.  May we go into the quiet of our hearts and pray more, overcome temptations in our lives, grow in virtue, grow in prayer, and offer acts of kindness and generosity, even little ones, with great love.

May our Melkite parishes be a refuge for all who desire to know God and for all those in need of a gentle hand showing them the love of God.  Remember, you may very well be the only Gospel someone may ever read.  Shine Jesus! Shine His love! And may our prayer and fasting and works of love lead us joyfully to the glorious Resurrection 

January 27, 1999
+ Bishop John
Eparch of Newton

This same message is available in Arabic from our chancery Office, Dartmouth St, West Newton, MA 02465  - Tel. +1-(617) 969-8957

You are cordially invited to visit our Eparchial Website:
http://www.Melkite.org

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