For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mt. 6: 14-21, Gospel reading for Forgiveness Sunday Liturgy)
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC of the USA joined by Rev. Fr. Yurii Bobko and parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox parish community presided over the Eucharistic Liturgical Services of the Cheesefare/Forgiveness Sunday for the beginning of Great and Holy Lent on Sunday, 1 March, 2020.
Being on the administrative archpastoral visit to the parish, His Eminence met with the Parish Board of Administration and discussed the appointment of a new pastor for the parish community in the person of the recent graduate of Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary - Rev. Fr. Yurii Bobko.
In his sermon, Vladyka stated: “… in a few short moments we shall enter the Great Fast, the Church in her wisdom calls us to reflect on the essential elements of a truly Lenten effort. Prayer is a part of every Orthodox Christian’s life — it almost goes without saying. That prayer becomes the foundation of everything else we do during Great Lent. Besides our personal prayer, the Church calls us to more corporate worship, giving us the Most Holy Eucharist as many as four times a week to strengthen us in our efforts.
But the Lord brings our attention to the other great tools of true spiritual effort. First, fasting. The true fast does not find fruits in following mere “rules.” “What can I eat? Does this have any milk in the ingredients? When can we have fish, wine or oil?” Those rules are there as guidance and not as ends in themselves. We can feel so proud that we have “followed the rules.” But the self-denial of fasting also leads to peace, calm, a new look at the things we too often see as important. In our consumer society, we never deny ourselves anything at any time. We have truly come to believe that man does “live by bread alone.” The lengthy, and sometimes grueling, fast strips us of the superfluous and leaves only the essential. We learn to eat to live, and not live to eat.
The Lord also brings our attention to treasure. Almsgiving — the act of giving to those less fortunate — is an essential part of the fast. Knowing that we have more than enough and that God calls us to divest ourselves of some of that treasure as a “letting go” to realign our hearts to the true Treasure is an essential part of fasting. St. john Chrysostom reminds that the wealthy (which most of us are in comparison to much of the world) hold their riches in trust for the poor.
Finally, we are called to forgive, for forgiveness — true, sincere forgiveness, holding nothing in our hearts against anyone — is the concrete action that makes us reflect God more than any other action.
Our world has become a nearly incomprehensible entanglement of offensive behavior. Everyone has become a victim of one sort or another. “It’s not my fault I’m addicted, someone must have caused me to be that way.” “It’s not my fault I did that illegal act, I was forced into it by a society that does not care about me.” No one accepts responsibility for their mistakes, and no one can offend me because it will make me feel bad. That kind of a world has no understanding of true forgiveness. For them, the only forgiveness that matters is the one that proves I was right and you were wrong and that is why you ask me for forgiveness. I am therefore justified in my actions and you just proved it!..
Forgiveness - is also perhaps the most difficult task that the Lord demands of us. Being offended so easily in our world of social media and instantaneous actions and reactions is perhaps the greatest temptation that we must fight. If our hearts are destroyed by holding onto the “wrong” treasure, what destruction is being wrought when we feel justified in holding anything dark or evil in our hearts about another? We examine ourselves and confess our sins, expecting forgiveness from God, but often feel completely justified in hatred and anger against one of God’s creatures for “slights” and “insults,” when our very actions are a slight and insult to God Himself. Brothers and Sisters, let it not be so!
Let us bow down before each other and seek (and grant) forgiveness as we enter into this tithe of the year. Let us pray personally, and corporately, with a sincere and humble heart. Let us place our treasures where they belong. May we fast in order to create a space for the One who is going to His Passion and Resurrection for us. I wish for all my faithful parishes and each and every one of you a most fruitful and joyous Fast. May we all rejoice in the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection at the end of these most holy days…”
Archbishop Daniel’s message had touched many of those participating in the service and had set a tone of forgiveness and acceptance into their Great Lent journey. The service concluded with the entire parish asking for forgiveness from the hierarch, pastor and each other so they could better prepare for the upcoming Feasts of Feasts, Holy Pascha.
As the liturgical day came to close, Vladyka Daniel’s visit concluded with the luncheon, prepared by the parishioners of the parish community, during which the parishioners and visitors to the parish had a chance to speak to the hierarchs and ask his spiritual guidance. The president of the parish board of administration Robert Prokopchak welcomed Vladyka Daniel in the midst of his flock and presented him with the traditional Ukrainian bread and salt.
A positive event in the life of our parish, and specifically the community gathered around the bishop and the Sacred Liturgy - demonstrated our relationship with the greater Holy Orthodox Church. The bishop’s visit indicated his support and vision for our parish’s place in the eparchy and the greater Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Photos by Seminarians Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan and Pavlo Vysotkyi