On April 10, 2022, the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicolae made a pastoral visit to our monastery, where he served the Divine Liturgy. Father Abbot Ieremia accompanied His Eminence in the altar, a group of youth chanted the responses, and the church was filled with many faithful from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Boston.
His Eminence delivered the first half of his sermon immediately after the Gospel reading (Mark 10.32-45), in which Christ foreshadows His impending death and Resurrection to His disciples, followed by the imprudent request of the sons of Zebedee to sit at His right and left in the Heavenly Kingdom. His Eminence began by teaching, in accordance with the Holy Fathers, that the cup and baptism to which Christ refers is a cup of suffering and a baptism of death. Afterwards, he commented on the importance of common service in the Church: “We are all servants in the Church. We are serving in the altar, others are singing litanies and reading prayers, and you are replying with ‘Lord, have mercy’ and ‘Amen.’ We are all praying together in the Church and we are all servants. This common service is according to our Lord’s commandment to serve each other in love, and it also has an even deeper meaning: that we are working out our salvation together. We cannot be saved just for serving in the altar. You cannot be saved just by being present in the church. By serving together, we need to work out our salvation together, and this will be our answer before the awesome judgment seat of Christ in His Kingdom. And this is not just any Sunday, but this is the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, meaning that this period of fasting and praying is a good opportunity for all of us to understand the meaning of service in the Church, of working out our salvation together.”
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, His Eminence continued his sermon by recounting the life of Saint Mary of Egypt, whom we also commemorated this Sunday. He highlighted that, like the sinful woman in the second Gospel reading who anointed Christ’s feet with myrrh (Luke 7.36-50), the saint’s strength to endure for 47 years in the harsh desert without any modern comforts was precisely her endless love for God. This love made her prayer so powerful that Elder Zosimas saw her bathed in the Uncreated Light, just as the Apostles were on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. Afterwards, His Eminence offered several reflections on the purpose of asceticism: “The purpose of the Fast is not found in an exertion of the stomach, the body, or the knees alone, without any spiritual benefit; but rather the purpose of the Fast is so that through these exertions, we might encounter God, feel His love, and grow closer to Him. If we don’t feel these things now during Lent, our fasting remains merely an external form without warming our soul, without offering us any deeper spiritual experience.” Even more concretely, His Eminence emphasized that just as in the life of Saint Mary, our fasting must be crowned by receiving Holy Communion: “She encountered the hieromonk Zosimas, to whom she recounted her life and whom she requested that he return to commune her in one year’s time. She didn’t depart this life before receiving Holy Communion. Her prolonged asceticism was truly fulfilled only in the Eucharist. Therefore, during the Fast we also can discover this fact: that our struggle need not be fulfilled only at the end of the Fast, but we have Liturgies on Saturdays and Sundays, we have the Presanctified Liturgy when we should fast until evening, and thus we can discover this rhythm of the Church, of the preparation that is fulfilled in Holy Communion. Our Venerable Mother Mary spent her long life of repentance by seeking forgiveness of her sins and by preparing for her passage into the Kingdom of God. This passage cannot be planned. We should not consider that we will eventually have time to repent. No one knows when God will call us to Himself. For this reason, the lesson of repentance that Saint Mary of Egypt gives us is a very serios impetus to reflect upon our Christian lives, how we spend our time, whether we feel God to be present in our life, because God is awaiting us as a loving Father.”
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, His Eminence celebrated a memorial service for several faithful members of the Romanian community from New York, after which everyone was invited to the agape meal. We thank God for granting us yet another Sunday full of grace and fellowship. Everyone left with their hearts strengthened in joyful anticipation of Holy Week and the holy feast of Pascha.