St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

March 2004

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Fr. Antony PortraitChrist is in our midst!

Fr Robert is a Roman Catholic priest who has dedicated his life to working with gang members in New York City. He has been very successful in helping kids get off the streets, find jobs, go to school and clean up their lives so that they can live productively in society. A year or so ago he was diagnosed with leukemia and given only a short time to live. During that time ex-gang members began to repay him for all he had done for them. Many came to him sobbing because without his help they would either still be on the streets or dead. One young man didn't know what leukemia was so Fr. Robert explained that it meant that his white blood cells outnumbered his red ones. The young man said, "Of course, Father, you're white!" Another, thinking Fr. Robert might need an organ transplant, stood up and said, "What do I have that you need?"

This young man mirrored perfectly the "mind of Christ" who gave Himself unreservedly. Knowing what it was that we needed most, He came and died and was resurrected. It is in gratitude for His great sacrifice and affection for His Person that we enter Great Lent. The struggle to deny ourselves has nothing at its base other than the desire to give all that we have to follow Him because first He gave to us all that He is. I know for many Lent is dark and gloomy and unreasonable, but that is because they approach it without a deep understanding of the purpose of the Fast. It is not to torment us, but to liberate us, to bring us into the loving embrace of Christ. Does this require spiritual effort and discipline? Yes, because we are most unruly children prone to doing what we want whether or not it is good for us. We have to learn, as usually the case, by doing, so we adopt tried and true methods of self-denial, with varying degrees of intensity and success, to make a stab at being Christians in a way that we usually do not. It helps, of course, that we do it in concert with others.

"What do I have that you need?" If we asked God this question He would say, "Nothing." But if we were to ask, "What do you want of me," He would answer, "To share My life and enjoy the wonders of paradise for ever and ever." This is the point of Great Lent.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Antony Hughes