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by Fr. Hector Firoglanis

St. John the Dwarf from the Egyptian desert was teaching his spiritual children: “It is not possible to build a house from the top down; one must build it from the foundation to the top.”

“What does this saying mean?” his disciples asked him.

The Elder replied: “The foundation is your neighbor, whom you must love... For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).

Our Church in her wisdom has us begin our Lenten Journey with the Sunday of Forgiveness. All human beings are infinitely valuable because they are created in the image of God. And by loving our fellow human beings, we establish a foundation upon which we grow in our love for God. If our foundation is not forgiveness and love for our neighbor, the extra fasting and prayers during Lent will offer little benefit to our souls. Our faith teaches us the following:

  • The prayer of an unforgiving person is fruitless, and garners no benefit at all.
  • St. Isaac the Syrian: “As a man who sows in the sea and expects to reap a harvest, so is he who bears a grudge and prays” (Ascetical Homilies, #58).
  • Saint Porphyrios: “The slightest murmuring against your neighbor affects your soul and you are unable to pray. When the Holy Spirit finds the soul in this state it does not dare to approach” (Wounded by Love, pp. 115-116).

Our course, the spiritual disciplines of Lent — fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and repentance — can and should help us to grow in our love for our neighbor as well.

  • Fasting: By resisting the urge to eat certain foods, we are developing the self control needed to say “NO” to temptation. This way, when we are tempted to think or speak evil about an other person, we are more prepared to resist the temptation with positive thoughts and words.
  • Prayer: When we repeat certain prayers such as the prayer of St. Ephraim, we repeat words such as, “Help me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother.” This again helps to warm our hearts towards others and increase our love for them.
  • Charity: Increasing our charity gives us the opportunity to express our love with concrete actions, instead of just good intentions and words.
  • Repentance: Repentance and confession gives us a new beginning to renew our resolve to love others when we have failed.

Saint Anthony the Great says, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalized our brother, we have sinned against Christ.” Let us remember that the foundation of a productive Lent begins with forgiveness and love. If we cultivate forgiveness and love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, charity, and repentance will unite us with Christ and give us true joy, true light, and paradise which cannot be taken away from us. A blessed Lent to all! Καλή Σαρακοστή!

by Fr. Hector Firoglanis

When I was in eighth grade, I wrestled at the 105 pound weight class for my school’s team. One of my friends on the team was in ninth grade and he wrestled the 189 pound weight class. As the last two undefeated wrestlers on the team over half way through the season, there were two things we shared in common:

  • We were both Orthodox Christians — two of several Greeks on the Manheim Township Wrestling teams in the early 1990’s.
  • We shared a custom of drinking Holy Water (Agiasmo) — which we kept in little glass bottles in our lockers — after each weigh-in.

Was the Holy Water responsible for our undefeated records? Of course not, even though more and more of our teammates began to inquire about our “special water” as the year went on. The Holy Water, however, did give us spiritual strength and was a tangible reminder that God was with us before, during, and after our matches — which was very comforting and calming. This assurance of God’s presence was helpful during the victories, and even more beneficial when the losses eventually came as well.

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Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
64 Hershey Avenue
Lancaster, PA 17603

Phone: (717) 394-1735
Fax: (717) 394-0991

Weekday Office Hours: 8AM-4PM

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