NEW YORK: February 19, 2004

of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Brothers and Sisters, Beloved in the Lord:

The great, saving days of Holy Lent are approaching. These days will lead us to the Radiant Day of the Resurrection of Christ. But in order to approach the joyful Paschal days worthily, time is given us to prepare for them properly. This time is that of Great Lent, the time for us to purify ourselves. St. Gregory Palamas, whose memory the Church celebrates on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, say, "A true fast is that which encompasses all things; such a fast cleanses all things and heals all." Let us try by fasting to cleanse ourselves of our sinful burden, which so clings to our bodies and souls. This accumulated weight of sin prevents us from hearing the word of God, from understanding His will for us, it prevents us from seeing God's works which are done for our benefit.

The regular session of the Synod of Bishops was held this past week. Among other things other matters was discussed the invitation which I received from Patriarch Alexius II to visit our Motherland. This invitation was conveyed to me by the President of Russia, V.V. Putin during his visit to New York in September of last year. The very fact of such an invitation addressed to the Russian Church Abroad for the first time in the eighty years of her existence, and the circumstances in which it was received, all undoubtedly speak of important changes which have taken place in Russia. Our holy duty is to discern to the best of our power what has taken place, and in the words of St Ignatius Brianchaninov, to "understand the time."

The Orthodox Church repeats daily, "Teach me, O Lord, the way wherein I should walk." By no means does she dare to stray from the ways of the Lord, but on the contrary, she prays to the Lord to show them to us. For this reason, to turn away from searching for ways to heal the division in the Russian Church, to stick to the denial of the very possibility of such healing might mean that we reject all means whereby we understand the will of the Lord. The Synod of Bishops has decided that with God's help my trip to Moscow will take place before the feast of the Ascension of our Lord. During this trip I will meet with the head of the Moscow Patriarchate, and I also hope to acquaint myself with church life in Russia. In particular, I would like to visit Ekaterinburg and other cities of Russia for the purpose of venerating their holy places. Thus, this trip will primarily be for the purpose of familiarization. In no way will this trip be, the "beginning of union," as journalists sometimes put it. This is not about prayerful union, which must be the completion of the entire process of healing. This is only a humble effort to seek a way to a realization of our common foundations and mutual understanding. This path may prove fairly long, but not even to attempt it would be a profound mistake.

We ask our God-loving flock to arm themselves with patience and to strengthen their prayers. We especially ask that you redouble your prayerful appeals to the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, as also to the Holy Royal Martyrs, whose veneration grows wondrously in our Motherland day by day. It is precisely this veneration of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia that today unites the entire Orthodox Russian flock, both in the Homeland and in the diaspora.
May God bless you!

With love in the Lord,

+Metropolitan Laurus
NEW YORK: February 19, 2004