Lenten Epistle of Bishop Alexander of Buenos Aires and South America
grant me to see my own faults and not to condemn my brother, for
blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen." (from the prayer
of St. Ephraim the Syrian)
Reverend fathers, and dear brothers and sisters in Christ!
The last two months have been very difficult for me. Several times
I have landed in the hospital, and my life has been danger. But
it is necessary to hope that the most terrible things are now behind
me and that my further recovery will proceed successfully. The doctors
have prescribed the newest and most promising medicines for me.
They do not guarantee that these medicines will completely cure
the cancer but do hope that the medications will lengthen the years
of my life. Of course all my hope is on God, Who can make the impossible
possible. I feel that there is still much labor to be done for my
diocese, and with all my heart I long to visit my parishes, as soon
as God sends me sufficient strength.
I thank with all my heart everyone for their prayers for my health
and ask that these prayers do not stop, as they possess great strength.
"Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock,
and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and
he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened"
It disturbs me that several troubled hierarchs—as, for example,
"Bishop" Anthony (Nikita Orlov), "Metropolitan"
Valentin of Suzdal, and others—using our ecclesiastical disturbances
and my illness, make plans to tear away parishes and believers of
the diocese of South America for their own schismatic groups. Therefore,
I ask and indeed beseech you—faithful flock of the Church Abroad—hold
tightly to the unity of the Church, and pray to God to preserve
us from schisms! The Lord Jesus Christ steers the ship of His Church
with a strong hand, and as long as we obey Him, no storms are a
danger to us.
We have again survived, by the mercy of God, to those days in which
the Church turns our thoughts and feelings to that which is most
important in life: the salvation of our souls! On what, then, does
it follow that we should concentrate our efforts? On repentance!
The preaching of the Gospels begins with the words "Repent,
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). To repent
means to change the form of our thoughts, to reconsider the scale
of our values, to throw out of our souls all that is foreign to
God, to destroy that barrier which has grown between us and the
Heavenly Kingdom. In principle this is self-evident and sounds attractive,
but in practice it is very difficult to accomplish!
to me the door of repentance, O Giver of Life!" we ask the
Savior. In other words, we ask for grace-giving help to truly feel
disgust at our sins, to hate that which we formerly loved, and to
love that which we earlier scorned. To fly, wings are necessary;
to draw near to God, grace-giving strength is indispensable. Without
it, as if pitiable snails, we can only crawl along the ground. God
is ready to give us spiritual strength, but it is necessary for
us also to add our own efforts.
A few people are burdened by the Great Fast. This period seems to
them to be too gloomy and strict. These are those who do not know
the sweetness of a clean conscience, of the lightness of the soul,
freed from the oppression of sin. The Fast is a spiritual spring.
Just as under the life-giving rays of the spring sun, nature revives,
so the warmth of repentance warms and revives our souls.
Once, in answer to the question of a woman, a believer, about how
much time was necessary in order to bring repentance to God, Fr.
Ambrose of Optina told her: "For true repentance are nec-essary
neither years nor months, but moments are sufficient!" Moments
of a decisive turning from sin, from a lackadaisical, light-minded
existence — to a life in Christ, to a truly Christian life.
The misfortune of many of us is that it seems to us that we are
not such sinners as others are who are much worse than we are, and
therefore the call to repent refers namely to them. Such modern
Pharisees coming to confession begin with the pronouncement "I
don't have any special sins..."
It's useful to remember here the story of how two women came to
confession to a famous ascetic elder. The first of them was burdened
by one terrible sin, for which her conscience troubled her continuously,
and the other had no grave sin but only the "usual," human
The elder, having listened to them, ordered that they go to the
orchard and bring stones from it. To her who had the one severe
sin, he said: "You take the heaviest stone that you can lift
and bring it to me." And to the other he said: "Here's
a bag for you. Gather small stones and bring them here." When
they both had fulfilled their tasks, the elder thanked them for
their obedience and said: "And now, take back that which you
have brought to me and put it in its previous place." The first
sinner did this without difficulty, but the other lost her head
and returned with virtually a full bag because she couldn't remember
which stone she took from where and she was afraid to deceive the
So then the elder said to her: "Look, your acquaintance has
a heavy sin, but she remembers it constantly and mourns over it
all the time, but the tears of repentance wash away any sin. You
are unable to mourn over your sins because you don't even remember
them, but the weight of your bag is no less than the weight of a
Therefore, we must learn that all our "small" sins, the
majority of which are forgotten, in their aggregate form a terrible
weight, which pulls us toward the underworld if we do not free our
soul from them by the path of true repentance.
When, by the help of God, we recognize the true weight of our sins,
then we are able to make that salvific turn from a sinful life to
a virtuous one. Every sight of sin will become repugnant, and within
us, a thirst for contact with God, a thirst to live according to
His Divine teachings, will arise. To arouse in us these bright feelings
is the goal of the ascetic act of the Great Fast.
And so, calling us to repentance, the Church reminds us that without
the grace-giving help of God, we are not able to repent as is necessary,
because the voice of our conscience has become weak and our spiritual
sight has become darkened.
Let us pray to God that He, the merciful one, opens before us the
doors of repentance and lets us feel the joy that we are His children
and He is our loving Father. Amen.
God bless you all!
With love in Christ,
+ Bishop Alexander