Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Fifteen years ago, I began my service as your Metropolitan in a beautiful ceremony at the Ascension Cathedral in Oakland. At that time, I recalled the words of Saint Gregory the Theologian who said the task of the shepherd is to “give the soul wings.” To that end, we have worked together to develop ministries that aim to inspire and to edify each member of the Church so that each of us may live out our vocation to “love the Lord God with all one’s heart, mind and soul” and to “love the neighbor as oneself.” For the past fifteen years, we have worked together to help build healthy and strong families and healthy and dynamic parishes.

At this moment in our lives, the work our Metropolis has done is being deeply tested. With our “stay at home” policies and the loss of parish life because of the pandemic, we are witnessing in real-time the effects of our work to date.

So far, there has been an outpouring of creativity in our parishes and families. Clergy, especially, have begun new ways of serving you, especially through social media and the many conferencing technologies available to us, from live-streaming of services to on-line discussions and virtual coffee hours. Families, now spending more time together, are finding ways to work, to share, to pray, to learn, and to play. Dynamic parishes and strong families are drawing on their creativities to meet the challenges we face today. In the short run, everyone seems to be dealing with these new realities. The question is, for how long? And we do not know the long term effects that our physical distancing will have on ourselves, on our parishes, even on our society. What kind of normal will we return to?

Great Lent is meant to break us from old patterns of life and create new ones. Great Lent is meant to transform our lives. We are not meant to go back to our “old self” after we celebrate the Resurrection. As Saint Paul wrote to the Romans, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For he who has shed his life and died for our sins, Christ our God, that we believe so we shall live in him.” (Romans 6:6-8)

In the life of Saint Mary of Egypt, who we commemorate on this fifth Sunday of Lent, we see an example of repentance and transformation. She lived a sinful life. When prevented from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by an unexplainable force, she recognized that she had led an impure life, and filled with remorse, she prayed for forgiveness and was then able to enter the church. She then went to the desert where she would spend the rest of her life. Saint Mary of Egypt is an example of being no longer a slave to sin, but living in Christ.

The Church invites you every Great Lent, indeed every day, and especially this Great Lent, to pursue a new way of life, the life in Christ, to become the new self through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

My beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, this year, this upcoming Holy Week will be a great challenge. We will not be able to celebrate Holy Week and Pascha in our parishes in the way we have been accustomed throughout our lives. We will be interacting in new ways, from afar, at a time when we want to be close to one another. We will not be able to embrace one another in the joy of the Resurrection as we usually do at Pascha. This will be a Holy Week and Pascha like none we have ever experienced before.

I encourage you to continue utilizing social media and on-line platforms to join in worship, to interact with friends and fellow parishioners, and to support one another as we approach these Holy days. And even though we may not gather in our church, we will, however, be able to observe Holy Week and Pascha in our homes and with our families. There are also a growing number of practical resources for your spiritual, educational and emotional edification from our Metropolis, from our Archdiocese, and from our parishes.

Please remember, you are not alone. We are all in this together, and with the Lord’s help, we will get through this together – stronger, more resolute in our faith, and more grateful for the opportunity to walk into the doors of our parishes and worship together again as one family in Christ.

May God of mercy bless you and keep you.