In the hymns and Scriptural readings of the Sunday of Forgiveness, our Mother Church reminds us that the Great Fast we are about to embark on is a matter of spiritual urgency that will lead us from death to life. Nowhere is this more clear than in the words of the Holy Apostle Paul read during the Divine Liturgy: Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light (Romans 13:11).
The days ahead will involve struggle against those dark forces within us that separate us from God and one another: anger, greed, lust, harsh judgment, our outsized appetites for food and fortune. Over the course of the next few weeks we will be challenged repeatedly to leave behind our petty preoccupations and selfish pursuits, to prepare ourselves to encounter the Lord in the Light of His Resurrection. And in encountering him, we encounter our true selves. We become sons and daughters of the light!
The time of the Fast, properly understood, is a time of preparation for joy. And the joy of the Resurrection, genuinely experienced, compels us to share it with all of creation. It is that joy which drove the first witnesses of the Risen Lord to the far reaches of their world. And it is that genuine joy, the assurance of eternal life in loving communion with the living God, revealed to us by the Risen Lord and made possible for us by his Holy Spirit, that continues to drive men and women in our own day to the far reaches of our world, to places where the Good News has yet to be heard.