Pastoral Message for Great Fast – February 2005

To the Hierarchs, Clergy, Monastics and Laity of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh:

We have recently celebrated the birth and baptism of Jesus Christ and now find ourselves in the Great Fast as we prepare for the Feast of Pascha. We began with Jesus as a newborn child and then saw him as a young man being baptized in the Jordan after which he began his public ministry preaching the reign of God – ending in his suffering, death and resurrection. Two thousand years later during the Great Fast we remember what Jesus preached and we reflect upon the effect his suffering, death and resurrection has had in our lives. The Great Fast is a time to assess how we measure up to the teachings of the Lord.

The Great Fast is viewed as a time for the practice of penance and repentance. And indeed it is. It is a time when we can do without many things, which are pleasurable that we like and with which we are comfortable. For some it is a negative time, a time to lose weight by not eating, a time to control our tongues by not speaking, for others it is positive time, a time for more prayer, a time to use our material goods not for ourselves but others.

We pray at Forgiveness Vespers, which begin the Great Fast, saying: “The light of your grace has shone upon our souls, O Lord. Behold, this is the favorable time, the season of conversion. Let us turn away from the works of darkness, and let us clothe ourselves with the armor of light.”

Thus, the Great Fast can be the time to be empowered by our strengths. It can be the time to pray but to also look at what we are praying about. It can be the time to fast but also to give food to those who have none. It can be the time to give alms but also to give of ourselves to those who are poor in a myriad of ways.

What are our gifts? What are our talents? What are the blessings God has given us? The Great Fast can be the time to use our gifts, talents and blessings. To only concentrate on our failures, to only stress our liabilities, to only decry our lack of blessings is to remain in the works of darkness. God created each one of us and gave us all that is needed for salvation. He gave us the armor of light. Like Christ, we were baptized and received all the gifts of this Mystery. These are our strengths.

Very often we want to be like others. Not realizing that we neither have their gifts and talents nor their liabilities and failures. We often lead our lives based on the pressures of society and our peers as to who we should be. We are told what to wear, what to eat, what music to enjoy, what professions to advocate, what to think – how to live our lives. We can spend our days trying to please others and waste our lives by not developing our own gifts, talents and blessings. “Just as a writing pen has the need of one to employ it, so also does grace have need of a believing heart … It is God’s part to confer grace and gifts, but ours to accept, guard and use.” (Cyril of Jerusalem – Catechetical Lectures)

Let us journey through the Great Fast fortified by prayer, fasting and almsgiving and let us accept the gifts that God has given us and be empowered by them. If it is kindness, overlook another’s harshness; if it is humor, help others to dry their tears; if it is sensitivity, be more gentle with the hard-hearted; if it is intelligence, be more of a teacher; if it is hope, encourage others in despair; if it is a positive spirit, help those imprisoned by negativity; if it is forgiveness, lighten the burden of those who can’t forgive; if it is a peaceful spirit, share it with those who live in a world of conflict – internal and external; if it is prayer, encourage those who find prayer difficult; if it is fasting, encourage others held captive by food; if it is almsgiving, be patient with those preoccupied with themselves; if it is faith, don’t hesitate to speak the truth. Applying our strengths and gifts during this Great Fast can be a vehicle of God’s grace to others and us.

Praying that the Lord direct our steps during this Great Fast and bestowing my blessing, I remain

In the name of the Lord!

Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh