Pastoral Message for the Great Fast – February 2003

To the clergy, monastics, and the laity of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh:

“The light of your grace has shone upon our soul, O Lord. Behold, this is the favorable time, the season of repentance. Let us turn away from the works of darkness, and let us clothe ourselves with the armor of light, so that crossing the ocean of the Fast, we may come to the harbor of the Resurrection on the third day, with our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls.” (Aposticha – Vespers of Cheesefare Sunday)

This is the favorable time. The Great Fast is indeed the favorable time on our spiritual journey to the Lord. The Church in its wisdom invites and encourages us each year to participate in this special preparation for the celebration of Easter. Our participation brings us into a dynamic encounter with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. They are endeavors for every day in the life a Christian but most especially during the Great Fast. The Great Fast while being the favorable time can also become unfavorable. We must always remember that prayer, fasting and almsgiving are means and not an end in themselves. They are means to obtain the “grace to look at my own sins and not to judge others.” (Prayer of St. Ephrem)

We are called to set aside time for individual prayer and reading of the scriptures as well as time for the communal participating in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and other Lenten services in our individual parishes. However we must be vigilant for “if we want God to hear our prayer quickly, then before we pray for anything else, even our own soul, when we stand and stretch out our hands towards God, we must pray with all our heart for our enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that we ask.” (Anonymous – Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

We are called to make a genuine effort to fast during this special time. Some are called to follow the directives of the Archeparchy and others to enter more deeply into the mystery of fasting by following the ancient and venerable fasting traditions of the East. Fasting is concerned with much more than only food. “A true fast is the estrangement from sin; no more idle chatter, no more anger, no more evil desires, no insults, no more lying, no more false oaths. If we abstain from all this, we shall keep a fast that is indeed acceptable to the Lord.” (Aposticha – I Monday Vespers of Great Fast)

We are called to give alms and charity during this favorable time. Pseudo-Clement tells us that fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving is better than both. While prayer is directed toward God and fasting toward us, almsgiving is directed toward others. We are challenged to give to some the alms of money, while to others the alms of being a caregiver, the alms of patience, the alms of forgiveness and reconciliation, the alms of acceptance and the alms of gratitude.

The season of repentance. This season enables us to examine our commitment to the Gospel life. We received the light of Christ in Baptism and it is only when that light permeates our whole being that we understand our sinfulness – our need to repent. On Easter Sunday we read with hope I the Gospel of St. John: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) We do not repent first and then receive Christ, but it is quite the opposite. “Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life.” (St. John of the Ladder) To repent is to recognize that while there is darkness as well as light, truth as well as untruth, good as well as evil, love as well as hatred, we believe that light, truth, good and love will be victorious just as Christ is. The Great Fast is the season of metanoia, the season of changing our mind, of making U-turns and returning to the Light we received in Baptism. “Let us accept from Go d the repentance that heals us; for it is not we who offer it to Him, but He who bestows it upon us.” (St. John Chrysostom – On Repentance)

The Great Fast helps us understand that on our own we can do nothing, but with the help of God we can do everything. Everything that we do is a gift bestowed graciously on us that enables our darkness to become light, our untruth to become truth, our evil to become good and our hate to become love.

May we journey together across the Ocean of the Great Fast united in prayer, fasting and almsgiving which will enable us to arrive at the shore of the Resurrection on Pascha. I remain

In the name of the Lord!

Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh