Pastoral Message for the Great Fast – February 2004

To the Church of Pittsburgh:

The doorway of the Great Fast is open and it is the time for repentance. The plaintive melodies of the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, the dark vestments, the prostrations, the fasting and giving of alms signal, indeed, that the season of the Great Fast has come. We begin with the hope that we will be able to keep the Fast. Should we stumble or falter on the journey, we have confidence that, with the help of God and our brothers and sisters, we will pick ourselves up and continue.

“Let us keep a spiritual fast; let us break up every hypocrisy; let us flee the traps of sin; let us forgive the offenses of others, so that our sins might also be forgiven” (Matins – Third Week). Let us enter the doorway of the Great Fast supported by the triptych of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Let us enter the doorway of the Great Fast in prayer. We are called to pray individually and in community. It is important for us to attend the various Lenten Services in our parishes and in particular the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts. It is equally important each day to pray individually by putting ourselves in the presence of God and listening. There are many opportunities throughout the day, whether at home, school, traveling or in the workplace during which God is calling you and me to pray.

Let us enter the doorway of the Great Fast as those who fast. We are called to fast. For some, because of various reasons, the minimum is to follow the Archieparchial Regulations for Fasting. For others, with God’s grace, they can enter into the ancient and traditional fasting traditions of our Church. For all of us, we must remember that fasting is not simply about the abstaining from certain foods, but also the abstaining from unkind words, envy, anger, demands of any kind, holding grudges and revenge. The latter fasting is often more difficult than the prior.

Let us enter the doorway of the Great Fast as almsgivers. We are called to give alms. Alms is not only concerned with material things but also spiritual. The widow of the gospel reminds us that we must give alms not only from our bounty but also from our need. Should we be unable to give material alms, we are not freed from giving spiritual alms. We are called to give the alms of peace, kind words, encouragement, forgiveness, patience, gratitude, understanding and love. Material alms can run out but our well of spiritual alms never runs out.

For each of us, prayer, fasting and almsgiving can have different meanings. Whatever the meaning, we must be vigilant and on guard. It is possible to attend every service and never pray. It is possible to eat nothing and never fast. It is possible to give away everything and never to give alms. Let us be courageous, praying for one another as we humbly enter through the doorway into the mystery of the Great Fast.

Assuring the clergy, monastics and laity of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh of a special remembrance in my prayers and bestowing my blessing on each of you, I remain

In the name of the Lord!

Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh