Pastoral Message for the Great Fast – February 2006

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

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

Our Lenten journey begins as we sing this meaningful hymn on the eve of the first day of the Great Fast. The Great Fast has come and will be filled with darkness and brightness, spiritual struggle and success, fasting and receiving, passion and virtue. Our goal is to arrive at the shore of the Resurrection and our task is to persevere until the end. St. Paul encourages us: “Therefore … let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:1–2).

One of the ways in which we can persevere is by ridding ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us. The meaning of the word cling has a diversity of meanings. It can mean to be totally overtaken or to be easily distracted. This gives us a clue that perseverance is not an easy task. Burdens and sins cling to us, and in a sense, distract us from our Lenten journey. We understand this when we reflect on our lives. Jealousy, pride, impurity, hatred and envy – to name a few – cling to us with great power and distract us from keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus. Distractions and clingings are addictions of all kinds, not least of all, the addiction to sin. The distraction and clinging is often subtle and therefore deceptive and insidious in controlling our lives without us being aware of it.

We received the grace of perseverance in Baptism. It is not possible to persevere by our own efforts alone. To be strengthened and fortified, we need the gift of perseverance given to us in Baptism. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that “to be called and cleansed was a gift of grace. But when we were called and clothed in clean garments, to continue to keep those garments clean pertains to the perseverance of those who are called” (Homily – Gospel St. Matthew).

St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminds us that in baptism “we stand on the frontier of mystery.” The Great Fast is a frontier of mystery in which we must persevere. We are called to persevere in our vocations: first as Christians, followers of Christ: then as fathers, mothers, single individuals, children, priests, deacons, religious men or women. This is not easy. Our passions and sins cling to us and distract us from the vocations to which we are called. The Church gives us the gifts of fasting, personal prayer and almsgiving as means to strengthen our resolve to persevere especially during the Great Fast.

It is important to realize that the Great Fast takes place in community – the community of the Church. We journey with our brothers and sisters and often times in spite of them. That is why during the Great Fast, it is necessary to join as much as possible in the community of the faithful, which includes our family, parish, Archeparchy and Metropolia.

The community supports and encourages us on our journey to Pascha. We build up our parish community not only by fasting from food but also by fasting from quarreling, disputes, gossip and grudges. We build up our parish community by attending and participating in the liturgical services during the Great Fast, in particular, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and the Mystery of Reconciliation. Finally, we build up our parish community by sharing our physical and spiritual alms as individuals and as a community. The alms of generosity, kindness, forgiveness, cooperation, prayer and love must be shared with each other.

Let us encourage each other during this Great Fast and persevere to the end so that the community of our family, parish, Archeparchy and Metropolia can greet the Risen Lord on the Feast of Pascha.

Bestowing my blessing on all the Faithful of our Church during this special season, I remain

In the name of the Lord!

Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh