Pastoral Message for the Great Fast – February 2007

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Beloved bishops, clergy, monastics and laity,

The Great Fast has arrived. You and I are called to prepare for the Feast of Pascha. The Church gives us this special time to help in our preparation.

We have already traveled through the Sundays of Zacchaeus, Publican and Pharisee, Prodigal Son, Meat Fare and Cheese Fare. Now we enter into the Great Fast itself. Girded with fasting, prayer and almsgiving, let us set out on this internal journey and enter into the ocean of darkness in our lives in order to arrive at the safe harbor of the light of the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ on Pascha.

To enter into the ocean of darkness in our lives takes courage, confidence and hope. There is a saying that we can forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, but the real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light. Are we afraid of the light? What dark area of our lives do we keep hidden from light? Who will help us to go from the darkness to light? We know that it is Christ, the risen Christ, who alone is able to light up the darkness of our lives which for some can be as thick as mud.

We are each empowered to go from darkness to light by God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in the Mystery of Baptism also called the Mystery of Enlightenment or Illumination. Clement of Alexandria tells us that being baptized, we are illuminated and become children of God and that in Baptism we stand on the frontier of mystery – the mystery of the light of God.

There are three areas to reflect on that may help us on our journey through the Great Fast.

During the Great Fast, let us participate in the gift of silence. But we must remember, as the Desert Fathers tell us, to simply refrain from talking without a heart that is listening to God is not silence. If we must speak, let our words be positive, honest, praising and appreciative of the image of God in our brothers and sisters. Should we find something not positive, lacking of praise or unworthy of the image of God, then let us speak to God about it in prayer for our brothers and sisters. Remember that for every word we utter about another we will be held accountable in the Kingdom. What better time than now to practice silence?

During the Great Fast, let us participate in the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness allows us to travel from darkness to light, from death to resurrection, from Adam to Christ. Whom do we have to forgive? From whom do we have to ask forgiveness? Are we able to rejoice when our enemy is forgiven? The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus are all about forgiveness, without which, we will never enter the kingdom. During the Great Fast, let us remove our sandals in forgiveness before the mystery of the other person we meet on our journey in whom the Mystery makes his Theophany. The Great Fast is a special time to participate in the Mystery of Reconciliation. What better time than now to go to confession?

During the Great Fast, let us participate in the gift of community. We are not called to journey alone. We are called to journey with each other. The greatest danger in going from darkness to light is to separate ourselves from each other. Fellowship in community allows us to be supported on this journey. Koinonia is the hallmark of the Church especially during the Great Fast. We cannot do it alone. St. Basil reminds us: if you travel alone, whose feet will you wash? May prayer, almsgiving and fasting help us to participate fully in the communities of our lives. What better time than now to build community?

Let us journey together in community – Church, eparchy, parish, monastery and family – maintaining a prayerful silence in order to help us enter into the mystery of forgiveness without which the Great Fast has no meaning.

May the prayer of St. Gregory of Sinai be ours during the Great Fast. “May we become who we are. Find Him who is already ours. Listen to Him who never ceases speaking to us. Own Him who already owns us.”

Remembering each of you in prayer during the Great Fast, I remain

In the name of the Lord!

Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh