Pastoral Message for the Great Fast – February, 2010

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Bishops, clergy, monastics and laity,

As “The doors of divine repentance open before us; let us enter with joy and purify our bodies. Let us fast from food as well as from our sinful desires, conducting ourselves as servants of Christ, who calls the world to the kingdom of heaven. Let us offer this tithe of the whole year to the King of the universe, so that with love, we may contemplate his holy resurrection.” (Cheesefare week, Monday Matins, Sessional Hymn II)

Indeed, the time of repentance, the weeks of the Great Fast lie before us. It is a time of grace, an opportunity to change our lives so that we may truly conduct ourselves as servants of Christ. Our Church offers us the helps that we need on the journey of these days. We are called to participate in the holy mysteries, especially the Eucharist and penance. We are reminded that the spiritual and corporal works of mercy along with fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are strongly recommended to strengthen us, as personally we cross the ocean of the Great Fast to the Feast of the Resurrection.

Remembering that there are spiritual aspects to fasting, we then cannot be limited to fasting just from food. In the Matins of Monday for the third week of the Fast we pray, “O my soul, fast from wickedness and evil; overcome your anger, outbursts of passion and sin. This is the fast that Jesus desires, for He is the God who loves us so.” We then can attempt to reflect that love, with patience instead of intolerance, words of peace and calm rather than outbursts of anger, and understanding in place of criticism and complaint.

Our prayer life must be intensified in participation in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and in the various liturgical services in our parishes. With personal quiet prayer, the reading of scripture, and of finding time to simply listen in silence, we can overcome the noise and distraction of our everyday lives that may be keeping us from hearing the Lord’s call to a deeper life with him. Our passions, which can be defined as the evil with which we are comfortable, the sin we refuse to acknowledge, or the not-quite-right secret we particularly guard, can also be a hindrance for us. In the Great Fast, however, we are given a milieu which encourages us and frees us from our passions or from anything that keeps us from the love and holiness of a fervent relationship with God.

The Great Fast also presents us with a wonderful opportunity to practice almsgiving to those in need. Almsgiving can be monetary for the less fortunate, and it can also include the generous sharing of ourselves, our time, and our unique gifts and talents. In reaching out to others, hurts can be healed, peace restored in families and among friends, and new ways can be found to serve God through the Church and the community. Almsgiving can become the multi-faceted offering to spread His love to our sisters and brothers in Christ.

As we journey together during the Great Fast, I pray that the Prayer of St. Ephrem may be fulfilled in out lives: “Yes, O Lord and King, let me see my own sins and not judge my brothers and sisters: for you are blessed, forever and ever. Amen.” May our journey across the ocean of the Great Fast be a time of joy, spiritual renewal and peace. May we all safely reach the harbor of joy and light that is the Resurrection of Christ.

Asking our Lord to bestow his blessings on each of you and your families during the Great Fast, I remain:

In the name of the Lord!

Archbishop of Pittsburgh
Metropolitan of the United States