Glory to Jesus Christ!
Beloved Bishops, Clergy, Monastics and Laity,
We enter the Great Fast with the prayer “Let us begin the time of this bright fast, giving ourselves over to spiritual struggle. Let us sanctify our soul and purify our body. Let us not only fast from food; let us also abstain from every passion and cultivate spiritual virtues. Let us faithfully persevere in this, so that we may be worthy to see the holy passion of Christ our God and the joy of his holy Resurrection” Vespers–Sticherion.
The Great Fast is a spiritual struggle. It is a spiritual journey that is deeply personal and internal and one that needs all of our energy to “be aware of my sins and not to judge others.” In order to persevere on the journey the Epistle to the Ephesians exhorts us to “draw strength from the Lord and his mighty power” and to “put on the armor of God.” We need to put on the belt of truth manifested by the prayer of the Publican; the breastplate of justice manifested by the Prodigal; the shoes of zeal for the spreading of the gospel manifested by the apostles; the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation manifested and given to us in baptism and the sword of the spirit, the word of God. Truly this is a time to enter into a spiritual journey.
This prompts us to ask some questions. What is the truth of our lives? Are we often pulled into the lair of the Father of Lies? What does justice mean in our lives—individually, corporately and universally? What has happened to our zeal for the gospel—the loss of which we can never blame on anyone else? Have we fully opened the gift of faith and salvation given so freely to us in Baptism? We must give and own individually the answers to these questions. The Great Fast gives us the time to reflect and meditate on them. Truth, justice, zeal, faith, salvation and the word of God are the vehicles that will either help us or hinder us in the spiritual struggle of the Great Fast.
All of this is to be done in the context of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Let us fast from falsehood, criticism and gossip in the Church, the family, the workplace and even among friends, because they can destroy people’s lives. Let us give alms to the poor and the less fortunate to combat the many injustices in society today. Let us pray for and also encourage our neighbors who seem to have no faith or because of the events of their lives feel that God has forgotten them. Let us proclaim the good news of the Gospel with zeal. During this Great Fast make an enemy a friend, then the Gospel message will come alive in each of us as our actions speak louder than our words.
My sisters and brothers “let us begin the time of this bright fast” and persevere in virtue. Imparting my blessing on each of you, I remain
In the name of the Lord!
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh