Archpastoral Letter on Great Lent 2006
Prot. N. 165
"Truly, the Kingdom of God is not food and drink" Romans 14:17
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Truly, as the Apostle Paul says, "the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!"
As we commence upon this season of the Fast, we push ourselves to a stricter discipline of fasting. We struggle to maintain a more intense observance of the various Lenten Services. But all of our observances are designed by the Church and the Holy Fathers to achieve one end - to bring us to a heightened awareness of our faith, or as we say in the Divine Liturgy, "progress in life, faith and spiritual consciousness" (second prayer of the Faithful).
The wonderful spiritual disciplines that belong to the Church are not ends in themselves. Lest we forget, "the Sabbath is for the sake of human beings, not human beings for the sake of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). When we take to heart the ascetic practices of the Church during this time of Lent, especially fasting, almsgiving, and more frequent attendance at Divine Services, we do so in order to lift our spiritual minds and hearts toward God.
In the case of fasting, all our fasting serves but one end, that we come to the knowledge and realization that "a person shall live not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4). Our self-denial exists in order to remind us of our dependency upon God, a dependency forgotten by Adam and Eve in the Garden when they saw "that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise" (Genesis 3:6). In that moment, they forgot their love of God and committed to love of self, and their eyes were opened to their own insufficiency. As the Book of Genesis continues: "The woman took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. And their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked" (3:6,7).
We, on the other hand, are called to embrace our dependency on God, to even glory in it. The Lord Himself taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily Bread!" (Matthew 6:11). And is not the Bread of life the very Body, the very Flesh of the Lord Who said: "I Am the Living Bread that descended from Heaven! If any feed on this Bread, they shall live forevermore. And what is more, the Bread that I shall give is My Flesh, Which I shall offer for the Life of the world" (John 6:51)?
For, my beloved brethren in Christ, it is the celestial nourishment that comes from God, the true Manna of Heaven, that feeds our souls. The sacrifice of Christ in which we participate through the Holy and Divine Liturgy is the very act of love that transforms our lives and makes us capable of living even on earth as though we were in Heaven. Again, we pray in the Lord's Prayer: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven" (Matthew 6:10).
Here we behold a paradox and the mystery of our Faith: that the Kingdom is not food and drink, but it is through food and drink that we are transformed. "Indeed, My Flesh is truly a food that nourishes and My Blood is truly a drink that quenches. Those who feed on My Flesh and drink My Blood abide in Me and I in them" (John 6:55,56).
When you abide in Christ, you are already participating in the Kingdom of God. And when Christ abides in you, "the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). And the characteristics of the Kingdom are, as the Apostle Paul writes, and even more: righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and as he writes in another place "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness" (Galatians 5:22).
For us, then, who are preparing for the Great Fast and the great spiritual exercises that accompany the Fast, how are we to conduct ourselves during this season of repentance and expectation?
Let our fasting be measured by the reality of our love. Let us refrain from certain foods, not because they are sinful, but because we are sinful, and the restraint that we choose elevates our minds to the knowledge of why we choose. We choose to fast because to do so is a choice for love.
Let our prayer life not be out of a false sense of obligation, but from the gratitude that we have for our Creator, a gratitude that brings us into his presence with more frequency and a greater ardor for the faith.
And let us not judge brother or sister during these holy days. As the Apostle Paul says in another place: "Therefore, O Mortal! All you who judge - you are without defense! For while you judge another - you condemn yourself!" (Romans 2:1).
Let us remember, beloved brethren, that the kingdom which we seek, and for which we long, is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!
Finally, let our remembrance of all this take us to the confessional, for only the confessing of our sins leads us worthily to the chalice and to the Food of Immortality.
As we begin Lent together, the following fasting regulations are to be observed by our clergy and faithful:
1) Monday, March 6, 2006 (Clean Monday), the first day of Lent, is a day of strict abstinence; likewise, Great and Holy Friday, and Great and Holy Saturday, namely April 21 and 22. On these days, no meat or dairy products may be eaten.
2) All Wednesdays and Fridays during this entire Season are days of abstinence from meat.
3) Meat and meat products may not be eaten during all of Great and Holy Week, namely April 17 through April 22.
4) For the evening Pre-sanctified Liturgy, a minimum three-hour fast from all food and drink must be observed before the reception of Holy Communion. Normal fasting from midnight is still practiced before the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great.
5) Where the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Thursday is celebrated, the three-hour fast is required.
These are the minimum requirements to observe during this Season. But for those of stronger body and more willing spirit, I wholeheartedly recommend the penitential practices of a sterner quality which the time-honored traditions and customs of our Holy Orthodox Church have handed down to us.
In the expectation that you will reap the spiritual fruits of the Fast, and with prayerful regards, together with my archpastoral blessing, I remain
Most sincerely yours in Christ,
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in every Parish of the Diocese in lieu of the sermon on Sunday, March 5, 2006.