Archpastoral Letter on Great Lent 2003
Prot. N. 155
"The season of repentance is at hand: O my soul, show fruits of abstinence. Consider those who repented in the past, and cry aloud to Christ: I have sinned, O save me, loving Master, as You have saved the Publican who sighed with sorrow from his heart, for You alone are rich in mercy
Sessional Hymn at Matins; Tuesday of the First Week of Great Lent
To the Very Reverend Protopresbyters, Very Reverend, and Reverend Fathers, Monastics, and the pious faithful of our Diocese,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Fathers and faithful,
Even before the Lenten Triodion begins, we already hear echoes in the message of the Theophany season of this major theme of the Great Fast; during this Feast, we hear the words of St. John the Forerunner as recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew 3:2: "...Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." In the very next chapter, our Lord Himself reiterates the exact words of John. It is only then that He begins His public ministry.
It is not by accident that our Holy Mother the Church begins to prepare us in this manner for the approaching season of abstinence, through both the Holy Scriptures and the rich hymnography of our Faith. This is an effective transition from the great joy and glory of the Nativity , through the Theophany, into the solemnity and soberness of Lent.
But how do we perceive and understand this vital aspect of our spiritual life? What does repentance mean to us as Orthodox Christians?
All too often the tendency is to view repentance as a negative experience ONLY; even the most devout of the faithful may succumb to this spiritual misconception. People may see the Great Fast as a depressing time of year, a time of strict adherence to certain commandments, such as: " Thou shall not eat meat and dairy products," "Thou shall not participate in song
or dance, movies and other entertainments," "Thou shall not laugh or make merry," and so on. And further, "Thou shall attend church services more often," "Thou shall make thy annual confession," "Thou shall give alms," and "Thou shall pray and read the Scriptures and other spiritual literature more regularly."
If we see this time of year as merely a time of "do's" and "don'ts", then we are missing the true spirit of the Fast, and of the Christian life as a whole. The laws and regulations, the spiritual exercises and discipline, are but a means to an end, and ought to be viewed as a most POSITIVE force in our lives. And, as the old-time song reminds us, we ought to "ACCENTUATE the POSITIVE," and "ELIMINATE the NEGATIVE."
When we repent, we do so because we desire to return to our true home as did the Prodigal Son; we yearn for the bliss of our true state as Adam and Eve experienced in Paradise; we seek the comfort and peace of the true life which exists only in God Himself. We are summoned to turn our lives around as suggested by the Greek word "metanoia" which we translate as "repentance." If we have been traveling down the wrong path in life, now is the time to turn around and travel in the opposite direction toward our true goals. If we are beginning to live according to worldly standards, we must seek to change our ways, to live a life pleasing to God, and to discover once again the pure human nature that God originally intended for us and that we possessed before the Fall.
Most certainly, when we repent, we attempt to eliminate vices! But the more positive side of repentance is achieved when we seek to re-establish the virtues of a Christ-like life! To stop sinning, to conquer our passions, and to avoid temptations are all really positive attitudes. Again St. Matthew records the words of our Lord: "By their fruits you will know them." He gives us the powerful message of the parable of the barren fig tree; it bore no fruits, so it was destroyed. When we bear no fruits worthy of salvation, WE DESTROY OURSELVES!
Each of us must anticipate the Great Fast, which begins this evening at sunset, with great joy and exuberance, welcoming it as a dear friend that is concerned only with our best interests, our welfare, and our success in the spiritual life.
Those seemingly negative aspects of Lent will then take on a new meaning; we will revel in the inspirational Divine Services of the season, we will enjoy the lightness our bodies feel from fasting, we will find contentment in making peace with our God in confession, and we will find satisfaction in knowing that we can discipline our unruly and disordered nature.
I pray that each of you will experience this Lent as you never have before, in the proper spirit as outlined in the hymns of our Church, "with great gladness," "putting on the armor of light," "shining with glory," and "ascending to heaven on the wings of the virtues, rising above the sin that creeps on the ground..."
As we begin this Great Fast together, the following fasting regulations are to be observed by our faithful:
1) Monday, March 10, 2003 (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 25 and 26. 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, April 21 through April 26.
4) For the evening Presanctified Liturgy, a minimal three-hour fast from all food and drink ought to 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 St. Basil the Great is celebrated on Great and Holy Thursday, the three-hour fast is required.
These are the minimum requirements for observing during this season. But for those of a stronger body and more willingly spirit, again I whole- heartedly 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.
With my prayers for you and your families that you experience a meaningful, uplifting, and spiritually beneficial Great Fast, I remain
Most sincerely yours in Christ,
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in all Diocesan Parishes in lieu of the regular Sermaon at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, March 9, 2003