The Beginning of Great Lent

OCA Chancery
Syosset, New York

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America

Dearly Beloved in the Lord:

Let us observe a fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forbear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then is our fasting true and acceptable.

The words of this hymn, sung at Vespers on the first day of Great Lent, challenge us to take a deeper look, not only into the very spirit of repentance, but into the very depths of our souls and our lives.

Indeed, Great Lent is a time of renewal and preparation for our encounter with the empty tomb of the risen Lord. It is a time in which we strive with intensity to put aside those things which separate us from the love of God and prevent us from loving others, to gain control of our passions, and to place our focus on Our Lord and the gifts He has so graciously shared with us. As such, we are challenged to look beyond the external aspects of our fasting, our intensified prayer, and our almsgiving and, as the words of this hymn clearly state, abstain from and renounce those things which prevent us from seeking all that is “true and acceptable.”

As we hear in the readings from Genesis proclaimed at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, we were created in the image and likeness of God, to be in communion with Him and with one another in a bond of eternal love. But sin entered into the world, disfiguring and distorting creation. And with sin came a lack of control, anger, lust, slander, falsehood, perjury, and ultimately, death—things that had and have no place in that creation which the Creator Himself called “good.” Yet, in a supreme expression of divine love, the only-begotten Son of God took on our human nature for our sake, sharing with us His triumphant victory over, as the lenten hymn states, “all evil.”

Despite this, we stand in constant need of repentance, because we all too often “miss the mark” of that which is “true and acceptable.” In an effort to renew our “fallen image,” we are given the opportunity to fast, not just from food, but from those things that continue to separate us from God and alienate us from one another. As such, we pursue the fast to gain control of those things that so often control us, to fast and pray and reach out to those we too often ignore, not in order to suffer, but for the purpose of liberating ourselves from all that prevents us from communing with Our Lord and with others.

So, as we fast from food, let us also fast from all that separates us from God and others. Let us seek His forgiveness, while also seeking—and offering—forgiveness for those things that have separated us from Him and our neighbors. Let us strive to incorporate all that is “true and acceptable” to God in our lives during this blessed season and to live it well beyond the joyous day of Resurrection. And let us, as individuals and as the Church, shun all evil, that having been renewed in Christ, we may be accounted worthy of His victory and the new life that He so graciously offers to all who, in truth, accept it.

With love in Christ,

Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada