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

“Brethren, while fasting bodily, let us also fast spiritually. Let us loosen every bond of injustice. Let us destroy the strong fetters of violence. Let us tear up every unjust writing. Let us give bread to the hungry and let us welcome the homeless poor into our houses, that from Christ our God we may receive the great mercy” (Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent).

Dearly Beloved in the Lord:

Central to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. While these disciplines are to be practiced every day of our lives, it is during the season of Great Lent that they receive our special attention, not only as a sign of preparation for the celebration of the Feast of Feasts, but as a sign of our desire to change our lives, our focus, our vision, our direction—in short, our desire to repent.

All too often, we associate Great Lent with fasting from certain foods and activities, and little more. Fasting is sometimes seen as a formality, as a matter of “giving up” rather than as a means of “giving.” How often we engage in “fasting bodily” while failing to “fast spiritually” by struggling to gain control of those things that we so easily and unwittingly allow to control us—our anger, our gossip, our grudges, our self-righteousness, our passions, and our desire to be seen and heard and recognized and justified. How easy it is to reduce the season of repentance to externals, with little concern for the interior changes bodily and spiritual fasting are designed to bring about.

But, dearly Beloved, fasting bodily without fasting spiritually is of little significance. It places the emphasis on ourselves, rather than on our Savior or on honoring Him by serving “the least of the brethren” who remind us of His very presence. It is the fasting of the Pharisees, who as Christ Himself noted seek and receive their reward from men, rather than from God. Bodily fasting without intensified prayer, unconditional ministry to the hungry and the poor, and the desire to overcome our sins and passion—in short, without fasting spiritually—not only falls short of the “great mercy” so freely offered by our Savior through His passion, death, and resurrection, but fails to arm us with the spiritual weapons necessary to loosen every bond of injustice, destroy the strong fetters of violence, and tear up every unjust writing.

The times in which we live are indeed difficult, even dark. The promptings of the evil one, so often clothed in what appears to be “light,” surround and deceive and distract us from accomplishing “the one thing needful.” By entering into the “Lenten Spring,” by enrolling in the “school of repentance,” and by selflessly embracing the opportunity “to free ourselves from our passions,” we equip ourselves to overcome “the wall of enmity” that would separate us from Our Lord and one another. Our fasting, then, must be infused with the comfort of prayer, the relief of repentance, and the joy of encountering Our Lord in those with whom we share the very hope that is in us. Only then will our joy in encountering the empty tomb be whole, complete, and lacking in nothing. Only then will Our Lord’s ultimate victory over sin and death be revealed in its fullness to—and within—us.

As we enter the bright sadness of Great Lent as individuals, as families, and ultimately as the Church, I invite you to join me in fasting spiritually, as well as bodily. May the seeds of faith planted by our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving bring forth an abundant harvest of virtue worthy of the “great mercy” that awaits us in the empty tomb. And may His mercy truly guide us as we continue our lives in this world, even as we anticipate the joy of life in the world to come.

With love in Christ,


Archbishop of Washington and New York

Metropolitan of All America and Canada