The Lenten Message of Archbishop Gabriel of Comana
26 February 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we enter into the Paschal fast, I would like to share with you a number of reflections on the meaning of these weeks of preparation for the luminous feast of Pascha, which is its end point.
Lent is a time set apart, marked liturgically by the texts of the Triodion, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the services of Passion Week; it is appropriate to prepare the choir in advance, as well as the hearts of the faithful. The fasting period is a time when the Bridegroom is absent (Mt 9:15), during which his friends fast. It creates a void and encourages our humility by the recitation, for example, of the prayer of St Ephrem, a prayer that should be shared amongst all the faithful. At the same time it is both a time of repentance, of affliction, of waiting, and a time of joy and of fulfilment, for when the waiting has been accomplished, the Bridegroom returns in glory.
The Orthodox Church does not like detailed prescriptions concerning dietary rules. She puts forward an ideal, drawn up especially for monks: to do away with any food of animal origin. Let us try to approach this ideal at least during the first week (here the daily reading of the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete will be a great help to us), and during the final week, that of the Passion itself. Abstinence from food is a necessity, even if doing without meat does not have the same meaning today as it once had. It is a necessity in a world caught up in the spiral of consumerism, where people are afflicted by obesity while at the same time others starve. It is good to organise ‘Lenten collections’, where each person gives what he or she estimates to have saved in buying food, with the proceeds being given to humanitarian causes.
Abstinence also involves giving up - or at least cutting back on - television, tobacco, alcohol, frivolous entertainment and all diversions where one ‘kills’ time instead of ‘making the most’ of it (Eph 5:16). It means accepting a lack in one’s life and learning to fill it with prayer, with reading the Gospel (which it is good to re-read in its entirety), with visiting the sick and the isolated, and with taking part in the services, which, in spite of their occasional sadness, fill us with tenderness and lead straight to the heart of the mystery where the destiny of the world is at stake.
Man is not contaminated by what enters him, but by what comes forth from him: evil thoughts, looseness of life (Mk 7:21). The fast involves work on ourselves, mastery of our thoughts and feelings, peaceful relationships with those around us, the courage to overcome our fears in order to obtain inner peace. Let us have compassion on those who do not enter into the spirit of the fast. Let us support them in the midst of the community. Let us revive our love for the Church, who humbly invites us to transform our lives and to taste more abundantly both peace and joy.
If we engage in combat against the forces of darkness, Easter will be the victorious fulfilment of our efforts. Then the power of the Resurrection will shine out through us into all the world. From the first day of the fast, from the Sunday of Forgiveness, Resurrection power is already able to burst into our life.
All my brothers and sisters in Christ, forgive me, and accept my blessing in Christ’s love.