Archpastoral Message of His Eminence Archbishop Daniel
to the Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the Midwest
at the beginning of Great Lent 2023
Open to me the doors of repentance O Giver of Life; for my spirit rises early to pray towards Thy Holy Temple, bearing the temple of my body all defiled. But in Thy Compassion purify me by the loving kindness of Thy Mercy.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In a few short days, the “Doors of Repentance” will be opened for us so that we may enter into the special season of grace, the 40-day period of the Church’s year, which is known as Great Lent or the Great Fast. Indeed, it is repentance, and fasting and abstinence which are the chief hallmarks of our observance of this grace-filled season. While we dedicate more time to prayer and study of the Holy Scriptures, participate more fully in the Church’s services, and reach out in charity to those in need, it is fasting of which we are most conscious in our day-to-day of life. But fasting from the foods (i.e. limiting the amount we eat and drink) and abstinence from many types of food (i.e. not consuming any animal products and foregoing alcoholic beverages) is not an exercise we perform for its own sake. Rather, the fasting discipline to which the Church calls us is intended not only as a form of penance and self-denial, but to help us focus on our spiritual lives so that we might grow in holiness as we prepare to renew within ourselves the Paschal Mystery of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Saint John Chrysostom speaks about the importance fasting in one of his most memorable sermons. He emphasizes that fasting is not just about eating and drinking less or abstaining from certain foods. He states, “I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages it. Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works! Is it said by what kind of works? If you see a poor man, take pity on him! If you see an enemy, be reconciled to him! If you see a friend gaining honor, envy him not! If you see a handsome woman, pass her by! For let not the mouth alone fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being pure from loose living and avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.” Saint John Chrysostom, the preacher with the “golden mouth,” counsels us not only to embrace fasting, but, as we embrace it, to look beyond the spiritual practice of fasting and realize that, if our fasting is to have any merit, if it is to make any difference in our lives, it must have an impact in all the areas of our life.
We are only at the beginning of the Fast, and the weeks ahead can become more challenging and more tedious with each passing day- but, despite frustration or even boredom with the fast, we strive to remain faithful to it nonetheless. So, as we strive to be faithful to the Church’s fasting discipline, let’s also reflect upon the impact that our fasting has in our daily lives. As a result of our fasting, are we more loving? Are we more caring for those around us, and reaching out to those in need? Are we curbing our tongues? Are we less tempted by the world and its enticements? If we can answer “yes” to these questions, then we see that the fast is at work within us and is bearing its own fruit.
The Lenten journey we are about to begin can be difficult. But we do not begin this journey alone. Indeed, we are surrounded by our fellow-strugglers, our brothers and sisters in Christ who are walking the same Lenten path we are walking. May our mutual support and our prayers for one another encourage and strengthen us all so that, together, we may arrive at the bright and joyous day of Pascha.
As we begin our Lenten journey to Pascha, be assured of my blessing and of my prayers for you, your families and friends, and for all our brothers and sisters within this God-protected Diocese.
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest