Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest

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 Clergy, Monastics, Seminarians, and Faithful of the Diocese of the Midwest,

The “Doors of Repentance” are, indeed, opened for us so that we may pass through them and enter fully into the special season of grace, the 40-day period of the Church’s year, which we know as Great Lent.  Indeed, it is repentance, fasting, and abstinence which are the chief hallmarks of our observance of this grace-filled season.  While we strive to dedicate more time to prayer and study of the Holy Scriptures, participate more fully in 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 various foods (limiting the amount we eat and drink) and abstinence from many types of food (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 us the Paschal Mystery of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the mystery in which e share by virtue of our baptism into Christ.

In one of his most memorable sermons, Saint John Chrysostom on the purpose and necessity of fasting.  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 to not only 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 on 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.  However, despite frustration or even boredom with the fast, we strive to remain faithful to it, nonetheless.  So, as we struggle to be faithful to the Church’s discipline, let us also reflect upon the impact that our daily and Lenten fasting has in our daily lives.  If we are more loving, if we are caring for those around us, if we reach out to those in need, if we are curbing our tongues, if we are less tempted by the world and its enticements, we will see the fast at work within us.  To the contrary, if we see ourselves slipping in these areas of virtue, we must use that self-awareness to re-focus and step back onto the path of Lent.

The Lenten journey we are about to begin can be difficult.  But we do not begin this journey alone or without support.  Indeed, we are surrounded and supported by our fellow-strugglers, our brothers and sisters in Christ who walk the same Lenten path we are walking.  Remember, we are not alone: our fellow Orthodox Christians, our families, and our faithful clergy join us in the struggle and share the same efforts.  And, with us, they look to our common goal. May our mutual support encourage us in our common effort so that together we may reach that goal and arrive at the bright, joyous, and never-ending day of Pascha.

Be assured of my prayers for you and yours.  May we journey together, supporting one another in our Lenten efforts.  May the Mother of God, honored and venerated in her Tikhvin icon as the Mother and Protectress of our beloved Diocese, intercede for  us all.

With love in our Merciful and Forgiving  Lord,


Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest

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