To Our Reverend Clergy, Reverend Religious, Seminarians and Faithful,
Glory be to Jesus Christ!
In twenty-first century America, it is impossible to escape the influence of fundamentalist Protestantism: it dominates the airwaves in the person of charismatic preachers, and it undergirds many of the positions taken by politicians. For them, the Bible is the only source of revelation. In this they are very different from Catholics and Orthodox, who are aware of the revelation manifested by the Holy Spirit in the living Tradition of the Church. For example, fundamentalist Protestants would discount the value of the Great Fast since it is not found in scripture; we, on the other hand, know that out Lenten observances provide an opportunity for us to encounter the Lord in a special way.
For us Ukrainian Catholics, our Lenten observances take on a distinct flavor, which is very different even from what is experienced among the Roman Catholics. These differences go beyond the fact that we begin the Great Fast two days before Ash Wednesday and finish it earlier than they, on Lazarus Saturday - that is, the day before Palm Sunday. Our emphasis is in fact very different from the Roman Catholics, who focus on the sufferings of Christ; this is evident in the Stations of the Cross - a quintessential Roman Catholic devotional practice not native to our spirituality.
Our Byzantine spirituality chooses, rather, to focus on conversion. This is expressed in the English word "repentance" which, contrary to popular belief, does not refer to sorrow for sins; rather, repentance is about a change of direction - that is, away from sin and toward God. This is also expressed in the Greek word metanoia, from which we get our Ukrainian word metania,which refers to the bow that we make every time we enter the church. As ourmetanias are not limited to the Great Fast, neither is our metanoia, our conversion; in fact, our ever-deeper conversion to the ways of the Lord Jesus Christ is the sum of the Christian life. The Great Fast is but a microcosm of the spiritual life, inviting us to focus more intently upon the life, which we should be living all year long.
The theme of conversion comes out clearly in our liturgies. In the weeks leading up to the beginning of the Great Fast, the Gospel readings provide us with examples of conversion to emulate: the eagerness of Zacchaeus, the repentance of the publican, the return of the prodigal son. This theme continues during the Great Fast, where the Church holds up for us the dramatic conversion of Holy Mother Mary of Egypt.
You are certainly all familiar with our Lenten practices: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Of the three, fasting has probably received the greatest emphasis, as is evident in the question "What are you going to give up for Lent?" For those who make the extra effort to come to church, we see that fasting even invades the liturgical realm: Divine Liturgy is forbidden on the weekdays of the Great Fast as we fast from that joyous celebration of "dynamic" Eucharist, so we need to content ourselves with the "static" Eucharist - that is, reception of the reserved sacrament during the majestic yet penitential Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. So often forgotten is the almsgiving which might give an indication that the other practices are more than theatrical. Remember: the Lenten practices are not an end in themselves; rather, they are aimed at our conversion of heart, and this includes a growing recognition of the "neighbor" whom God has given to us so that we might share our blessings.
Let us support one another during this holy season of the Great Fast, so that we - as individuals and as Church - might indeed come to the conversion which Christ desires of us.
Metropolitan-Archbishop of Philadelphia
Eparch of St. Nicholas in Chicago
+Paul Chomnycky, OSBM
Eparch of Stamford
Apostolic Administrator of St. Josaphat in Parma