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Message on the Commencement of Holy and Great Lent 2019

Message on the Commencement of Holy and Great Lent 2019

To the cler­gy, monas­tics and faith­ful of our God-pro­tect­ed Diocese

This Sun­day we look to for­give­ness as we enter the holy jour­ney of Great Lent. For­give­ness is tru­ly a “break­through” of the King­dom into this fall­en world. The Church gives us the gift of Great Lent so that we can find true renew­al in Christ. Only a repen­tant heart is on the path to the return to uni­ty and love.

As the sacred hymnog­ra­phy of the Church urges us, all the ascetic elements—fasting, absti­nence, fru­gal­i­ty, restric­tion of per­son­al desires, intense prayer, alms­giv­ing, and confession—are essen­tial to the peri­od of Great Lent. They are pre­con­di­tions for our Eucharis­tic com­mu­nion with God and move­ment of love, and the reunion and har­mo­ny with oth­ers. Just as the sac­ri­fice on the Cross takes its mean­ing from the Res­ur­rec­tion, so all our Lenten effort find their ful­fill­ment in Holy Communion.

How­ev­er, for all too many today, the fast is only iden­ti­fied with eat­ing cer­tain foods and avoid­ing cer­tain oth­ers. This has unfor­tu­nate­ly annulled the oth­er impor­tant fasts which are found in the tra­di­tion of our faith and which demon­strate the cre­ative nature of Chris­t­ian fast­ing. In our tra­di­tion, we find four types of fast­ing: a com­plete abstain­ing from food, abstain­ing from food until mid-after­noon; eat­ing less in order to save mon­ey for the pur­pose of alms­giv­ing, and abstain­ing not from food, but from one’s favorite activ­i­ties. What mat­tered was the rea­son for fast­ing, not its dura­tion, which was direct­ly depen­dent on that rea­son. Also, the real mean­ing of fast­ing lay not in the type of food, but on absti­nence. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, very often, deli­cious and lux­u­ri­ous foods are wel­comed by some as a form of fast­ing, pro­vid­ed they do not con­tain the pro­hib­it­ed non-lenten ingre­di­ents. With such prac­tices, wealthy Chris­tians are enabled to be iden­ti­fied as good, for they can “fast” for months on end by eat­ing var­i­ous types of expen­sive meals, while poor­er Chris­tians are not so, for they can­not afford such expen­sive cuisine.

Anoth­er quandary for our actu­al under­stand­ing of fast­ing is the real­i­ty of those who iden­ti­fy as veg­e­tar­i­ans and veg­ans. What shall the Church sub­scribe to the vast num­ber of those who nev­er eat meat any­way? Accord­ing to Church rules con­cern­ing fast­ing, such peo­ple already fast all the time. So, our cur­rent under­stand­ing of fast­ing deprives them of the pos­si­bil­i­ty to be, from time to time, engaged in this com­mon lenten ini­tia­tive of the Church, because the Church already views them as fast­ing from par­tic­u­lar foods all the time.

There­fore, in invit­ing you to the “opened are­na of virtues” from our Epis­co­pal seat, I want to encour­age you this year, as you fast, to prac­tive benev­o­lence in the form of alms­giv­ing. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reach out to oth­ers with the very love of Christ in con­crete ways as for exam­ple, alms­giv­ing to the poor and those in need. In this case, true fast­ing (Lent) will become the oppo­site of pleonex­ia (greed, avarice), i.e., an inhu­man approach which leads the con­tem­po­rary glob­al com­mu­ni­ty into a spir­i­tu­al crisis.

May His grace be with you dur­ing these cel­e­brat­ed sea­sons and feast.

Giv­en this Day of For­give­ness March 10th, 2019 at Alham­bra, California

With love and bless­ings in Christ,

Bish­op Maxim