Lenten Message 2016 from + John, Bishop of Charioupolis, Patriarchal Vicar and Locum tenens
This year again, the beginning of the Great Fast is overshadowed by the dark clouds piling up over the head of humanity. Wars with all the accompanying human tragedies which they cause, pollution of nature, upheaval in the Middle East where we cannot yet understand either causes and outcome or the suffering of poor nations faced with the increasing gulf between North and South. The common man, for such we are, confronted with such an apocalyptic scenario, feels as weak as the grass of the fields. As part of the "masses", he has the feeling that everything is controlled above his head and his own vision has no impact on the course of events. Our weakness is once more emphasized.
Yet Saint Paul tells us that it is precisely in weakness that strength lies. Lent is the privileged time for spiritual awareness of our human weakness. Yes, what can we offer to God, other than this weakness, this sin that overwhelms us and that we see at work every day both in and outside of us, and whose existence is real. To be a Christian is to be aware of ones finiteness and sinful condition, that is to say a creature experiencing in the flesh the freedom to choose between good and evil, knowing that victory over evil can only be the conjoining of the work of God and that of man. Now our collective sin is great. This is why fasting within the Church is necessary. To be aware of ones personal weakness like the publican: "God, have mercy on the sinner that I am" is the absolute condition of the collective conscience. The Christian by his fasting says to the world that there are limits to even the most legitimate desires. It is a call and an reveille to overcome: solitude, separation, anxiety in the face of insecurity, the need to gain a place in society, fear of the judgment of others, the desire to climb the ladder of power. All these characterize our consumer society and we are all tempted to identify with it by means of one or other of these desires.
Now, if we follow Christ, we see that witnessing to the Kingdom will actually make us outsiders in relation to these desires and this consumer society which reassures us. To fast is to be "marginalised", to reflect a different reality, a different mode of action in the world. God works through the weakness brought about by fasting. Fasting for God makes one more merciful to oneself and ones brothers, changes ones view of creation by developing sensitivity to the rhythms of nature and life. Fasting reminds us how, what Solzhenitsyn calls "self-limitation" of ones needs, restores to man his freedom and frees him from the vicious circle of consumption. Putting limits on ourselves for Christ and the love of others is the true fast which makes us grow spiritually and brings to the world a truly Christian response.
Our entire spiritual tradition teaches us that. But we have formalized and ritualized it to such an extent, that we no longer see what it is all about, and in particular why it is still relevant today. It is for us to embody this tradition in this time of Lent to make triumphant in our lives what Christ was: peace, love, mercy and joy for the glory of the Father.
Wishing you all a good and holy Lent.
+ John, Bishop of Charioupolis,
Patriarchal Vicar and Locum tenens,