The Great Lent: When Mercy Dries Up, Fasting Suffers Drought
By God's mercy John X, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
Brethren, Pastors of the Holy Church of Antioch;
Beloved children in all dioceses in this apostolic see
Brethren and dearest spiritual children, whose strength and anticipation in God, strengthen ours;
Entering this redemptive period which leads us to the Cross (of Christ) and the dawn of His and thus our resurrection, these days bring to us the anticipation to Jesus and His divine consolation for His beloved humans; for whom He descended from His highest, incarnated in the Virgin, submitting Himself to the human law, willingly walking the path of the Cross, in order to rise from the dead, becoming the first fruit for our resurrection from our earthly misery and tribulation.
Jesus chose the path of the Cross, and drank from the chalice of death to simply tell us that the tribulation of our times will not overshadow our hope for light, and that hardship cannot eclipse the brightness of resurrection.
Entering this redemptive period of the Great Lent, we have bid farewell to brothers, fathers and mothers, who were taken away by sudden or forced death, but we anticipate to meet them in Christ's light.
We receive these days while our brothers and sisters, amongst whom are bishops, priests, monks, nuns and beloved children, are abducted and suffer the cruelty of this world.
"We shall not celebrate without them. We did and shall spare no endeavour to ensure their safe return."
Brethren! Despite their severity, these times reinforce the spirit of consolation, growing our sense of empathy. Lent is based on love, reinforced by almsgiving and completed with the leaven of purity and chastity.
Fasting and almsgiving are inseparable.
Fasting, mercy, almsgiving, purity and care for the neighbours and the needy are paths to the doorway to the Godly mercy and thus acquiring God as a friend. A Church Father, Peter Chrysologus (the golden–worded) effectively described the pillars of fasting:
"Brethren, Fasting does not germinate unless watered by mercy. When mercy dries up, fasting suffers drought, for mercy is to fasting what spring is to earth; as the smooth breeze that help buds flourish into flowers, mercy grows the seeds of fasting to become blossoming flowers. Love is to fasting what oil is to a lantern; oil feeds the lantern; similarly, love feeds fasting and enkindles it. Almsgiving is to fasting what the sun is to the day. The sunshine illumines the day, scattering darkness. This is how almsgiving sanctifies the sanctuary of fasting with the light of love".
We all are called upon to consolidate the unity in our Orthodox Antiochian Church. In the Church of Antioch, we are entrusted to the name "Christians" by both word and deeds. Jesus's disciples were first called "Christians" in our land, but we, in our Orthodox Antiochian Church are called upon, by loving each other and unifying our hearts, to testify for Jesus Christ in this contemporary world which is corroded by mere interests.
"For look ye! How these Christians seem to love each other" (Tertullian, Apology 39:7). Tertullian found no better expression in his apology to defend the Christian values and those who follow them. This means that by loving each other, and refusing defamation, we give witness of Lord Jesus in our world.
"The Church of Christ is alien to parties, divisions or disputes; it only acknowledges the zeal for God, a zeal that enflames our hearts. The Church of Christ do not fill the social networking sites and the Media with a barrage of threats, defamation nor disdain."
Brethren! We are called upon, by embracing love and living by the teachings of the Gospel, to overcome all the impediments to our progress, cleanse our inner selves and scrutinise our conscience rather than preaching others.
O merciful God! Who for our sake dwelled in the womb of the Virgin, was born in a manger, patiently endured human suffering, willingly suffered His Passion and who, by His burial, buried the sin that overwhelmed our nature, look upon us in our journey during this Lent, crowning it with the light that shines from Your life-giving tomb. Let us realize that despite its heaviness, the stone of the tomb could not stop the light of resurrection, teaching the world that the bell towers of the Churches in this land have been erected for many centuries even through harsh times and that they will keep ringing echoing Christ's love for all people, endorsing the fact that Christ's children are deeply rooted in this land and announcing their openness to all people despite hardships through the centuries.
O God bestow upon us the spirit of Your peace, alleviate by Your Passion the passions of those who love You, visit our countries casting upon us the beauty of Your presence. Accompany the abducted and the displaced, journey with those who travel and bless our children in the diaspora.
Stand, O God, by those in need; strengthen us to console the hearts of our children with Your words and the acts of philanthropy. Bring the departed closer to you, and crown our fasting journey to witness the Holy Resurrection, hallowed be Your name for now and ever, Amen.