From His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III,
To our dear brother bishops, members of our Holy Synod,
Superior generals, mother generals,
Our sons, the priests,
Sons and daughters of our eparchies and parishes of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church
In Arab countries and throughout the world,
Quadragesimal greetings, with affection, blessing and prayer!
On the Occasion of Great and Holy Lent, February 13, 2010
“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
(Matthew 17: 21; Mark 9: 29)
Thus Jesus addresses his disciples, who were asking him why they had not been able to eject the evil spirit from the possessed man.
This teaching is directed to us all and in my turn, I pass it on to you, dear friends, at the beginning of Great and Holy Lent. The basic Lenten program consists of fasting and prayer, which form the introduction to the practice of Christian virtues and Gospel values. They are our guidelines towards loving God, worshipping him, encountering him and loving our fellow humans.
The first point is prayer: at home, with Gospel reading, then participating in the beautiful Lenten services of Great Compline, the Presanctified Liturgy, the Akathist to the Theotokos, the Lenten Sunday processions with icons and with relics, the Veneration of the Holy Cross, and the Liturgy of Saint Basil, with its fine, theological prayers.
The second point is fasting, the rules of which according to the old discipline are as follows:
Great Lent in the Ancient Discipline of the Church
The days of fasting (abstinence) are the days of Wednesday and Friday of the Carnival Week before Cheesefare Week and Monday through Friday of the weeks of Lent and of Great and Holy Week, except the day when the Annunciation falls (25 March).
Great and Holy Saturday is the only Saturday on which one must keep a fast. It is forbidden to fast on the other Saturdays of the year, because Saturday (Sabbath) is a holy day linked with the day of the Resurrection (Sunday).
Days of abstinence are for the whole time of Great Lent, including Sundays and during all of Holy Week, unless the Annunciation falls then, except Palm Sunday, when fish may be eaten.
The Wisdom of Fasting
The Holy Fathers of the Church consider Great Lent or the Great Fast of the Great Days as a carrying out of the tithe for God. Forty days is almost a tenth of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. In fact, we read in the commandments, to carry out the tithe and receive blessing. (Deuteronomy 12:6-7) To that we add the Advent Fast, the Apostles’ Fast and the Dormition Fast. The different fasts fall in all four seasons of the year to sanctify the whole year. The Advent Fast is in autumn, the Great Fast of forty days is mostly in winter, the Apostles’ Fast is in late spring and the Fast of the Dormition in summer.
So the faithful Christian who observes the different fasts remains in a continuous relationship with the spiritual and ascetic exercises and in a spiritual watchfulness to enable the Holy Spirit to work in him. In the same way he keeps his fitness of soul and body together.
Many people seek out doctors and scientists to get information relevant for keeping their bodily good health but we should not be at all surprised to find that the wisdom of the Church in distributing the fasts is absolutely in agreement with medical instructions and even superior to their advice, for it is aimed at health of soul and body. So is fulfilled the saying of the great master Jesus, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) And again he says, “It is written, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) That was the reply of Jesus to the tempter in the desert. St. Paul says, explaining the true meaning of Lent, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) And he also says, “Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:20)
The Canon and Discipline of Fasting and Abstinence in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Our Holy Synods have more than once dealt with the question of fasting and abstinence, especially between 1949-54. General guidance was given, above all, after Vatican II, that each local bishop organize the discipline of fasting and abstinence suitable to his eparchy.
Despite different dispensations which were put in place for different situations in life, the discipline of fasting according to the old, Eastern tradition remains firm and, thank God, fairly well practiced in many monastic religious institutions, among the clergy and faithful.
Great Lent starts this year on Monday, 15 February and lasts until the morning of Pascha on 5 April, 2010. This year and next year too, Christians everywhere will be celebrating Pascha on the same day, a cause of great joy!
For our part, we should like to emphasize the importance and necessity for fasting according to the old tradition. We encourage everyone – clergy and laity, old and young, teenagers, men and women, families and single people to practice fasting and abstinence according to the rule, with enthusiasm, warmth and joy.
To all I wish a good Holy Lent, with my love and blessing,
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem